A new bill introduced in both the New York State Assembly and Senate on Tuesday would provide public money to fund campaigns for state offices.
The bill, known as the “2012 Fair Elections Act,” would give candidates for state offices $6 for every $1 raised from individual donors who contribute less that $250 to the campaign. The bill was introduced in the Assembly by Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and by Minority Leader John Sampson, his counterpart in the Senate.
Jonathan Krasno, an associate professor in Binghamton University’s political science department and a nationally recognized campaign finance expert, said that bills like this are meant to incentivize fundraising from small donors who are attractive for campaign finance reformers, because large donations give the aura of corruption. Campaign rules that match donations from small donors are thought to discourage candidates from seeking large donors.
According to Krasno, people get suspicious of large donations because they believe the donors can disproportionately influence policies. Since this bill would encourage candidates to reach out to many instead of a few larger donors, a larger number of people would be given a voice.
But though he said he sees merit to the bill, Krasno thinks that this bill won’t go anywhere in the Republican-controlled State Senate.
“There’s a real question as to whether this is a proposal that has a serious chance of getting passed,” Krasno said. “I’m very skeptical.”
Krasno added that Silver likely had ulterior motives when he introduced the bill, knowing it wouldn’t go anywhere.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if people like Sheldon Silver introduced it just so they can say ‘look, I’m for reform,’” he said.
In a statement forwarded to Pipe Dream by a press secretary, Silver said that he wants New York to become the role model for fair elections.
“In light of the devastating effects the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has had on federal elections, we in New York should be leading the way in reducing the influence of money in our own elections,” he said referring to the recent Supreme Court decision which allows private organizations to spend an unlimited amount of money on political campaigns. “Let us be the model for the rest of the nation and lead the way to establishing and preserving fair elections.”
Garry Ginsburg, the deputy press secretary for the Democratic Conference of the New York State Senate, expressed similar sentiments.
“We have seen the terrible effects and influence that money has had on all levels of our government,” Ginsburg wrote in a statement to Pipe Dream. “New York State must once again take the lead by implementing appropriate limits on financial contributions to ensure voters have faith and trust in their elected leaders.”
Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, told Pipe Dream that the Republicans will oppose the bill.
“We have consistently opposed taxpayer money going to campaigning,” he said. “We think the money would be much better used on education for road and bridge repair and initiatives that would help create jobs.”
Krasno said the Republican Party’s response is expected given the historical opposition to using pubic money for campaigning.
“Everybody is always afraid of taxpayer money being used for campaigns,” he said.
The fear of using taxpayer money for campaigning has kept the public funding option out of the Senate, according to Krasno. Instead, taxpayers have to opt-in to paying taxes that will go toward presidential campaigns by checking a box on income tax returns. Opting-in would not cost taxpayers additional amounts, it would only allocate a portion of the taxes they already pay into the campaign system. Still, very few people think the money should be used for campaigns.
Krasno said that even Democratic members would be unlikely to vote for the bill.
“Why should they stick their neck out and vote for something that can’t become law?” he said. “They know it’s unpopular.”