public campaign finance by small donors needs to start – smart
American democracy suffers from a crisis of confidence. In too many states, the very mechanics of elections have become a partisan and polarizing issue, with deeply damaging results. This year New York has the chance to chart a course forward, with a bipartisan commitment to strengthening democracy and providing the best possible systems for our citizens to have their voices heard.
As appointees to the new Public Campaign Finance Council, this commitment is our promise. In 2020, the state adopted a new public funding program for small donors, amplify the voices of more New Yorkers in the political process. We have been appointed to oversee this program by the leaders of the parties opposed to the legislature. By choosing us, they knew they were choosing problem solvers determined to work together. Whether they are longtime policy supporters or wise critics, now that public funding is the law, our duty is to prepare the program for a successful launch in November 2022.
We know that our responsible colleagues and Electoral Council staff are ready to work together for this launch, even with barely a chance to catch their breath after the challenge of holding an election in the event of a pandemic. We are grateful that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget includes the necessary seed money for the public funding program and urge our elected leaders to maintain this commitment in the final budget.
This voluntary program will allow candidates for legislative or state office to try and qualify for matching public funds for small donations (less than $ 250). Contributions from New York residents to statewide applicants will equal $ 6 to $ 1. Legislative candidates can be matched for donations from their district residents, the smaller the donation, the higher the match.
Launching this program requires extensive administrative coordination, from hiring staff and purchasing office space to working with vendors who can help create and test relevant technology. As these resources are put in place, staff will also draft the rules and regulations that will govern the program.
Creating transparent public funding that is worthy of the public’s trust is a top priority for us as Commissioners. This means having clear guidelines that explain when a candidate is allowed to receive matching funds and what happens when someone breaks the rules. And it is also essential that the system is user-friendly so that applicants can participate easily, with rules and regulations being applied fairly among all participants. Doing both means that the public is assured that their money is safe and that new nominees are inspired to come forward and that seasoned public servants can be assured of being treated fairly. We will reach out to experts who have already done so successfully, learning from them as the Public Campaign Finance Board moves forward in New York.
There’s no time to waste: New York is due to launch small-donor public funding by November 2022, so applicants running in 2024 can raise funds under the new program. Connecticut’s simpler government funding program took two years to build. But if the program receives the necessary seed funding this year, we are determined to work together and with our colleagues to make this program a success – and make New York an example for other states seeking to strengthen their democracies.
Ekow N. Yankah and Brian M. Kolb are members of the new Public Campaign Finance Board in New York State.