Reformers Launch $1 Million Ad Blitz Demanding "Fair Elections" Bill in New York State
Progressives say a statewide program "super-sizing" small donations with matching public money could empower working- and middle-class candidates.
A leading group in the fight against today's big-money politics plans to spend $1 million during the next four weeks on a TV, online, and mobile advertising blitz pressuring New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and state legislators to pass a bill aimed at amplifying the voices of small-dollar donors in statewide elections.
Public Campaign Action Fund, the group behind the new push, has released its first ad, "Liberty," seen above, that compares New York State politics to the rusting, dilapidated Statue of Liberty circa the 1980s. "Broken. Corroded. Polluted," the ad says. "New York state elections are in the same condition the Statue of Liberty once was, because big money interests are drowning out the voices of ordinary voters." The ad goes on to ask, "It took four years to restore Lady Liberty, so how long will it take to clean up our state elections?" Public Campaign Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit funded by a mix of foundations, unions, and individual donors, has also launched a website, CleanUpAlbany.com, that promotes so-called fair elections, which would match small-dollar donations raised by candidates six times over with public money. The goal is to encourage lawmakers to engage with more people of modest means and not just wealthy campaign donors who can easily write five- and six-figure checks.
Progressives and other campaign reform types have for several years made New York State their top target for passing a fair elections bill. A reform proposal died in the state Senate last year. But in 2014, there is widespread support for campaign finance reform. The bipartisan Moreland Commission, convened by Cuomo in 2013 to investigate corruption in New York politics, recommended fair elections as a way to combat the "culture of corruption in Albany," the capital of New York State. Gov. Cuomo, a potential 2016 presidential contender, included a statewide public financing bill in his most recent budget proposal. (Should Cuomo run, he could feel pressure from the left on the issue of campaign finance reform: Another 2016 hopeful, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, recently stumped for a national public financing bill.)
Public Campaign's proposal for a statewide fair elections program is modeled after New York City's system, which matches small donations with public grant money. That system helped Bill de Blasio win the city's 2013 mayoral Democratic primary and eventually become mayor. This type of matching system is popular among reformers right now because it doesn't seek to limit contributions to candidates or outside groups, restrictions that are likely to be struck down at a time when the Supreme Court is likely to overturn such limits. Instead, as Public Campaign Action Fund Executive Director David Donnelly put it, a fair elections bill aims to "raise up the voices of everyday people in our political process."