New York State Commission to Create Public Financing of Elections
New York City Hearing
September 10, 2019
Thank you to the distinguished Commission, fellow elected officials, and to the hundreds of people here today. I am Council Member Ben Kallos.
Over one million people, some 80% of the voters in New York City, demanded that we get big money out of New York City politics, and we’ve created a constitutional court tested voluntary program that now offers candidates a full public match for every small dollars they raise with 8 public tax payer dollars up to the spending limit.
In a citywide and city council special election it has flipped how campaigns have been financed from nearly three-quarters big money to almost two-thirds small dollars with 73% of the campaign spending coming from public dollars. I’ve always refused real estate money that many blame for our city’s affordable housing crisis and this law has allowed us to elect our first citywide candidate without real estate money.
This Commission should adopt the current New York City system in its entirety. I will submit testimony on 18 key components and proposed improvements for your consideration and implementation, many of which I have personally authored and already passed into law. In my remarks I will highlight only a few of the most important.
Empower small dollars over big money. Provide a full public match on every small dollar up to a spending limit. As an improvement to the New York City system, do not match any portion of big money contributions over what would be matched. Elected officials and candidates should not spend the majority of their time courting a select group of millionaires and billionaires who give big money but in the community talking to residents and small dollar donors.
Get big money out. Contribution limits need to come down from the sky high of $69,500 for governor to be inline with what can be given to the President of the United States of America $2,800, which should be $2,000 statewide, $1,500 for Senate, and $1,000 for Assembly. It’s time for a state ban on corporate money, Federal government has had a ban for more than a century, New York City’s had a ban for a generation, and 22 other states already have a ban.
Open the ballot to more candidates. If someone qualifies for public funds they should automatically get on the ballot instead of continuing the cynical game of ballot bumping based on an arcane petition requirement. Fusion voting must remain for races with more than one candidate so voters can identify candidates aligned with their values whether Working Families, Women’s Equality, Conservative, or even the Rent is Too Damn High.
Costs can be controlled and elections kept competitive by capping spending in each race and forcing candidates to return all unused funds following an election in order to eliminate warchests, kill zombie committees and keep the program costs well under $100 million.
The time is now, when the national and statewide attention is captured by the Presidential election, with this program available for candidates in the 2020 June Primary and November General elections.
Since its inception in 1988, New York City has had the model campaign finance system in the country, while New York State has lagged significantly behind. The New York City system has survived court challenges, been strengthened by legislative changes, and helped candidates, like me, compete and get elected. It is a system that this commission should replicate in its entirety and where possible improve upon. I offer to this commission proposals large and small that will create a fairer campaign finance system for New York State by shifting the balance of power away from the wealthy and well-connected, back toward the people.
Empower Small Dollars Over Big Money in New York State Politics
1. Match Every Dollar with a Full Public Match – match every small dollar up to the first $175 for legislative and $250 for statewide candidates up to the spending limit.NYC Model
2. Match Small Dollars with 8 to 1 Multiplier – match each of the first $175 for legislative and $250 for statewide candidates with 8 tax payer dollars from the public.NYC Model
3. Lower Contribution Limits – lower contribution limits below Federal limits for President to $2,000 for statewide offices, $1,500 for Senators, and $1,000 for Assembly Members total per election cycle.NYC Model
Get Big Money Out
4. Ban Corporate Contributions – extend cetnury’s old Federal ban and New York City decade’s old ban on corporate contributions.NYC Model
5. Limit Contributions from Lobbyists or People Doing Business with the State and Do Not Match Their Money or the Money They Bundle – eliminate the appearance of or actual pay to play in Albany by lowering contribution limits from lobbyists as well as those who do business with government and do not match their contributions or the contributions they bundle.NYC Model
6. Do Not Match Big Dollar Contributions – candidates should be forced to actually solicit small dollars from residents to get public matching funds, big money over $250 or $175 should not be matched with public dollars.New
Attract More Candidates and Voters Now
7. Empower Residents to Run for Office – automatically allow candidates who qualify for public matching to be on the ballot as an alternative to archaic petition requirements.New
8. Limit Candidate Spending – institute spending caps on Assembly and Senate primary and general elections to keep them competitive.NYC Model
9. Limit Public Match in Non-Competitive Races – candidates who are not facing serious challenges should not receive public funds.NYC Model
10. Provide a Voter Guide Online and Available by Mail Complete with Donor Disclosures – provide every voter with a guide for what is on the ballot including whether candidates are participating in public finance, with a pie chart showing where they get their money, broken down by industry.New
11. Eliminate War Chests and Kill All the Zombie Committees – prohibit war chests by requiring candidates to have only one authorized committee at a time with any remaining funds paid to the state after each election. This will help defray costs and keep the program under $100 million.New
12. Require Minimum Raise from New York State Residents to Qualify for Matching – candidates must raise 20% of the funds necessary for a full public funds payment from New York State residents.NYC Model
13. Require Support from Residents in the District to Qualify for Matching – establish a threshold of $5-minimum contributions from residents in district to qualify for matching funds of 75 such contributions for candidates for Assembly, 150 for Senate, and 1,000 for statewide office.NYC Model
14. Prohibit Campaign Spending that Benefits Candidates – candidates, family, and friends must not personally benefit from the campaign funds, which can be prevented by prohibiting non-campaign expenditures such as paying for relatives, cars, meals, tuition, international travel, or home improvement.NYC Model
15. Prohibit Coordination with Independent Expenditures – strict liability for sharing consultants between a candidate and an independent expenditure in their favor.New
16. Maintain Fusion Voting – provided there is more than one candidate, those candidates should be free to run on multiple party lines.NYC Model
17. Limiting Costs to Under $100 Million - elections for open seats draw the most candidates in the most competitive elections whereas without term limits incumbents and their challengers rarely receive a full public matching grant minimizing the overall cost.
18. Act Now – implement new program in time for the 2020 election when many New Yorkers will participate for the first time because of the Presidential elections. Initial rollout in 2020 would also provide an opportunity to test the new program in a year when no statewide races are planned, allowing it to scale up to a full rollout in 2022. The New York City Campaign Finance Board could initially administer races taking place completely within New York City.
Note on format:
NYC Model Indicates proposals currently implemented in the New York City Campaign Finance system.
New Indicates necessary improvements for both the New York City and State Campaign Finance systems.