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DO 07 - Leg. Calarco - PR

Posted on: December 14, 2017

Suffolk Legislature to Vote on Campaign Finance Reform Legislation

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HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. – The Suffolk County Legislature will consider a resolution, sponsored by Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco, to create a public financing system for County elections. The bill sets strict limits on the amount of money that candidates can raise and spend on their campaigns for Suffolk County Executive and Legislature. It also establishes a fund that will provide matching money for candidates who raise money for their campaigns with small donations from residents of their district. Introductory Resolution (IR) 1975-2017 mirrors successful public election funding programs that have been implemented around the country, such as New York City, and looks to increase the voice of small donors who are voters while increasing the ability of grassroots candidates to compete. IR 1975-2017 will be before the Ways & Means Committee on Thursday, December 14th and would go before the full Legislature on Tuesday, December 19th if it passes through that committee.

“Public financing of elections levels the playing field and makes the electoral process more accessible to everyone,” said Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco. “I urge my colleagues to support this legislation because it provides us an opportunity to limit the amount of money in our politics and rewards candidates who get support for their constituents. At the end of the day, this increased competition in our elections gives voters real choices based on real issues.”

IR 1975-2017 establishes new rules for how much money can be spent or raised for their campaign. Under the bill, candidates agree to limit themselves to raising and spending $100,000 in total for an election. To qualify to receive matching funds, a candidate must get at least $5,000 in small dollar donations of $250 or less which then allows them to receive up to $50,000 in 4-to-1 matching money. The bill restricts the maximum amount a candidate can accept from one source to $1,500. The current limits vary by district and range from $1,600 to as much as $3,000. The new rules would take effect during 2021 election cycle.

Under the proposed program, a candidate for Suffolk County Executive may not raise or spend more than $2 million in total and can only accept $25,000 from any one source, about $20,000 lower than the current limitations. In addition, a candidate can qualify for matching funds if they raise at least $25,000 from contributions of $250 or less. Meeting that requirement would then trigger a 4-to-1 match of all small dollar donations up to $250,000. These rules would go into place during the 2023 election cycle or when a Fair Elections Board determines there is sufficient matching money available to open to candidates.

IR 1975-2017 would also place limitations on how campaigns spend their money if they receive public dollars, such as vehicle purchases and payments, haircuts, clothes, childcare costs, country club dues, tickets to sporting events, and costs for personal travel. The matching dollars would be paid for by revenue from Suffolk Off-Track-Betting and would trigger only after enough money is placed into the Fair Elections Matching Fund to be able to finance the elections.

“This type of reform amplifies the voices of ordinary citizens and promises to make government more responsive to all the people,” said Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “A public financing program will enable participating candidates to fund competitive campaigns with a focus on grassroots support from ordinary constituents, rather than by trying to please big donors.”

“The Long Island Progressive Coalition strongly supports Suffolk County legislation to create a matching system to amplify the role of ordinary Americans in financing elections,” stated Lisa Tyson, Director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “This makes elected officials less indebted to a narrow set of funders, allows candidates to spend more time listening to their constituents, gives more people the ability to run for office, elects office holders more reflective of the community at large, and leads to policies more responsive to the public needs.”

“Too often, elections are bought and sold to the highest bidder. That’s why New Yorkers need publicly financed elections, so that average voters - no matter how small the donation - can invest in representatives who will work for the people who elect them. Because Common Cause/NY is committed to curbing the influence of money in politics, we are excited to support IR 1975-2017 and urge its passage” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

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