December 6, 2019

An Update on Campaign Finance Reform in New York State

Last week, the New York Public Campaign Financing Commission, the 9-member body tasked with fixing New York State’s campaign finance laws, released its final report. 

The report isn’t without compromises and drawbacks, but overall the commission’s recommendations are a step in the right direction — giving a greater voice to working families and fighting the dominance of big money in our politics.

Here’s what we achieved:

    1. Lower campaign contribution limits. New York State had some of the highest contribution limits in the country. But across the board, the commission put in caps that lower the amount of money donors can give to political candidates. Contributions will now be capped at $18,000 for statewide candidates (down from $69,700), at $10,000 for state senate candidates (down from $19,300), and $6,000 for state assembly candidates (down from $9,400).
    2. Public matching on campaign donations under $250. The commission also increased the power of small-dollar donors. Contributions to statewide candidates will be matched 6-to-1 with public funds, and in-district donations to state legislative candidates are matched on a sliding scale that averages out to roughly a 9-to-1 ratio. For example, under the new legislation a donation of $250 to a candidate for state senate becomes $2,550 via matching funds.

These reforms have the potential to transform New York’s political landscape by encouraging candidates to connect with regular voters, not curry the favor of corporate donors. This is an important step towards ending big money dominance in Albany. 

There’s a lot to be excited about, but we must also acknowledge that there were some disappointing aspects of the commission’s recommendations.

First, these changes will be implemented slowly. The recommended campaign finance reforms won’t go into effect until 2024 for legislative races and 2026 for statewide races. Second, the commission recommended third party ballot restrictions, making it more difficult for third parties — including the Working Families Party, the Green Party, and the Conservative Party — to participate in elections. This change will take effect before the 2020 election. 

Progress is never perfect, and this is a moment to take stock of the meaningful reforms you helped make possible. From attending commission meetings, to putting public pressure on New York’s leaders with letters to the editor, emails, thousands of calls, and tweets, you played a critical role in pushing New York towards bold reform. As we head into the new year, and a new legislative session in Albany, let’s continue this momentum. We’ll be in touch soon with actions you can take to help pass additional democracy reforms in 2020, including automatic voter registration, which would add over a million new voters to the rolls in New York.