State’s nascent campaign financing system eyed for changes (again)

By Published On: April 3rd, 2024Categories: Capitol Notes

Senate Democrats from across the political spectrum are backing a new bill to update the state’s system of providing matching funds for small-dollar, in-district political contributions.

The legislation, introduced on Wednesday from Sen. James Skoufis, is very similar to the 2023 effort by the Democratic majorities to overhaul the system, which was vetoed by Gov. Kathy Hochul. One key difference, according to the Orange County Democrat, is that the “most controversial” element, allowing for the first $250 of contributions in excess of $250 to be matched, is absent from the new effort.

Skoufis said the Democrats are hoping to inject the issue into the budget debate, but are prepared to pass standalone legislation before the end of the session. “There are a lot of us who want this issue to be discussed in the confines of the budget negotiations,” he said.

The legislation would change the threshold to qualify for matching funds, although the provisions wouldn’t take effect until the general election, and would address concerns about needing to spend down organically raised contributions in order to avoid returning matching funds.

While there are 16 Senate Democrats attached to the bill, Skoufis said there is “extremely wide and deep support in the majority conference to make these changes.” As for the Assembly, he said there is a long list of members who would carry the bill.

UPDATE: Citizen Action of New York Democracy Coalition Coordinator Karen Wharton described the proposed changes as akin to “replacing airplane parts mid-flight.”

“Hundreds of candidates are already participating in the public campaign finance program in its original form,” Wharton said in a statement. “We should allow the program to complete a full election cycle and then evaluate potential changes based on empirical data rather than conjecture.”

UPDATE 2X: The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law says it’s not the right time to change the public financing program.

“Hundreds of candidates have already enrolled in the program and been trained on its rules. To toss in significant changes at this juncture, during perhaps one of the most consequential elections of our lifetimes, is a huge ask of agency staff, candidates, and voters,” said Joanna Zdanys, senior counsel in the Elections and Government Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.