Suffolk County Legislative Majority Jon Cooper, D-Lloyd Harbor, introduced legislation Friday that would establish a broad framework for a public campaign financing system for Suffolk County to go into effect in time for the 2013 elections.
Cooper’s proposal calls for the creation of an 8-member, bipartisan commission to flesh out the framework of a system to institute the public financing of all county campaigns, including countywide races (County Executive, Sheriff, Treasurer, Comptroller, Clerk and District Attorney) as well as all 18 legislative district races.
The Commission will have six months to examine and recommend to the Legislature the numerous details involved in establishing a voluntary public financing system for elections. Issues and questions the Commission will likely consider include, but are not limited to, the following:
The best ways to generate the funding necessary to establish and maintain the system.
Establishing minimum qualifications that candidates must meet to receive funding.
Determining how much private donor money candidates who participate will be allowed to accept.
How to effectively enforce and police a system once it has been created.
The corruption and pitfalls of privately funding campaigns and the benefits of public financing all have a long history in the United States. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln's attempt to finance his Senate run initially bankrupted him. Public outrage over Watergate led to the first national attempts to control the influence of money in politics by creating the Federal Elections Commission.
More recently and closer to home—billionaire mayors aside—for more than 20 years, New York City’s Campaign Finance Board has been reducing the effects of special interests in Gotham politics by increasing public funding of election campaigns. A comparison of candidates for city office who opted into the voluntary financing program in 2009 versus candidates for state office (where there is no public financing option) in 2008 showed some remarkable differences. Most notably, candidates for state office got 66.6% of their money from special interests. City candidates, on the other hand, received only 7.2% of their contributions from special interests.
Now, in the wake of the “Levygate” scandal, Cooper believes Suffolk residents are clamoring for the same type of meaningful campaign finance reform that will obliterate the “pay-to-play” politics of the past and usher in an era of transparency, accountability and renewed public confidence in the individuals and mechanisms of County government.
“At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin urged on reluctant signers by proclaiming, ‘We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately’”, Cooper says. “Franklin’s remarks are totally on point to the issue of public financing. Because if we don’t collectively participate in reforming our method of financing campaigns then, in the end, the forces of greed, corruption and ambition will separate taxpayers and voters from the governmental institutions they’ve created and supported.”
Cooper’s bill will be introduced at the April 26th general meeting of the Legislature in Riverhead and will be assigned to the Ways & Means Committee. It will first be the subject of consideration at that committee’s May 4th meeting. If approved out of committee to the floor on that date, the measure will be eligible for final consideration at the May 10th general meeting.