UPDATE, TUESDAY, 12/19: The Suffolk County Legislature approved their proposed public financing plan this afternoon, 11-7; the DC City Council has postponed its vote until Jan. 9. Congratulations to Common Cause New York and allies on this important victory; we look forward to seeing public financing advance in DC next month. -- Editor.
While “leaders” in Washington continue dancing to the tunes played by their major donors, people power looks to be on the verge of important victories in two more major localities in the battle to control the power of big money in politics.
The Washington, D.C. City Council and the Legislature in Suffolk County, NY are expected to vote Tuesday on proposals to limit campaign spending and use public funds to supplement small dollar donations from individuals to candidates for local offices.
The public financing plans are similar to proven-effective systems used in campaigns for state offices in Connecticut, Maine, and Arizona and cities including New York and Los Angeles. By using public funds to match and supplement small dollar donations from individuals, the programs encourage candidates to focus on the priorities of the general public rather than those of their big dollar donors.
The programs also have a record of encouraging people who are not independently wealthy and/or lack connections to big money to jump into politics.
“Too often, elections are bought and sold to the highest bidder,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “That’s why New Yorkers need publicly financed elections, so that average voters - no matter how small the donation - can invest in representatives who will work for the people who elect them. Because Common Cause/NY is committed to curbing the influence of money in politics, we are excited to support IR 1975-2017 and urge its passage.
Victories in Washington and Suffolk County, a Long Island suburb that is New York’s 4th most populous county, would raise the visibility of efforts across the country to boost similar reforms. Supporters of the DC proposal are believed to have lined up sufficient support to get it through the City Council and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser; backers of the Suffolk County proposal are cautiously optimistic.
Under the DC proposal, contribution limits would be adjusted depending on the office being sought, ranging from a limit of $20 for State Board of Education candidates to $200 for mayoral hopefuls. Candidates would receive $2 in public funds for every $1 raised before qualifying for the ballot, then $5 for every $1 raised after qualification.
The Suffolk County plan would limit fundraising by participating candidates in county legislative elections to $100,000. Donations of $250 or less would be matched with public funds at a 4-1 rate and candidates also could not accept more than $1,500 from a single source. Candidates for County Executive would be subject to a $2 million overall spending cap; donations of $250 or less to their campaigns would also be matched at a 4-1 rate and they would be subject to a $250,000 limit on public funding.
Issues: Money in Politics