Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Assemblymembers and Advocates Call for Publicly Financed Voter-Owned Elections in Wake of Citizens United Anniversary

Letter to Senate, Assembly Signed by Over 50 Organizations Saying New York Must Lead by Putting People, Not Big Money Corporations, In Control of Elections, Restore Trust in Government

Members of the New York State Assembly joined advocates from good government groups, labor, issue advocacy organizations and citizen activists today as they called for passage of a publicly financed voter-owned elections system for statewide and legislative races in New York.

In a Siena poll release last week, 70% of New York voters supported creating a system of publicly financed voter-owned elections. Governor Cuomo has repeatedly noted his support, as well.

As the one year anniversary of the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision that allowed corporate and special interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections passed last Friday, New Yorkers were again reminded of the need to truly reform our elections system, putting the voices of people before those of wealthy corporate interests. Voter-owned elections are the best way for our elected officials to restore the public’s trust in government.

Organizations presented a letter addressed to Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, signed by over 50 organizations from across New York calling for the passage of publicly financed voter-owned elections during this legislative session. 

New York can’t afford to wait any longer to enact a system of publicly financed voter-owned elections,” said Jessica Wisneski, Legislative Director of Citizen Action of New York. “Voters don’t trust that their government is working for their interests. 70% of the public wants to take their elections back from big money corporations, Wall Street bankers, and their lobbyists by establishing a system of voter-owned elections for statewide and legislative campaigns. Citizen Action commends the Assemblymembers who are standing with us today who have taken action to stand up for democracy by restoring integrity to our electoral process.”

"No single reform has the power to reshape Albany like campaign finance reform -- removing money from the political process will open the door to competitive elections and shut the door on donor driven decision-making," said Assemblyman Rory Lancman.

[Assemblyman Lancman was on the Susan Arbetter show on Capitol Pressroom to discuss campaign finance reform.  The show airs across the state and in the Capitol Region on WVCR-FM 88.3.  The Assemblyman discussed public financing of campaigns. Click below to listen (9 mins 13 seconds)...


"In the year since the Citizens United decision, we have already seen corporate money begin to flow in ways that are troubling for our democracy," said Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh who chairs the Assembly subcommittee that oversees election operations and voting rights. "The ability of special interests to drown out the average citizen’s voice has never been greater, and the need for common sense campaign finance reform, including public financing of campaigns, has never been more pressing. It’s not an overstatement to say that our democracy depends on it."

"Campaign finance reform is a critical step that we must take toward making our government more transparent and less captive to special interests,” said Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in government and the distinguished advocacy groups represented here today to make this a reality."

"If we are really going to reform Albany, we've got to start with where all of us start when we run for office--with the way campaigns are financed," said Assemblymember Francisco Moya. "Publicly financed elections allow for more accountability, transparency and time to focus on the most important part of our job, the voters and the issues they care about."

"If the State is going to see the kind of reform that Governor Cuomo has called for, and that the people of New York expect, we need to change the way elections are financed, and that begins with public financing of elections," said Lawrence Norden, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center. "The best way to end expensive give-aways to special interest is to counteract the corrupting influence they gain by financing our elections."

"Public Campaign applauds the members of the New York Assembly and advocates who are pushing for a publicly financed fair elections system to combat the influence of big money interests in politics." said Nick Nyhart, President & CEO of Public Campaign
"Citizens United made a bad problem worse, and in order to put voters back in charge, the entire state legislature should pass an alternative small-donor driven system of funding elections this year."

New York’s political landscape, with its sky-high campaign contribution limits, is easily dominated by big money contributors – a situation compounded by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, as we saw in last year’s election. To his credit, Governor Cuomo recognizes that this situation is toxic to a well-functioning state and has pledged to help end it by his support for public funding of elections for state races. There is great momentum for making this pledge a reality now, while the excesses of the 2010 election are still fresh in everyone’s memory. Common Cause/NY, as a long-time advocate of public funding for New York State urges Governor Cuomo to work with these Assembly Members, our coalition and the thousands of supporters for public financing around the state to pass a public funding bill early in the session,” said Deanna Bitetti, Associate Director, Common Cause/NY.

"Putting in place a system of public financing of elections is the single best way to combat the negative consequences of the Citizens United decision and reduce the improper influence of large private contributions," said Dave Palmer, Executive Director of the Center for Working Families.

"Extraordinarily well financed special interests, whose narrow interests are far too often adverse to the interests of the people of our state, will continue to exert undue and detrimental influence until such time as we finally adopt a state wide system of public financing of elections," said Assembly member Charles Lavine (13th Assembly District).

"Public financing is needed now more than ever in the wake of the Citizens United court decision which has allowed unregulated, undisclosed, and unrestricted private spending to dominate politics," said Assemblymember James F. Brennan.

"It's never been more important, with the vast amounts of corporate money being poured into elections, that we enact public financing of campaigns this year," saidAssemblywoman Barbara Lifton.

"We need public campaign financing to make sure candidates who don’t have personal wealth or support from wealthy contributors can get their message out and compete effectively with wealthy or well-funded candidates," said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried.

"With unchecked spending and appallingly high contribution limits, corporate interests have used their power of the purse to unduly influence elected officials on issues ranging from the environment to affordable housing," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF). "I am proud to support legislation requiring stricter contribution limits, instituting public financing for state elections and tougher regulations governing lobbying practices. New Yorkers deserve honest, transparent government and it’s time to finally act on these reforms. Albany has been marred by scandal in recent years, but this session offers us a chance at redemption. Competitive publicly financed elections will mean more incumbents challenged at the ballot box but fewer of them leaving in handcuffs. Competitive publicly financed elections will lead to housing policy formulated for tenants and not landlords. Competitive publicly financed elections will lead to gas drilling policies crafted by the people drinking our water and not those polluting it. New York can restore its standing as a progressive leader but we have to fix the way we finance campaigns first."