Political campaigns are where power and cash meet. Politicians need lot’s of money to run for office. People seeking jobs or government business provide the money politicians need. The current campaign process truly is a “pay to play” system in that the best way to get a politicians attention is by donating money to their campaign.
Less than .5 percent (1/2 of a percent) of New York State residents contribute to political candidates. New York politicians can collect up to $60,800 per donor for a statewide race. That compares with about $5,000 per contributor for most other states. There are no limits on contributions to political parties.
Andrew Cuomo raised $24 million when running for Governor of New York State. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in campaign years has amassed a war chest of $1 million, in a city that is the third poorest in the nation with a shrinking population of 270,000. Those campaign dollars represent a lot of IOU’s that have to be addressed one way or another for a politician to continue receiving needed funds.
People donate money to political candidates with an expectation of getting something in return and they are usually not seeking good government. What is typically sought by campaign donors are jobs or government business contracts.
A lack of money prevents many people from seeking public office or from having their ideas heard in any meaningful way if they do run. Public financing is an important way to address the influence obtained by big political donors and the advantages afforded to incumbents.
In 1988 New York City adopted a partial public financing system, which currently provides participating candidates six dollars in public matching funds for each of the first $175 that an individual city resident gives to their campaigns. This formula makes a $175 donor as valuable to participating candidates as a $1,225 donor is to non-participants.
According to a report by the Campaign Finance Institute:
In New York State in 2010, only 6% of candidates’ money came from donors who give $250 or less. In contrast, 78% came from non-party-organizations (such as PACs) and individuals who gave $1,000 or more.
According to the Campaign Finance Institute, New York City’s public financing of campaigns has significantly encouraged more candidates, more small donors and more public interest in elections. A city candidate can get $6 in public money for every $1 raised, up to $175 per donor. As a result, 37 percent of the contributions to participating city candidates are for $250 or less. Only 5 percent of state donors give less than $250.
We need public financing of campaigns to encourage more competition and participation in elections.