It seems like every two years Albany politicians run on the slogan of “Reform Albany” – only to have the status quo defeat reform time and time again. In the coming weeks, however, New York has a real chance to break this vicious cycle and achieve substantial reforms to reduce the influence of money and special interests in our political system.
Governor Cuomo has championed the need for campaign finance reform and it appears there will be a push to achieve reform this legislative session. New Yorkers need to join the Governor in calling for the State Assembly and State Senate to act.
As a candidate for the State Senate, I know first-hand the absurdity of the campaign finance system. For instance, while a donor can give $2,500 to a candidate for the President of the United States under federal law, a donor can give over $15,000 to a candidate for State Senate in New York. That’s nuts. Even worse, loopholes make it easy for wealthy donors and powerful interests to funnel nearly unlimited funds to our state lawmakers. Special interests can give politicians more money than the average New Yorker makes in a year. Simply put, New York is the wild west when it comes to campaign finance.
What are the impacts of our current system of campaign finance in New York? First, lawmakers and candidates spend an inordinate amount of time chasing wealthy donors. When our policymakers spend their time with the wealthy and well-connected, we get legislation that is disproportionately geared toward the well-off. Second, such large contributions create a relationship between donors and elected leaders that is ripe for corruption. When one or two individuals can bankroll an entire campaign, we create a system where there is an appearance (and often a reality) that donors can buy their legislators. Third, because of the amount of time the legislators spend raising money, our legislators are not fully focusing on their job of serving the voters.
Reforming Albany is one of the primary reasons I’m running for the State Senate. Too many politicians have come around in recent elections with “Reform Albany” bumper stickers only to have reform amnesia once they get into office. I believe that whatever issue you most care about— whether it be the environment, taxes, education, health care — it all comes back to a broken campaign finance system that allows the rich and powerful to dictate legislative outcomes and undermine real reform. This is an issue where there should be bipartisan consensus. Think about it – if we really care about an issue, and we do all the things that we teach our children are the bedrock of democracy: call our elected leaders, write letters to the editor and talk with neighbors. All that activism can be undermined by a single check.
Campaign finance reform in New York should include (1) lowering contribution limits from donors, (2) increasing disclosures and regulation about legislators’ outside income to ensure conflicts of interest do not undermine legislation, (3) cracking down on unethical fundraising practices and ensuring that legislators are not putting their votes up for sale, and (4) introducing some form of voluntary public financing to ensure that our legislators aren’t spending all their time chasing donors.
Albany is broken and this is not an academic issue. Broken government costs businesses and taxpayers every day. Let’s come together and demand real campaign finance reform so our elected leaders spend their time and energy working for us, not their re-election.