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Testimony before the New York State Public Campaign Financing Commission regarding A State Program Authorizing the Public Financing of Campaigns

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) appreciates the opportunity to submit the following testimony in support of a state program authorizing the public financing of campaigns, and to recommend that the Commission abstain from recommending broad changes to fusion voting in New York.

The NYCLU, the New York State affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight offices across the state and over 190,000 members and supporters. The NYCLU defends and promotes the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the New York Constitution through an integrated program of litigation, legislative advocacy, public education, and community organizing. The Commission’s charge implicates several fundamental rights that are cornerstones of democracy in the state of New York, including the rights of voters to associate with the candidates and political parties of their choice, and to vote for the candidates of their choice. The NYCLU has been a leader in the fight to actualize and protect every citizen’s ability to exercise these basic constitutional rights in New York State.

1. The NYCLU supports public campaign financing that amplifies democratic power while remaining faithful to constitutional principles.

The NYCLU firmly supports and recommends the adoption of a small-donor matching public campaign finance system for statewide and state legislative offices that comports with the principles set forth in the United States and New York Constitutions. Along with virtually all participants in the Commission’s proceedings to date, we share the broadly-held concern that the outsized influence of wealthy donors and commercial interests can have the effect of diluting the political power of the average New Yorker. An effective public campaign finance program is not in itself a complete solution to this power imbalance, but it will help to amplify the voices of marginalized voters.

According to a Brennan Center analysis of New York’s 2018 election cycle, the top 100 donors combined donated more to state candidates than all 137,000 of the state candidates’ small donors combined; in addition, small donors made up just 5 percent of all donors to statewide and legislative races, compared to almost a fifth of donors to federal races. The impact of this disparity is clearest when considering historically-marginalized constituencies, including communities of color, immigrant communities, and low-income communities. The needs of these New Yorkers often receive too little attention from campaigns, and their interests get short shrift in the halls of power as a result. A comprehensive and meaningful system of public financing will help create a more level playing field for every qualified candidate – and, importantly, it will encourage more candidates from under-represented communities to run for office.

Unchecked political spending and the glaring disparities in political influence that can result from it are serious concerns – and so is the mounting public perception that the integrity of our electoral system is eroded by the presence of money in politics. The escalating cost of political campaigns may make it more difficult for some views to be heard, and access to wealth often plays a significant role in determining who runs for office and who is elected. Without a doubt, however, the clear answer to these concerns is to expand, not limit, the resources available for political advocacy in our communities.

Read the full testimony below.

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