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It’s unclear where Gov. Kathy Hochul stands on signing legislation that would amend the state’s public campaign financing program — a bill that narrowly passed both houses in the eleventh hour of this year’s legislative session.
The measure — headed for Hochul’s desk by year’s end — would alter the parameters of the state’s public campaign finance system included in the state budget in 2020, which takes effect this election cycle.
The current system matches small candidate donations fom $5 to $250 with public funds in attempts to undercut the longstanding influence of large donors and wealth in New York campaigns and elections.
"That really gives those donors more of a stake in the game, more skin in the game and makes small donations far more meaningful to campaigns," said Joanna Zdanys, senior counsel Brennan Center for Justice Elections and Government program. "…It can encourage campaigns and encourage candidates regardless of whether they’re running for office for the first time or whether they’re running for re-election, to get out in the community and engage with everyday constituents that they seek to represent."
The state’s public campaign finance system launched last year, but the Legislature is looking to make changes more in line with New York City’s model they say will better amplify the voices of everyday voters. The system is also meant to make elections more competitive.
The bill, which good-government groups are pleading Hochul to veto, permits donations up to $6,000 in the Assembly, $10,000 in the Senate and $18,000 for statewide offices to get boosted by public funds.
Zdanys says the changes would undermine the system meant to make candidates be more engaged with everday constituents instead of donors with deeper pockets.
"There’s no reason that this program should be used to subsidize big donors," she said. "This bill was a mistake… This bill goes against the purpose of the program by amplifying the donations of mega donors who don’t need that extra boost. That’s why the Brennan Center and so many others across the state are calling on Gov. Hochul to veto this bill."
It’s unclear to advocates and lawmakers if the governor intends to sign the measure into law. Hochul was asked about this legislation earlier this summer and wouldn’t say where she stands on the proposal, but she did say this idea and push is coming from the Legislature. The governor continues to review the bill.
During session debate in June, bill sponsor Sen. Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat, said the changes mimic the rules of New York City’s campaign finance system.
"That has encouraged engagement with small donors and we believe this would be the same here," the senator said at the time. "…One of the most successful public financing administrations in the coutnry is in New York City."
Republican lawmakers largely stand against the use of public monies financing political campaigns. Sen. George Borrello, a Sunset Bay Republican who voted in June against the bill, says the proposed changes make the system worse.
"This change raises the threshold, it raises the number of donors you have to have as a minimum, raises the total dollar amount you have to raise as a minimum — it basically doubles it," Borrello said Thursday. "It goes against the spirit of public campaign finance for those who support that idea."
He noted how the measure barely passed the Senate with a vote of 34-29, adding several Democrats, including Senate Finance Committee chair Liz Krueger, voted against it.
"The governor should absolutely veto this because it was not was universally opposed, I would say, in a bipartisan manner," he said.
Those pushing for a veto say the changes would most benefit incumbents, who are most likely to receive larger donations.
Others worry the changes will fuel greater instances of fraud as New York City has seen increased candidates using straw donors trying to game the system.
"There’s no doubt that my Democrat colleagues are having some buyer’s remorse when it comes to public campaign finance," Borrello said. "[This is] the opposite of trying to get big money out of politics. And it’s a shameful example of the hypocrisy by many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle."
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