Momentum Building for Voter Owned Elections

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Susan Lerner

February 28, 2011


Momentum Building for Voter Owned Elections

Prominent Common Cause/NY Board members Sign-On to Letter to Governor Cuomo

A prominent group of bipartisan political figures, business executives, clergy and civil rights leaders sent a letter to Governor Cuomo on Friday, offering their support for one of his primary reform goals this year: moving to voter owned elections, through a voluntary public funding system that can counteract the outsized influence of special interest money in New York’s elections and politics.

The group includes former U.S. Senators Bill Bradley and Bob Kerrey, three former members of the U.S. House of Representatives (two Republicans and one Democrat), former Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission under George W. Bush (Hon. William H. Donaldson), former New York City Mayor Edward Koch, Seagram’s former President Edgar Bronfman, Sr., Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, former Fordham University President Father Joseph O’Hare, New York State NAACP President Hazel N. Dukes, and former Counsel to Governor Mario Cuomo (Evan Davis) among others.

In a letter to the Governor, the group argues: “Real change can’t happen in Albany until we limit the torrent of special interest money flowing into incumbents’ coffers and create a public funding system that will provide a real alternative for candidates from the current status quo of money and politics.”

The letter comes as the Governor grapples with the state budget and other reform efforts, including redistricting and ethics. The group notes that while “ethics reforms -including an independent ethics watchdog and an independent prosecutor – are necessary, they’re not sufficient.

The group urges Cuomo to look at New York City’s public financing system as a viable model to show that public funding works. Under the New York City system, candidates have fused fundraising with voter outreach, successfully run for office, and created a City Council that truly reflects the diversity of New York City. “A public funding system with voluntary limits and matching funds similar to New York City’s will dramatically reduce candidates’ dependence on special interest donors and lobbyists’ political contributions,” reads the letter.

“A concerted effort to overhaul New York’s politically corrosive campaign finance laws is long overdue,” said Sean Coffey, former Candidate for Democratic Nomination for New York State Attorney General. “Our state can benefit from the positive experience of New York City, where public financing resulted in broader participation by voters and, more important, a growing belief that the system was less inclined to favor well-heeled contributors.”

“If we are going to change government than we need to start by changing how we run elections – and publicly financed elections will begin to do just that,” said former New York City Councilman Eric Gioia. “For too long special interests have unduly influenced Elections and the results are plain to see. We need more people participating in government and publicly financed elections and public financing will help make that possible.”

“The biggest source of conflict of interest and undue favoritism in our state government is the large campaign contributions that support massive campaign spending,” said Evan A. Davis, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. “Ethics reform to enhance disclosure of conflicts of interest is very important but public financing of campaigns to cut conflicts at their source is critical.”

“We applaud the effort on behalf of so many prominent New Yorkers to advocate in favor of a public financing system of elections in our State- including three members of Common Cause/NY’s Board of Directors Sean Coffey, Eric Gioia and Evan Davis and one of our former board members Franz Leichter,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director. “New York’s political landscape, with its sky-high campaign contribution limits, is easily dominated by big money contributors – a situation compounded by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, as we saw in last year’s election. To his credit, Governor Cuomo recognizes that this situation is toxic to a well-functioning state and has pledged to help end it by his support for public funding of elections for state races. We are pleased that the signers of this letter have joined the Governor, Common Cause/NY and the thousands of supporters for public financing around the state to pass a public funding bill this session.”

View the letter here

View the Wall Street Journal Article here