April 16, 2013

Assembly Introduces Stronger
2013 Fair Elections Act to Establish Public Financing Option
Fair Elections Board Will Strengthen Campaign Finance
Enforcement Measures

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Speaker Sheldon Silver joined with members of the Assembly Majority and advocates from community groups, businesses, good government organizations, and labor to announce the introduction of an amended 2013 Fair Elections Act (A.4980-A) which would establish optional public financing for election campaigns that cover all statewide offices, state legislative offices, and constitutional convention delegates. Further, the Act would create a Fair Elections Board which would be charged with enforcement measures for candidates who opt into the system. The 2013 Fair Elections Act requires expanded disclosure of independent expenditures and electioneering communications.

"The Assembly Majority has supported campaign finance reform, that features a system of public campaign financing for many years," said Silver. "Over the years, as the political landscape has changed, I have advanced the debate by calling for greater protections, penalties and transparency and the need to address the unrestrained proliferation of independent expenditures that are shrouded in secrecy. For the health of our Democracy, we need to provide free access to the electoral process and a level playing field for all who wish to compete for public office."

Public Financing

The legislation reforms the system by allowing candidates for state office who meet the necessary requirements and reach the eligibility threshold in their fundraising to receive matching contributions of $6 for every $1 they raise on contributions of up to $250. The bill requires candidates to build a broad coalition of contributors by requiring a certain number of small-dollar donors - natural persons from a candidate's district - to ensure that large-dollar donors do not have undue influence. Participating candidates may raise private money subject to a $2000 per contributor limitation, but only the first $250 will be matched.

Candidates that choose not to participate in the public financing system would be subject to the current contribution and receipt limitations. However, the Act would require the disclosure of bundlers of campaign contributions.

Underscoring the importance of the substance of campaigns and not the money that funds them, candidates receiving public financing would be required to participate in at least one debate before the primary election and one debate before the general election. These debates would be open to all candidates, regardless of funding.

The bill provides mechanisms for funding the changes including an income tax check-off of $5 that would be deposited into the newly created "New York State Campaign Finance Fund" and an additional 10 percent surcharge on recoveries from fraudulent practices relating to stocks, bonds and other securities. If the Campaign Finance Fund lacks sufficient money properly certified claims would be paid from the general fund.

Fair Elections Board

A five-member board would be created and charged with the oversight of the state's public financing procedures. The board would appoint counsel for the purpose of enforcing all campaign finance laws, rules and regulations.

Criminal violations of provisions governing public financing would be prosecuted by the State Attorney General. The failure to make proper campaign finance filings is a misdemeanor and would result in a penalty of up to $10,000 as well as a civil penalty of up to $5,000. The knowing and willful violation of other provisions of the new public financing scheme would be a misdemeanor and would result in a fine of up to $10,000 as well as a civil penalty of up to $10,000. False statements or omitted material during the course of an audit by the campaign finance board would be a class E felony. The campaign finance board may impose upon a defendant to repay any public matching funds obtained as the result of criminal conduct.

The 2013 Fair Elections Act would apply to candidates for state comptroller beginning with the 2014 election. State legislative candidates would be eligible to participate in the 2016 election. All other statewide candidates and constitutional delegates would be eligible to participate in 2018.

Increased Disclosure of Independent Expenditures

Silver believes the 2013 Fair Elections Act will help level the playing field and provide an avenue to access the electoral process for all who wish to compete for public office. Among the advocacy organizations who showed their support for the act at today's news conference were representatives of Citizen Action, Working Families, the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause New York, Citizens Union, UAW, CWA and others.
This act also addresses the increased activity of third-party campaign communications that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or ballot measure. Because these communication and advocacy efforts do not explicitly originate from a candidate, campaign or political party, it is often difficult for the average voter to determine the source of the message.

The legislation ensures that entities engaged in express advocacy of candidates are subject to the same registration and disclosure provisions that are now required of candidates and their campaigns. Under current law, New York requires financial disclosure only for organizations engaging in election-related communications which advocate for or against candidates using specific language.

Many times, independent expenditures will avoid disclosure requirements by using alternate language which has not been specifically detailed under current law. This measure adopts a "functional equivalent" standard, the same as the federal government, for all election-related communication and subjects it to disclosure requirements even if the communication doesn not use the specific language outlined under current law.

The current structure allows corporations, industry groups, wealthy activists, unions and other special interests to participate directly in campaigns through unlimited independent expenditures so long as they define themselves as issue advocates and do not use certain words.

Unlike official campaigns and traditional political action committees, independent expenditure committees can accept unlimited contributions under the current law.

All campaign committees would be required to register with the New York State Board of Elections and file associated financial disclosure reports.

Additionally, the Act defines "electioneering communication" as a communication to the general public which refers to a clearly identified candidate and is broadcast or published within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary election. Under the Act, electioneering communication must be disclosed.

The Assembly has long championed campaign finance reform. In 1986, as chair of the Election Law Committee, Speaker Silver authored a bill in support of public election financing that has repeatedly passed the Assembly.

Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice said, "Speaker Silver has been a longstanding champion of small donor public financing as a way to increase the influence of average New Yorkers and counter the power of large donors and special interests in our current system. The thoughtful bill announced today strengthens previous proposals by ensuring stronger enforcement of campaign laws and greater transparency for independent expenditures. It should help ensure that voters, not dollars, control our government."

Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York said, "Citizen Action of New York applauds the Speaker for his consistent and unwavering leadership in the effort to reduce the influence of big campaign checks and restore the public's trust in government. The Speaker and the Assembly are showing everyday New Yorkers that their voices will be heard, instead of being drowned out by big money campaign contributors."

