To the editor:
Why did Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sens. Robert Jackson and Gustavo Rivera vote to fundamentally alter New York state’s Public Campaign Finance Program on the last day of the state legislative session without any public input?
The Program was enacted in 2020 after recommendations from two commissions and extensive testimony from New York’s citizens, and had already taken effect for the 2024 election cycle for state Senate and Assembly races.
Could it be that these state legislators want to discourage primary election challenges from their constituents next year? Why else would they make it more difficult for their opponents to qualify for public matching funds? Why would they change the law to provide matching funds to campaigns which receive large contributions, which are more likely to be given to incumbents?
Why the rush to amend the law when we haven’t yet had elections with the program in place?
The changes undermine the 2020 law’s intended purpose to empower everyday New Yorkers, whose voices have been drowned out by contributions from the wealthy and well-connected.
The new law makes it more difficult to qualify for matching funds: under current law, Assembly candidates must raise $6,000 from at least 75 residents of their district before they can get a match. But the amended law increases that threshold to $10,000 from at least 145 residents, which is difficult for political newcomers to reach.
Further, the 2020 law provided that if a donor gave more than $250 to a candidate, no part of the contribution would be matched, to provide an incentive for candidates to obtain small contributions and discourage large contributions.
Assemblyman Dinowitz claims the recent changes make the state law similar to New York City’s successful public campaign finance program.
But New York City’s program matches the first $175 of a contribution up to $1,050 to council candidates, while the amended state law will permit public money to match the first $250 of contributions up to $6,000 for Assembly candidates, which is far more likely to benefit incumbents rather than challengers.
It is even worse for state Senate campaigns and campaigns for governor: the first $250 of contributions of up to $10,000 to Senate candidates would be matched with public money. Up to $18,000 for governor.
Why should our tax dollars be given to campaigns which receive large contributions from wealthy New Yorkers?
We are very disappointed in our elected officials and join the editorial boards of The New York Times and the Albany Times-Union to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul to veto this bill.
It’s just not fair for incumbents to change the rules of the game in the middle of the season for their own benefit.
Sue Ellen Dodell
The author writes on behalf of the Ruth Mullen Riverdale Huddle, which includes Ellen Chapnick, Elizabeth Cooke Levy, Annemarie Golden, Julie Marcus, Judith Minkoff-Grey, Madeline Ritter and Dale Wolff.