To the editor:
Before the state senate flipped from red to blue, campaign finance reform was a slam-dunk in the Assembly, where Democrats hold a two-thirds supermajority. Bills related to campaign finance reform were written and debated consistently, with little coverage and little controversy.
However, now that New York Democrats have secured an Albany trifecta — thanks to grassroots organizers ousting Republicans and the turncoat Democrats of the Independent Democratic Conference — the senate is ready to pass campaign finance reform, while it’s the Assembly who appears reluctant.
Why is it that now, when there is an actual chance of this legislation passing, the Assembly seems to have developed cold feet?
The campaign finance reform package up for debate is not so different from what was previously sponsored in 2016 by Speaker Carl Heastie and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, among others.
This reform would provide public matching funds to candidates who opt in to the system at a 6-to-1 ratio.
To put this in perspective, if you were to donate $100, it would be matched six times over. Your preferred candidate would receive an additional $600 on top of your initial $100 donation, totaling a $700 contribution.
While not a perfect remedy, the small-dollar donations of constituents could finally begin to compete with the $500 and $1,000 checks written by real estate lobbyists and other special interests.
Candidates and elected officials would not be forced to comply with the new system. Instead, they would be eligible if they also decided to forgo the big donations from non-matching eligible donors (like corporations and special interests). Those who wished to make big donor dollars could continue to do so, but new candidates without affluent donor networks, corporate backers or personal wealth could mount serious and competitive challenges.
While this would add costs to our elections, experts estimate it would only cost an additional $3 per New Yorker per year, and such a reform would broaden the spectrum of people willing and able to run for office, increase transparency into candidates’ financial backing, and strengthen our democracy.
When dark money is flooding our elections from special interests, a simple reform like the one being discussed in Albany could significantly reduce the corrupting influence of big money in politics, and amplify the voices of marginalized communities.
Reducing the barriers to entry, encouraging more people to participate in our democracy, and leveling the playing field are admirable goals we should all support.
All that’s needed is a little political courage.