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union said, "With the introduction of an important campaign finance reform bill, Citizens Union is pleased to see Speaker Silver and the Assembly continue its long history of leadership of an issue that reduces the influence of campaign contributions on our political process. For any public campaign financing program to succeed, it needs to be accompanied with strong enforcement, so we are particularly pleased to see the Speaker's bill include a rigorous oversight entity that will give New York taxpayers confidence that state dollars are being well spent in making our elections more fair, open to more candidates, and competitive."

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY said. "The recent arrests in the last few weeks have awakened calls to combat corruption in Albany. Fortunately, thanks to Speaker Silver's long time support for campaign finance reform, we have an expanded and improved proposal which can begin to remedy the problem of money in politics. Most importantly, the Speaker's bill provides both a mechanism and the budget to establish real enforcement in the Board of Elections which is so sorely lacking. Momentum is building throughout New York State and it's the responsibility of all legislators to step up and answer the people's call. Common Cause/NY is committed to working with Speaker Silver to help make comprehensive campaign finance reform a reality."

Michael Mulgrew, president of UFT said, "We have to ensure that corporate spending and other special interest money don't drown out the voices of ordinary New Yorkers. This bill will help make sure the 99 percent are heard in New York State elections."

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) said, "New York's campaign finance system must be reformed. It is not working. Big money is drowning out the voices of everyday New Yorkers, and distorting our democracy. We need lower contribution limits, corporate loopholes closed, a public financing option and fair enforcement of the law."

Bruce Both, president of United Food and Commercial Workers said, "We thank Speaker Silver for introducing this bill and striving to return New York's elections to everyday voters. After publicly financed elections become law, we know that New York's public policy will better reflect the will of the people and not big corporations."

Scott M. Sommer, subregional director of UAW Region 9A New York Area said, "Publicly financed elections and spending limits are vital if we are to level the playing field and take the corrosive influence of money out of our electoral process. Speaker Silver's legislation meets those goals, restoring faith in government and integrity in the electoral process."

Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party said, "The scandals that have rocked Albany have laid bare a culture of corruption where money equals power. This is not how our democracy should work. Publicly financed Fair Elections can restore trust in government and ensure that elected officials will answer to voters and not just dollars. I'm proud to thank Speaker Silver for being Albany's leading voice for ending the corruption influence of money in politics."

Dave Palmer, executive director of the Center for Working Families said, "The Assembly bill to publicly fund state elections takes us one step closer to restoring New Yorkers' trust in government. Events of recent weeks show just how much we need it. We congratulate Speaker Silver for his consistent leadership on this issue over the years."

Jaron Benjamin, executive director of the Met Council on Housing said, "Tenants are hopeful that Speaker Silver's Fair Elections Act, built around a core of public financing of elections, will restore New Yorkers' faith in their state government, and applaud the Speaker for introducing this bill. We will continue to work with the Assembly to take the next step, closing the limited liability corporation loophole that allows landlords and others with multiple LLCs to far exceed the legal contribution limit by spreading contributions over multiple legal entities."

Michael Kink, executive director of the Strong Economy For All Coalition said, "Speaker Silver and the Assembly Majority are taking a big step to limit the power of big-money corporate interests and put everyday New Yorkers back in the driver's seat. And that will bring real policy changes: fewer tax loopholes and subsidy giveaways to big business, more investments in jobs, education and fighting poverty, more attention to reducing income inequality and rebuilding the middle class."

Betty Head, council organizer of MoveOn.Org of the Capital Region of New York said, "Let us seize this time to pass a well-crafted, sound Fair Elections bill that will boot big money interests out and bring everyday New Yorkers into our campaigns. Passage of this bill will go a long way to create a level playing field."

Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter said, 'The Sierra Club applauds the Assembly's efforts to restore the voices of everyday people through meaningful campaign finance reform. If we cannot control the toxic money that corrupts New York State politics then we are virtually powerless to reign in the toxic chemicals that harm our environment. The connection between big money and failed public policy is that simple."

Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign said, "By passing a system that emphasizes the voice of small donors in our elections, Speaker Silver and the legislature would serve as national leaders in efforts to restore our government to one that is truly of, by, and for the people."

Rob Werner, national field director for Americans for Campaign Reform said, "We're proud to see Speaker Silver move New York one step closer to publicly financed elections. We applaud his consistent support for comprehensive campaign finance reform, and know that his fellow lawmakers will do the right thing by creating a small donor matching system for statewide campaigns."

Joan Mandle, executive director of Democracy Matters said, "With this bill, Speaker Silver is showing strong leadership in moving New York toward a more healthy democracy and a campaign finance system that works for ordinary people. Along with the support of Governor Cuomo and Democratic leaders in the State Senate, we know that publicly financed elections will be passed this legislative session."

Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU said, "Speaker Silver deserves credit for his leadership in offering the right fix to put government back in the hands of the people with the Fair Elections Act of 2013. The scandals of the past few weeks are sadly all too familiar for New Yorkers. The 'show me the money' culture has damaged public faith in government and in our elected leaders. It's long past time to end the corrupting influence of money in Albany, and make sure the voices of ordinary people are heard. It's time for public financing of elections."

Dr. Hazel Dukes, president NAACP New York State Conference said, "The New York Legislature has a unique opportunity to put democracy back in the hands of the people by delivering on public financing of elections. The People of New York are ready for this, but it cannot happen without leadership and guts. We are committed to organizing and mobilizing our members across the state from Buffalo to Freeport from Mid-Manhattan to Rochester. We are ready for this."

Bob Master, legislative and political director, CWA District 1 said, "Big money has always greased the wheels for special treatment in Albany. Who can be surprised when it crosses the line into bribery? It's got to stop. Public financing of elections will help take our democracy back and make sure every voice is heard. We're proud to stand with Speaker Silver who has been leading the way on this issue for years in support of the Fair Elections Act of 2013."