Sloper: "Fair elections” empower citizens to affect change

If you are okay with New York politicians receiving huge contributions from powerful donors while giving tax breaks to corporations and cutting funding for education, environmental protection and other critical services, you may want to stop reading this.

 But if you want a state government that cares about and listens to ordinary New Yorkers, then there is exciting news. There is a huge push in our state right now to take back democracy with a “fair elections” bill in Albany. It would change the way campaigns are financed by encouraging common citizens to run for office without depending on big money from special interests and lobbyists.

The bill that is being drafted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators in Albany is using New York City’s publicly funded election system as a model. It would create a 6 to 1 matching system in which every donation under $250 would be matched six times – $5 becomes $35, $10 becomes $70, etc. The idea is to amplify the voices of everyday constituents and allow politicians to spend less time seeking large donations and having to pay back the favor.

“The basic message is that everyday New Yorkers aren’t getting their voices heard in Albany, and we need to change the campaign finance laws so that people are heard and state government represents everyone in New York,” Executive Director of the Public Campaign Action Fund David Donnelly said.

Hundreds of grassroots groups and individuals are waging the fight for change. The exciting news is that we already have Cuomo and hundreds of legislators on our side. 

Cuomo and others are responding to the legacy of corruption and money scandals in Albany. By giving ordinary citizens resources to run for office – independent of special interest money – Cuomo believes we can break the stranglehold that big donors now have on our democracy.

Many people are concerned that public financing will raise taxes, but taxpayers actually save money if politicians were not funded by special interests in return for tax breaks, special favors and government bailouts. It is also estimated that implementing “fair elections” in New York would cost less than $2 a year per New Yorker – little to pay in order to ensure a true democracy, where everyone has an equal say in the votes cast by elected officials.

A “fair elections” policy has been successfully implemented in Connecticut, Maine and New York City, among other areas. It means that politicians spend time talking with their constituents and solving problems, instead of using precious hours each day to raise money from wealthy contributors. It means that highly paid corporate lobbyists can lose their clout. It means that if you have good ideas, you can run for office even without having millions in your bank account.

And the truth is that this is almost within our grasp, though powerful corporate donors are fighting to retain their grip on our political process. New Yorkers deserve a state government that is of, by and for the people of New York – not one bought and paid for with big campaign checks.