Big questions remain for NY’s public campaign finance plan

October 14, 2019 GMT

VALHALLA, N.Y. (AP) — A New York commission began crafting a small-donor public campaign financing system Monday but has yet to tackle big issues such as when the program would launch.

The system will provide up to $100 million in public financing to candidates for offices such as governor and legislature who get enough small private donations. The idea is to reduce the power of deep-pocketed donors and corporations whose contributions can dwarf those of individual voters.


The Public Campaign Financing Commission has until Dec. 1 to announce rules that will become law unless lawmakers hold a rare end-of-year special session to reject them.

Commissioners moved ahead on issues such as the number of small-dollar contributions that candidates would need to qualify for matching funds. Commissioners agreed Monday to continue their work following an Oct. 22 hearing and also requested legal advice from two attorneys.

But questions on key issues remain unanswered. It’s unclear, for example, when the program would launch or how exactly it will be implemented.

Commissioners on Monday didn’t discuss the future of fusion voting, which allows multiple political parties to nominate one candidate for elected office. The Working Families Party and Conservative Party has filed suit to protect fusion voting from the commission, which a compromise bill empowered to weigh into the issue.

It’s also unknown whether the commission will lower contribution limits for candidates who don’t participate in public financing. The Brennan Center for Justice, which has long supported public campaign financing in New York, said the state’s current limits are so high that they would undermine a public financing system.

“It’s great we’re at a moment where we’re talking about small donor campaign financing to amplify the voices of New Yorkers who can only give small amounts,” said Chisun Lee, senior counsel at the Brennan Center. “But the success of that program depends of course on bringing down contribution limits from those who can afford to give tons of money.”

Commissioners also discussed a proposal to offer higher matches based on a district’s income level. Jay Jacobs, the chair of New York’s Democratic Party and an appointee of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said a “one-size fits all approach” may not be fair for low-income districts that could struggle to raise enough contributions to quality for public matching funds.

The Brennan Center in a memo to commissioners dated Sunday said the group didn’t oppose the idea but warned about “adopting an untested model.” The group said its research suggests New York City public campaign funding system, which matches all eligible donations 6:1, has helped city districts across income levels.