A commission released its 144-page report Sunday evening detailing its recommendations for how campaigns will be funded in New York through a system of taxpayer funds matched to lowered contribution rates and tougher thresholds for parties to achieve ballot access that could spell trouble for minor ballot lines.
The report’s recommendations are the culmination of the work of a commission appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the top lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate, the product of what amounted to a punt earlier this year amid a contentious debate over publicly financed elections that has been conducted in the state for more than a generation.
The findings of the commission have the force of law once phased-in deadlines take effect. The higher party thresholds will be in effect for the 2020 election year; the public financing program will be in effect for legislative races in 2024 and statewide races in 2026.
Lawmakers can act to change the recommendations, however, but so far little movement has been created to do so as the details of commission’s work were made public and voted on last week.
The new ballot status qualifications — reaching 2 percent or 130,000 of the total votes cast in a presidential and gubernatorial election — are harder for many of the existing ballot lines to achieve than the 50,000 vote requirement for a gubernatorial candidate.
Proponents of the new requirement argued it’s meant to ensure bona fide party candidates receive public matching dollars.
But it also came after discussion of ending fusion voting, which allows multiple ballot lines for a single candidate to run on, died down.
The change in ballot qualification has led to accusations the provision — pushed by Cuomo appointee Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic Committee chairman — was meant to hobble the Working Families Party, which has feuded with the governor over the last decade.
“The Working Families Party, I think, would meet that threshold. You have to work to meet the threshold,” the governor said last week. “But if you are not meeting the threshold, then you shouldn’t be qualifying for public money anyway.”
Matching funds will qualify for donations of $250 or less. The matching ratio in statewide races will be set at 6-to-1, and phased upward for legislative races.
Caps to public dollars are being set at $3.5 million in a primary and $3.5 million in a general election statewide. State Senate candidates will be limited to $375,000 in a primary and general election each; Assembly candidates limited to $175,000 in public matching dollars in both races.
Supporters of publicly financed campaigns had wanted even lower contribution limits for those participating in the system.
“Money in politics will still be there,” said Blair Horner, the legislative director of the good-government group NYPIRG. “There will still be big campaign contributions. The difference is for the small donation, there is now a strong incentive to go out and get them.”
Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan on Sunday evening blasted the commission’s recommendations in a statement.
“This taxpayer scam, born out of a questionable process, only serves to strengthen the power of incumbent Democrats and embarrassingly mocks a fusion voting system that enhances democracy and empowers real people,” he said.