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Assembly Advances Campaign Finance Reform


The State Assembly has introduced a bill to permit for the first time in New York State voluntary public financing of some election campaigns.  


The Assembly bill would offer an optional public financing system for campaigns for state legislative and statewide offices, giving candidates six dollars for every one dollar in contributions. It is modeled after the New York City system and would be financed, in part, through a $5 check off option on state income taxes.  


Bill Mahoney, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says it’s a “good first step”.


“We would like to see more in a final bill,” said Mahoney who said he’d like to see more restrictive limits on individual campaign contributions and better enforcement for violators.


Governor Cuomo listed public campaign financing as a goal in his State of the State message, says he hopes to pursue the issue with legislative leaders during the final two months of the legislative session.


“I support campaign finance,” said Cuomo “I’ve been pushing it very hard."


But Cuomo says he won’t be introducing his own bill right now, saying that do to so without prior agreement from the legislature would just be a “public relations” stunt.


Cuomo says he’ll publicly release legislation only if he can’t win agreement with lawmakers.


Mahoney, with NYPIRG, says he hopes the governor follows through. He says Cuomo listed three major reform goals during his campaign for governor, ethics reform, redistricting reform and campaign finance reform. Mahoney says the governor scored with an ethics agreement in 2011, but struck out this year when it came to redistricting, agreeing to a plan that permitted gerrymandered districts.


“In our opinion he’s currently batting 500,” said Mahoney who said the governor will need to “push” for a campaign finance reform agreement  if he wants to “end the session with a winning record”.


Republicans who are in charge in the State Senate, have been reluctant to sign on to public campaign financing,  saying that taxpayers don’t want to fund candidates that they might not agree with and would rather contribute directly to specific campaigns.


Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said recently that he will also be introducing an alternative measure that offers public campaign financing for just the state Comptroller’s race, as a test case, as a compromise that perhaps the Senate could find “palatable”.    


The Assembly’s campaign finance reform bill is set to be taken up in committee later in the week.



Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.