To the editor:
Politicians often give their allegiance to those who finance their campaigns. New York’s current laws favor real estate and charter school interests. Why? These are elected officials’ largest donors, the ones who get them elected and keep them in office.
A fundamental change is being proposed to how New York state campaigns are funded. It is modeled on a system that has been working in New York City since 1988.
At an estimated cost of about $3 per person per year, small constituent donations would be matched by public funds at 6-to-1, with a cap on how much could be matched. Any candidate could opt out of the new system. For them, the rules would be unchanged.
What this does is lower the bar to entry for potential candidates. Too often people choose not to run for office because they either don’t have rich friends, or they don’t want to spend their time cold-calling wealthy individuals and corporations, some of whom have business before the state.
Now someone can go to a meeting of 100 community members, each of whom donates $10. That $1,000 would become $7,000 with the proposed matching funds. This way, it would be possible to raise money entirely from small donations and win, without owing allegiance to big-money interests.
Many current legislators oppose this new system because, while not disadvantaging their fundraising capacity, it encourages primary challenges. In that sense, asking legislators to vote for a matching funds system is asking them to vote against their self-interest. It is a hard vote. However, it is crucial to good governance.
New York’s real estate laws have been enacted by legislators beholden to real estate interests. Tenant protections are weaker than they should be.
We need to change that. There really is no free lunch. It is far less expensive to publicly fund campaigns than it is to “pay” through laws that advantage special interests.