Christina Harvey is Managing Director of Stand up Americaa New York-based progressive organization with nearly 2 million members nationwide.
New Yorkers deserve representative state government Everyone of us—where candidates and elected officials can focus on what our communities need, not what big money donors and special interests want. We’ve taken a step closer to that vision with the recent launch of New York State’s Small Dollar Matching Public Financing System, the first statewide program of its kind in the country.
This voluntary program allows candidates for state legislative and state offices to access public matching funds based on the small donations they raise. It also significantly lowers contribution limits. Until now, candidates’ reliance on large donations to run a competitive campaign in upstate New York has given corporations and the super-rich an outsized role in shaping policy, and diminished the votes of citizens like you and me. It has also barred from elected office many qualified women, minority and low-income candidates who lack access to deep-pocketed donors.
While these problems are not unique to the Empire State, the extreme concentration of wealth here has virtually eliminated the influence of small-dollar donors in state elections. New York State’s new system addresses this problem by shifting the balance of power to ordinary voters and allowing candidates from all walks of life to run and win.
Matching small donations also helps candidates spend more time listening to workers, rather than soliciting campaign funds from wealthy donors or corporate lobbyists. I need to know – I’ve worked for more than 15 years as a senior advisor to elected officials in New York State, including in the Legislature and the Attorney General’s Office. Between voting dollars and commuting to and from fundraisers and donor meetings, elected officials often spend 25% or more of their time raising funds for re-election. That means less time listening to voters and less time doing important legislative and legal work.
No one goes into public service hoping to spend a quarter of their time soliciting campaign funds. In fact, it’s often the last thing elected officials want to do. Our leaders should not be forced to choose between fulfilling their duties and keeping them. New York’s Small Dollar Matching System frees them from the demands of fundraising so they can serve our communities more effectively.
We have seen the alternative. Time and time again, progress has been held up by mega-donors whose interests conflicted with those of ordinary citizens. Nowhere is this more evident than in the home. Powerful real estate developers make large contributions to gain access to lawmakers who write housing policy, and they work to ensure they retain their ability to raise rents, bypass renter protections, and take advantage of tax breaks for affordable housing. As a result, New York State residents pay some of the highest rents in the country.
If we’re going to see change on some of the issues we care about — like affordable housing, community safety, and quality schools — New Yorkers need a state government that isn’t bound by special interests. That’s why Stand Up America members in New York have made more than 1,500 calls and sent over 6,000 emails in support of the passage of a Small Dollar Matching Program and lowering of contribution limits in 2020.
As the 2024 election cycle begins, Stand Up America will continue to encourage candidates for statewide office to take advantage of our new public funding system. For our state to fulfill the promise of a democracy that represents every citizen, New Yorkers must have the ears of their elected officials in their day-to-day lives, and elected officials must have time to attend to the business of government.
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