The Brennan Center thanks the co-chairs, commissioners, and staff of the Moreland Commission for their service to the people of the great state of New York. The commission’s diligent research to investigate corruption resulted in strong recommendations that show Albany the way to change its pay-to-play culture. The Brennan Center looks forward to continuing to work with the commission. We call on the legislature to act on the report’s recommendations immediately upon their return to session in January.
The preliminary report paints a disturbing picture of the role that big money plays in state politics. Legislators get the vast majority of their campaign contributions from big donors, and that money flows to the party in control of a chamber or committee. Lobbyists see contributions as a tool to influence policy, and incumbents’ fundraising advantage protects them from facing the voters.
But the report also powerfully makes the case that the way forward is clear. Our campaign finance system needs comprehensive reform. We need lower contribution limits with fewer loopholes, robust disclosure requirements covering independent spending, independent and effective enforcement, and public financing. The commission explained that these reforms are interconnected — each depends on the others.
Public financing, the centerpiece of reform, allows candidates to run without support from special interests. Public funding systems in New York City and Connecticut have expanded participation, made elections more competitive, and reduced the influence of lobbyists. The commission’s report endorses the approach taken in New York City and bills proposed in Albany this year: matching small donations from New York residents at a rate of 6-to-1 for candidates who qualify by showing broad support.
The report suggests that public funding would save the state money in the long run, as the cost is offset by the money saved when the voices of average New Yorkers rise to the same level as the special interests that try to secure sweetheart deals for themselves.
Finally, the commission explains that public financing is all the more needed post-Citizens United. The threat of unlimited and unaccountable independent expenditures looms over every election, and public funding protects candidates from being drowned out by outside spending. Studies show that the candidate with the most money doesn’t always win, but candidates need enough money to make voters familiar with their names and messages in order to be competitive. A public financing system provides that for qualified candidates, and the report notes examples of New York City candidates who won with public financing despite being outspent several times over by outside spending.
The governor appointed an independent, bipartisan commission to show the way out of our crisis of corruption. The commission has delivered with strong recommendations on how to clean up Albany. It’s time for the legislature and governor to enact and implement these powerful ideas, and return control of Albany to the people of New York.
***The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law will send regular updates to this list of Friends of Reform in New York State on efforts to secure comprehensive campaign finance reform centered on public financing of elections. These updates will be sent to good government advocates, allies of the Fair Elections New York campaign, legislative and opinion leaders, scholars and engaged students, reporters, and other advocates for reform. They will also be posted on the Brennan Center’s New York blog at ReformNY.blogspot.com.