It's very expensive to run for office in New York and good-government advocates hope a system of publicly financed campaigns may change that.
Campaigning for a seat in the state Senate or Assembly could cost well over $100,000 to win. A campaign for governor could cost tens of millions of dollars. That's the reality of New York's current campaign finance system that Blair Horner of NYPIRG says needs to change.
“Right now the only people who can run for office and have a meaningful campaign are the people who have access to big donors,” said Horner.
State lawmakers this year approved a commission to develop how a system of publicly financed elections would work. Good-government advocates are hoping for a model that would provide candidates opting into the system with a match of $1 for every $6 a candidate receives from donors.
Right now, individual donors can contribute heavily to campaigns.
“You can make a legal campaign contribution of $117,000 under New York law,” Horner said. “When people hear that, most people don't make that much money in a year, let alone be able to write a check.”
But the commission is being closely watched by both good-government groups and those in politics, including Nick Langworthy, the Republican chairman. He has blasted the Legislature for devising a system that leaves the details up to an unelected panel.
“If they want to put a public financing proposal in place, vote on it on the floor, vote on it in daylight,” said Langworthy.
Then there are transparency issues: The commission's report detailing how campaign finance could change is due out the day before Thanksgiving.
Langworthy worries it will be a turkey.
“They're hoping, as always, to sneak this through while people are busy preparing for their holidays,” said Langworthy.
“They should do everything humanly possible to make sure the public can weigh in and jamming it through without a public comment period the day before Thanksgiving doesn't meet that test,” said Horner.
And here's where things get tricky: The Legislature could return and vote down the commission's report, which could send this all back to square one.