A coalition of groups calling for public financing of candidates in New York is launching an advertising and grassroots push on Monday to raise awareness among the public and put pressure on legislators in Albany. The goal is to make sure that the New York state Legislature enacts comprehensive campaign finance reform in the current session.
The initiative is backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and a host of groups that are organized under the Fair Elections New York banner and hail from the labor, business, consumer, environmental and campaign finance reform communities.
"The drumbeat to pass comprehensive campaign reform in New York this year is getting louder and louder," David Donnelly, executive director of Public Campaign Action Fund, said in a statement. "Over the next few weeks, lawmakers across the state will hear from their constituents that they demand a political system that works for everyone and not just big campaign donors." Public Campaign Action Fund is one of the groups paying for the advertising effort.
The ad, titled "Listen to Us," features people with their mouths taped shut as a metaphor for how the current system favors large contributors over small donors. It states, "Everyday New Yorkers just aren't being heard because political campaigns are dominated by big money. As hard as we try, it doesn't feel like anyone in Albany is listening. That's why we need Fair Elections. By limiting political contributions and matching small donations with public funds."
"'Listen to Us' will inform ordinary New Yorkers about how publicly-financed elections will finally make the voices of voters heard in Albany," Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York, said in a statement. Citizen Action of New York is also helping to pay for the ad.
The ad campaign, which will include television, direct mail and online efforts, will cost $815,000.
Although Cuomo's popularity in New York has dropped recently -- especially among Republicans -- the Fair Elections New York coalition also links its effort to his support for pubic financing. The ad asks citizens to "Join Governor Cuomo and pass the Fair Elections proposal." The governor has called for public financing in each of his State of the State addresses.
The specific proposal favored by the coalition would provide candidates with a public match for small-dollar donations, a system currently in place in New York City elections. While the maximum limit on contribution would be lowered, a donor's contribution would be matched with $5 in public funds for every $1 given, up to $175. A contribution of $175 would thus be increased to $1,050, with public funds included.
In previous efforts to pass public financing, bills have won support in the New York Assembly, but stalled in the state Senate. Coalition members believe that this year they have sufficient support in the Senate, especially after last year's razor-thin election of state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, who campaigned heavily in support of reform.
In addition to the ad campaign, the coalition is planning a grassroots effort with rallies, forums and volunteer-organized house parties to increase public awareness of the issue. The grassroots initiative received support on March 26 from Organizing for Action, the former campaign of President Barack Obama. The OFA's endorsement brings with it a pool of 744,000 members in New York state to tap for volunteer efforts.