May 2001
View Points 2001

From the New York State Assembly Black Square Sheldon Silver, Speaker
David Sidikman, Chair, Election Law Committee

Assembly’s Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001 Opens Up the Election Process and Increases Accountability
  • Restricting the influence of special interest money

  • Ensuring proper disclosure and contribution practices

  • Making voter ballot measures less confusing

In an effort to open up the election process in New York State, the Assembly recently passed a package of campaign finance reforms designed to expand disclosure requirements and institute finance regulations for statewide and state legislative campaigns.

At a time when voters are becoming increasingly wary about the way elections are run and voter turnout is decreasing, the Assembly Majority recognizes that campaign finance reform has the potential to help restore public confidence in the election process. The Assembly’s legislative package will make it easier for New Yorkers to trust that their voices are being heard.

Restricting the influence of special interest money

Stemming the flow of special interest money is the first step in reforming how political campaigns are financed. That’s why the cornerstone of the Assembly’s legislative package is the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001 (A.8524), which will provide public matching funds to campaigns for state office. Under the provisions of this bill, any candidate who accepted public matching funds would be required to adhere to strict campaign spending limits, and all candidates would be required to adhere to newly-established contribution limits.

To be eligible for matching funds, a candidate will first be required to have raised a minimum amount of matchable contributions. These sums are: Governor, $225,000; Senate $7,500; Assembly $5,000. For candidates who choose to abide by expenditure limits and public funding under the Campaign Finance Reform Act, the first $500 of a campaign contribution from an individual contributor would qualify for matching funds, at a match ratio of two dollars for every one dollar contributed.

In exchange for the benefits of the campaign financing system, participating candidates must agree to campaign spending and contribution limits. The general election spending limits are: Governor, $7 million; Attorney General and Comptroller, $2.5 million; State Senator, $150,000; Assembly Member, $75,000. The general election contribution limits are: statewide office, $4,000; Senate, $1,500; Assembly, $1,500.

To ensure that publicly financed candidates are able to remain competitive against non-participating opponents with substantial personal wealth or a sizeable campaign fund, both the contribution limits and match ratio will double, and the expenditure limit will be eliminated.

The Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001 also:

  • bans soft money contributions to political parties’ housekeeping accounts;

  • closes loopholes that allow corporations to avoid campaign contribution limits by funneling donations through subsidiary companies;

  • bans fundraisers by state legislators or statewide candidates within 40 miles of Albany during the legislative session;

  • improves campaign finance reporting procedures;

  • requires clear identification of the funding source for communication materials circulated in support of or against candidates;

  • empowers local governments to enact public financing programs for local campaigns; and

  • establishes penalties for willful violation of the public financing provisions.

Ensuring proper disclosure and contribution practices

It will not be possible to accurately track violations by those who contribute to various campaigns until campaign finance statements for local elections and candidates throughout the state are computerized. The Assembly’s reforms address this issue by allowing counties to require political committees that receive or spend more than $1,000 to file financial disclosure forms electronically (A.5746-a) whenever possible.

The Assembly’s legislative package also includes a measure requiring that inaugural committees meet the same contribution and disclosure requirements as political committees (A.123) –– closing a legal loophole that allows inaugural committees to operate without disclosing who is making donations or where the money is spent. Another bill (A.1460) creates an additional penalty for any corporation that makes political donations above the legal limits by reducing its contribution limits the following year.

Making voter ballot measures less confusing

There is often some confusion associated with ballot propositions and constitutional amendments. As a result, many voters either choose not to vote on a ballot issue or are completely unaware of it.

The Assembly Majority believes that a democratic system of government benefits from an informed electorate. That’s why the Assembly’s campaign finance reform package includes a measure which would require the state Board of Elections to provide voters with a pamphlet outlining statewide ballot propositions appearing on the November general election ballot (A-243-a).

These pamphlets –– which would be prepared by a bipartisan committee and mailed to every New York State household with a registered voter –– would also provide other basic voting information, such as polling locations and voter qualification requirements.

Continuing the Assembly’s commitment to comprehensive
campaign finance reform

Campaign finance reform is an idea whose time has come. The public has a right to know how hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds were raised –– and how they’ll be spent.

The Assembly is committed to ensuring that New York’s elections are decided by ideas and issues, not dollars and cents. That’s why we have consistently supported legislation to reform the state’s arcane campaign finance system. Unfortunately, the Senate and Governor have failed to share our sense of urgency.

We believe that the Assembly campaign finance reform package has the potential to restore public confidence and make New York a model for the rest of the country. We urge the Senate and the Governor to join our efforts.

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