Big lessons learned on campaign finance dollars – New York Daily News – New York Daily News

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous 2010 Citizens United decision has unleashed a flood of special interest money into our political campaigns. Just 100 wealthy individuals were responsible for 1 out of every 10 dollars spent in the 2020 elections. This year, candidates in close races for Congress are raising $9,100 per day. In Senate races, it’s more than $19,000 per day. Spending in the 2022 congressional midterms is on pace for a record $9 billion, surpassing even what was spent during the 2020 presidential election. It’s easy to see why voters don’t believe that their interests come first in Washington.
But, if we look beyond federal politics, we have made progress in helping candidates for local offices finance campaigns using public funds. New York City is a model for these programs, which encourage candidates to raise money from people living within their districts and rewards them for raising small contributions that regular people can afford.
When I took the helm of NYC’s Campaign Finance Board in 2006, people weren’t talking about copying our matching funds program. That all changed after Citizens United. Local governments from Washington, D.C. to Denver to Seattle have erected financing programs that put more power in the hands of everyday people. We’ve even seen action at the state level, notably here in New York where a statewide matching funds program will start next year.
These local efforts, which are often citizen-led and approved by referenda, show us how to counter the destructive effects of big money in federal elections.
Matching funds programs ensure that candidates have the resources to run a strong campaign funded by the people they aspire to represent. Our program expanded in 2021 to provide an $8-to-$1 match for small contributions (this means a $10 contribution is worth $90 to the campaign). The increased match makes it much easier for regular New Yorkers to raise money from within their community and have a real shot at winning. In 2021, 308 candidates received more than $126 million in matching funds payments. Both of those amounts were record highs.
New York City encourages candidates to raise money from people living within their districts and rewards them for raising small contributions that regular people can afford. (iStock)
Public financing programs help diversify who is running for office, and who is contributing to campaigns. The Brennan Center reported that candidates of color and female candidates in New York City Council primary races in 2021 “raised as much, on average, as their white and male counterparts.” Seattle’s campaign finance program provides $100 in “democracy vouchers” to city residents, which they can donate to participating candidates. In 2021, voucher usage increased dramatically across all racial groups, with participation rates doubling for Seattle’s Black and Hispanic residents.
We see the results of this community-based funding in election outcomes, too. New Yorkers elected a remarkably diverse Council in 2021. Councilmembers are more representative of the communities they serve than ever before. I’m so proud of the role that New York City’s public matching funds program played in finally electing the city’s first majority female Council.
To be sure, cities with public campaign finance programs are not immune to high-spending special interest groups. In New York City’s 2021 elections, outside groups spent more than $40 million, more than double the previous record. We even had our first single-candidate groups, the PAC du jour that is dominating the 2022 midterm elections.
But public financing fundamentally changes how much influence outside groups can have, ensuring that the big money will not dominate the election. New York City’s strong disclosure requirements, and the Campaign Finance Board’s commitment to enforcing those rules, mean that the money these groups corral and the ads they fund are exposed to the light of day. Strong disclosure and matching funds payments ensure that voters get to hear more from candidates — the people who will be responsible for governing — before casting their ballots.
So, despite the gloomy headlines about big money in politics, progress is being made. Everyday New Yorkers will play a bigger role in financing the 2026 race for governor. Denver’s mayoral election next year will have matching funds, thanks to a referendum adopted in 2018. Oakland voters will decide in November on a referendum to implement democracy vouchers.
At the federal level, the We the People Act includes small-dollar matching public financing for congressional races. This would help fix the out-of-control escalation in fundraising that rewards extreme voices and excludes voters.
Let’s build on that energy. Voters around New York and the rest of the country can organize their own ballot initiatives, or demand that their elected officials implement public financing programs. Let’s give voters a real chance to participate more deeply in local elections and elect leaders who truly reflect the values and diversity of their communities.
Loprest is the executive director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which runs the nation’s largest public campaign matching funds program. She will be retiring in October after 16 years leading the agency.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News

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