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.