Campaign Finance Reform Designed to Fail
by Jumaane Williams
Dec 18, 2019 | 3778 views | 0 0 comments | 482 482 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Our state's Public Campaign Finance Commission raised its voices over the shouts of enraged New Yorkers to finalize its plan for implementing a public financing system.

The commission was ostensibly tasked with creating a system of fairly financed elections, and in that mission they failed.

It's not a fairly financed election if contribution limits are still high enough for the wealthiest donors to outbid New Yorkers for a politician's attention.

It's not a fairly financed election if it includes a poison pill to destroy minor parties that push for major change.

It's not a fairly financed election if donation thresholds are inflated enough that the program functions as an incumbency protection program - defeating the purpose, not the powerful.

But the truth is that the commission's failure to implement a fair system isn't a failure at all, it's by design.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, like too many of his allies in office, knows that a fairly financed election is one they can't win.

This planned failure has been seeded from the beginning. By installing his top ally as chair, Governor Cuomo has been able to abuse this process for political gain, free of consequence.

It's absurd, Trumpian, and largely unseen by the public this system should serve and uplift.

The commission held hearings, but clearly weren't listening. In 2018, the top 100 donors gave more money than 137,000 small donors combined.

This plan won't suitably correct that disparity, but, in another move that undercuts and obfuscates the purpose of the commission, it will target the organizations working to fight it.

I wouldn't be in office without public financing, but I also wouldn't be here without minor parties unafraid to take a stance against powers like Governor Cuomo. I wouldn't be here without grassroots individuals with boundless energy but limited funds, whose voices public financing would amplify who big money wants to drown out.

Without those forces I wouldn't be here.

And the governor knows that.

Advocates, legislators, leaders...know we had an opportunity to uplift the voices of all New Yorkers, and we cannot stop raising our voices - and votes - against what would be among the worst public financing systems in the nation.

Legislators need to return to Albany and fight back against entrenched powers, or voters will themselves, because elected officials who don't support fair elections don't deserve to win them.

Editor’s note: This ope-ed was originally published in The Albany Times-Union. Jumaane Williams is public advocate of New York City.

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