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Could 2011 Be the Year for Public Financing of Elections in NY?

December 27, 2010

NEW YORK - After ten years of trying, advocates for public financing of elections believe 2011 may finally be the year that New York lawmakers give their thumbs-up to the proposal. Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, says it helps to have Gov.-elect Cuomo on record in favor of public financing.

At the same time, she says New York voters are witnessing millions of out-of-state dollars pouring into local elections in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in the "Citizens United" case, which she says allows corporations to make unlimited campaign donations.

"After 'Citizens United,' corporations are pouring money into elections so that they get legislation that benefits them, which really hurts the average person."

Opponents say public financing of elections can limit freedom of speech. That's why Tyson says proposals for New York State would make participation voluntary. Candidates would be free to choose the new public financing system, she says, or they could keep taking corporate contributions.

Massachusetts' public financing law was a big factor in that state's adoption of universal health care and a diversity of ballot choices, Tyson points out.

"Where it has been used, we've seen many changes - and more people of color and women running, which is really important. Because who gets to run for election? It's people who already have power, usually. Public financing would really open things up, so we'd have more regular people becoming elected officials."

Tyson says a public financing measure made it through the Assembly last year, but never got through the State Senate. She has better hopes for this year.

"The good news is, Gov.-elect Cuomo supports publicly financed elections - it's in his materials, it was part of his campaign. So we're hoping that with this new momentum and all the ethics reforms that need to happen, we really will see it happen this year, during this upcoming legislative session."

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY