Judge strikes down state's new public financing law

Mar 12, 2020

A Supreme Court justice struck down New York’s new public campaign financing law after challenges were brought by two minor parties that said the rules unfairly discriminated against them. 

The commission, which was dominated by appointees of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and criticized for its secrecy, implemented a plan last November that would enact a public matching donor program. But it also placed strict new limits on the abilities of minor parties to qualify to be on the ballot. 

Instead of the threshold of 50,000 votes for the governor's race every four years, parties other than the Democratic and Republican parties would have to requalify every two years. They would also have to receive a larger number of votes -- either 2% of the total vote count or 130,000 votes in a presidential year or 140,000 in a gubernatorial year, whichever is lower.

The rules took effect late last year, and would have affected campaigns beginning in 2024 for the State Legislature and 2026 for statewide races.  

Two minor political parties, the left-leaning Working Families Party and the state’s Conservative Party, filed separate lawsuits, saying that the new rules were unfair and the legislature did not have the right to give over its lawmaking powers to a commission.  

Justice Ralph Boniello of Niagara Falls sided with the minor parties, saying the “statute is an improper and unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority to the Public Campaign Financing and Election Commission.”  

Jerry Kassar, the leader of the state’s Conservative Party, said in a statement that the ruling proves that the commission's decisions were “total overreach by an overzealous governor” and called it a “victory for political freedom.” 

The Working Families Party also applauded the decision, saying in a statement that “an unelected commission has no right to interfere” with New Yorkers’ constitutional rights. 

Advocates for public financing, including Citizen Action of New York and NYU’s Brennan Center, asked the governor and Legislature to act immediately on a new small-donor matching plan for elections.