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Donor Diversity Through Public Matching Funds

  • Sundeep Iyer
  • Elisabeth Genn
  • Brendan Glavin
  • Michael J. Malbin
Published: May 12, 2012

New York State is consid­er­ing a system of public campaign finan­cing for state elec­tions similar to New York City’s small donor match­ing fund program. The city’s system matches at a six-to-one ratio the first $175 a city resid­ent contrib­utes to a candid­ate parti­cip­at­ing in the volun­tary program. In endors­ing a reform for the state that mirrors the city system, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo claimed that a multiple-match public finan­cing system would bring greater equal­ity to state elec­tions.

Candid­ates who have parti­cip­ated in both New York City and New York State elec­tions agree. They have told us that by pump­ing up the value of small contri­bu­tions, the New York City system gives them an incent­ive to reach out to their own constitu­ents rather than focus­ing all their atten­tion on wealthy out-of-district donors, lead­ing them to attract more diverse donors into the polit­ical process. This is markedly differ­ent, they explained, from how they and other candid­ates conduct campaigns at the state level.

These claims, if true, suggest that the city’s public finan­cing system has contrib­uted to a funda­mental change in the rela­tion­ship between candid­ates and their donors in New York City. In this new joint study, we analyze data on dona­tions to candid­ates in New York City in the most recent sets of elec­tions at the city and state levels to see whether the data are consist­ent with these claims — in other words, whether greater parti­cip­a­tion by small donors in city elec­tions trans­lates into more diverse parti­cip­a­tion.