NY Crafting Plan To Let Candidates Run With Tax Dollars

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ALBANY — A New York commission is facing a deadline to come up with a $100 million plan to allow political candidates to fund their campaigns with public dollars.

The Public Campaign Financing Commission has until Dec. 1 to release its plan, which becomes law unless lawmakers return to Albany to overturn it.

Lawmakers budgeted $100 million for a system that would match candidates’ fundraising with taxpayer money in hopes of reducing the role of deep-pocketed donors and corporations who have long held sway in Albany. In recent years, New York lawmakers and Cuomo have thrown contentious issues — from hiking legislator pay to taxing motorists who enter congested New York City areas — to similar commissions with broad authority over sweeping changes.

Nine commissioners are still hashing out how much candidates should have to raise and from how many small donors to qualify for public matching funds.

Commissioners are planning to meet Wednesday and maybe Thursday to discuss and potentially vote on the proposals, which include a Democratic appointee’s suggestion to delay the program until 2022 and allow candidates to seek small donors from outside their districts.

But what the commission will ultimately decide — and how much the system could cost — is unknown, and the final report could differ from how commissioners have voted. Commissioners drew criticism when they voted 5-4 on Oct. 22 to limit the public funding system to in-district contributions — a week after they voted to allow out-of-district contributions.

Voting rights group, including Fair Elections NY, argue rural candidates will struggle to compete against well-funded challengers who can seek donations without much restriction. The Brennan Center for Justice, which has long supported public campaign financing in New York, said its research suggests the New York City public campaign funding system, which matches all eligible donations 6:1, has helped city districts across income levels.

Such groups oppose the State Board of Elections’ proposal to house an enforcement unit within that agency instead of creating an independent body to oversee candidates’ use of public tax dollars. Advocates caution commissioners must not propose a plan that doesn’t also lower New York’s high contribution limits for all candidates.

“It will allow the status quo in which organized interests and large contributions continue to have an unchecked influence in Albany,” said Janet Massaro, a committee chair with the League of Women Voters’s chapter in Buffalo and Niagara, at a recent commission hearing.

Commissioners have also faced scrutiny for proposals to make it harder for third-party candidates to get on the ballot. Such fights come as centrist Democrats are facing competition from progressive challengers who helped fuel electoral wins last year.

Commissioner Jay Jacobs, the chair of New York’s Democratic Party, has pushed to raise the number of votes needed to get on the ballot from 50,000 to 250,000. Jacobs is also a critic of a long-established practice known as fusion voting, which lets candidates appear on a ballot several times if they get endorsed by minor parties.

Jacobs has denied suggestions that his proposals mirror Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s political fights. Jacobs has said he will provide evidence that some minor parties encourage political corruption at a future meeting.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has scoffed at suggestions that he’s targeting the well-known minor party, the Working Families Party, for supporting his opponent in the 2018 Democratic primary.

Cuomo recently said legislative leaders should ensure appointees protect fusion voting, which he has claimed could raise the costs of a public financing system.

“They have a voice on the commission through appointees,” Cuomo said. “Or come back and vote. That’s your power.”


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