Earlier this summer, Gov. Cuomo, Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins completed an impressive legislative session. The state passed key progressive priorities into law, including decriminalizing marijuana, setting aggressive carbon emissions reduction targets, establishing key protections for immigrants and solidifying the right to abortion. Among those exciting accomplishments was the Legislature taking strong steps to finally address the role of big money in New York politics.
Under the governor’s leadership, the state is in the unique position to show the rest of the country how to build and protect democracy by enacting campaign finance reform with small-donor matching funds.
There is one catch: They have less than 75 days to get it right. And yet now, rather than focus entirely on the major task in front of them — enacting model legislation to reduce the influence of the wealthy and powerful interests — they are spending precious time on the question of whether or not New York State should maintain its system of fusion voting. The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, has ruled three times (in 1910, 1911 and 1973) that fusion, which allows parties to endorse candidates of another party, is a constitutional right. Fusion voting is an important part of New York’s democracy — giving voters more choices, not just of candidates but of parties. And as the New York City system has shown, fusion has no impact on a robust public financing system.
So reformers in New York need to keep their eyes on the ball. Though Democrats around the country are supportive of public financing, it’s here in New York where we can lead the way.
Earlier this year, with overwhelming support from the Democratic majority, the House of Representatives passed H.R.1, the For the People Act of 2019, a historic, democracy-enhancing election reform package. A foundational piece of that bill is the creation of a publicly-financed, small-donor matching system, which would take small contributions from individual voters and match them with public money, thereby amplifying the impact of individual donations.
I believe such systems are essential to restoring faith in government, reducing the undue influence of big money in our politics, and opening pathways for individuals from every corner of our country to fully participate in our elections. Unfortunately, our Republican counterparts in the Senate have refused to take the bill up.
But congressional Republicans’ intransigence must not stop New York State. Right now, our state has among the weakest campaign finance laws in the nation. That is why Cuomo, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins set up the Public Campaign Financing Commission in this year’s budget.
The commission, which has already begun to meet, will make recommendations by Dec. 1, 2019, for how to implement campaign finance reform in New York. I believe it is incredibly important that these recommendations are focused on critical issues, create a strong system covering both primaries and general elections, and include a public financing program with a 6-to-1 match on small donations and lower contribution limits for participating and non-participating candidates, similar to what the House passed in H.R. 1.
The commissioners have an opportunity to enable the hardworking people of our state to push back against the big money that dominates our political system and too often benefits the wealthy few over the rest of us. The commission can put New York at the forefront of addressing these problems, but should they fail to do so, the Legislature will still have a chance to improve our system.
The commission’s statute allows the Legislature to pass legislation to strengthen and improve any of the commission’s recommendations, and our leadership should be ready to act as quickly as possible should they need to.
The state cannot miss this critical opportunity to enact real change.
Nadler represents parts of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and other neighborhoods in the U.S. House.