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A Million-Dollar Push for Public Financing of Elections

March 3, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. - Supporters of public financing of elections are running a million-dollar ad campaign, hoping to convince legislators to adopt a point in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal that would create a voluntary program for political candidates to get public funding for their races. The proposal would match 6-1 any contributions up to $175.

Karen Scharff co-chairs the Working Families Party in New York and is executive director of Citizen Action in New York. She said evidence is in from New York City and the three other states that have already adopted public financing.

"It really does change the way that elections work," Scharff said. "Ordinary voters have much more of a say over who runs and who gets elected. And once people are in office, they do a better job of representing their constituents rather than having to respond to the large donors."

Republicans, who control the Senate in a coalition with a group known as Independent Democrats, oppose giving public money to candidates. Supporters have the month of March to convince legislators to vote their way, since the spending proposal must be finalized by April 1.

Morris Peters, a spokesman for the Division of the Budget, says there is no dollar amount identified for the proposal, because its implementation, should it pass, is several years off.

"Candidates for the Senate and Assembly will be eligible for this voluntary program in 2016, followed by all candidates for state office in 2018," Peters said.

Scharff said change to the state's political process is overdue.

"Currently, the New York State government is dominated by a pay-to-play culture and a pay-to-play campaign finance system, where those who give the biggest campaign contributions are the ones who shape public policy," Scharff said.

The ad was purchased by the Public Campaign Action Fund with help from several large donors.



Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - NY