Monday, April 11, 2011

In Support of Voter-Owned Elections

In a joint op-ed in Sunday’s Buffalo News, former Republican Congressmen from New York’s 24th and 29th Districts, Sherwood Boehlert and Amory Houghton made the case for voter-owned elections in New York. Writing from experiences as politicians faced with raising funds for re-election campaigns, the former congressmen illustrate the need for reform by contrasting the status quo with a publicly financed system with voluntary matching funds.

A re-election campaign for the New York State Assembly costs an average of $130,000. For many legislators, raising this amount of money means they must host receptions at expensive restaurants and spend hours on the phone with wealthy donors, lobbyists, and special interests. However, Boehlert and Houghton note that if New York State were to adopt a system of publicly financed elections with a voluntary matching funds program, politicians would not have to resort to lobbyists and special interests to raise money. Instead, politicians would have an incentive to raise funds from small donors in the amounts of $10, $25, $50, and $100 which would be matched on a 4-to-1 ratio by a state fund. Politicians would be able to free themselves of special interest money, and focus more on their constituents.

Such a system is not pie in the sky. A similar system has been in use for many offices in New York City for nearly the past 25 years using a 6-to-1 matching system. The Brennan Center’s recent report on the New York City small donor matching funds system found that the system has both significantly increased the number of contributors and small donors as well increased diversity in competitive races.

Boehlert and Houghton along with other leaders in New York State recently pledged in this letter to work with Gov. Cuomo in his fight to pursue publicly financed elections in New York State, an issue he gave prominence in both his campaign and State of the State address.

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