To the editor:
On Feb. 26, New York City held its first election since the Campaign Finance Board changed its rules to empower more New Yorkers to take big-dollar donations and special-interest money out of elections.
At its core, New York’s matching funds program is about making it possible for all New Yorkers to run for office and minimizing the influence of the wealthy and well-connected. As we seek to make our city more progressive, improving our public financing for elections even further is an important step to strengthening our democracy and putting power in the hands of everyday New Yorkers.
Thanks to voters in November, the board’s threshold changed to lower the donation limit for citywide candidates to $2,000, and increase the amount the city would match to 8-to-1 on donations $250 and under. The program offers a strong incentive to participate — 11 of the 17 candidates for public advocate were able to qualify for matching funds. Under these new rules, everyday New Yorkers’ dollars were more powerful and opened up our election to any candidate who could mobilize them.
In that election, Jumaane Williams won the public advocate’s race with considerable financial support from the board’s new program. I was proud to advocate for these new guidelines in the referendum last year because I believe that empowering small-dollar donors strengthens our democracy and empowers everyday voters to choose representatives who reflect our values.
In a field where more than half of the candidates were able to qualify for public funds, this race saw competitive candidates from different backgrounds and boroughs. That’s what our democracy should be about — creating competitive elections, and encouraging all New Yorkers to participate in the process.
As a district leader, engaging voters is one of the most important aspects of my position. As many New Yorkers are frustrated with the direction of our country, it is empowering to remind people of the power of the ballot box. By further elevating the power of small-dollar donations, New York City has sent a clear message: Special interest money has no place in our elections.
Improving the Campaign Finance Board system was a progressive victory, and one that will continue to benefit us for years to come.
Now our attention must turn to the New York State Board of Elections, which is known for looser regulations and less oversight.
Thankfully, the Democrats in the Assembly and senate were able to pass major reforms to make it easier to vote early, register, and vote by absentee ballot.
These reforms will help improve voter turnout, but we must now address our state’s campaign finance system. By instituting a public-financing system, we will elevate New Yorkers’ dollars while challenging the power of real estate, corporate, lobbyist and special interest money in state government.
We see how well it works at the city level — let’s improve our state elections, too.
When we are engaged and invested in our elections, we improve turnout and diminish the influence of out-of-city, wealth and special interest donors. And when that happens, we all win.
The author is the male Democratic 81 Assembly District leader.