March 28, 2019

Meanwhile Back in Albany (v30)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times photo
Most of us are familiar with how what passes for legislating these days gets done in New York, right?We cram all of the key legislative items into the budget, which is negotiated by the three leaders in Albany, of course. Isn't that how everyone does it?

Probably not, but that it totally muddies the budget waters, cuts most of our expensive legislators out of the process, and negates most of the limited opportunities we voters have to interject our voice into the legislative process doesn't seem to matter much.

This year those three people - Democrats Andrew Cuomo, the Sonofa Gov, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Leader Carl Heastie - have moved quickly on many reforms, but they're currently struggling on public campaign financing. Some of the opposition, it seems, is coming from Heastie's Assembly; while they've passed similar laws in the past when there was zero chance of passage by the Republican-controlled Senate, now that it might actually happen it seems there's some foot-dragging going on. According to a report from the State of Politics blog,
...some lawmakers have raised concerns with the effect of independent expenditure committees, or super PACs, and the potential of fines levied under a public campaign financing system. 
And Heastie himself says his chamber is all for matching small contributions, except for paying for the match, I guess.

He added that his members "are not ready to support the NYC model for the entire state" - but did not say what they would support as a statewide program, not did he suggest where the matching funds would come from.

The New York AFL-CIO also has come out against doing it as part of the budget, noting that they supported the package of reforms that was passed earlier (and that didn't have any potential negative impact on union influence, which this change likely would).

Let's look at what the plan would include.

According to the Brennan Center, getting this done would be nothing short of transformative for NY, allowing better representation for constituents, adding diversity, helping rein in corruption, and giving us more confidence in our elected officials and the whole process. Here's how it would work:
Candidates opt in by raising enough small initial donations to qualify, and then they accept conditions including lower contribution limits.... (the) current proposal would provide a $6-to-$1 match on each private contribution up to $175.
So, under the plan, $10 would be $70 for the candidate; the max $175 contribution would become $1,225. And, the Brennan Center folks tell us,
In 2018...the top 100 donors gave more to candidates than all of the estimated 137,000 small donors combined. Small donations made up 5% of all money given to...state candidates - a far smaller share than the the federal level in 2018. 
Here's more information, from a NY Times editorial, about the proposal.
  • Up to $35K would be available for the primary and general elections for Assembly races, $750K for Senate races, $8M for comptroller and AG races, and $18M for gubernatorial candidates.
  • Candidates who voluntarily participate would have lower individual contribution limits: $12K (down from $69,700) for statewide races, $8K (down from $19,300) for Senate races, and $4K (down from $9,400) for Assembly races. 
  • Individual contribution limits for candidates not participating would also be lower: $25K (statewide races), $10K (Senate), and $6K (Assembly). 
  • Qualification for the match requires both a minimum amount raised and a certain number of donors. For example, a Senate candidate would need to raise $20K from donors within the district and have 200 donors giving between $10 - $175. 
  • Private money can be raised if the matching limit is met.
I confess I was more than a little skeptical on this; I'm dead set against candidates receiving money from outside the district they're running in, so I feel much better knowing that constituent contributions are the ones being matched.

Estimates to fund this range from $100M to $200M, according to Cuomo's team, or up to $500M according to opponents. And it is a lot of money to spend to try and get fresh blood in our entrenched (and ethically challenged) political system.

After all, only one candidate can win a party primary, and only one will come out of the general election - so yes, a lot of money could be spent in a losing effort. But, if the results are anything like what's been happening in NYC, it's likely worth it. Again, from the Times op-ed:
In 2017...only five of 41 City Council members up for re-election, or 12%, didn't face an opponent... A year earlier, 26% of state lawmakers up for re-election ran (unopposed). 
Entrenched, unopposed, non-term-limited legislators? Yeah, that's another one of my pet peeves; this will help us nudge them out, I think - this, coupled with changes to LLC contributions and the other reforms that are designed to encourage voter participation.

Another complaint I've heard? Fears that "my money would be going to fund candidates I don't agree with." That's valid, but how different is that from all of our other tax dollars going to programs we don't like? At least this proposal gives us a chance to have a voice again, if we can get some fresh blood in Albany.

Does this have to be crammed through as part of the budget process? No - but at a minimum, there should be money set aside in the budget to fund this and the related infrastructure (for there's always related infrastructure, isn't there?) in case they can't get the program framework nailed down in time for the Monday budget deadline.

Rarely am I gung-ho on the Sonofa Gov's plans, but this is one I'm willing to try.

Anyone else?

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