Public Campaign Finance: Full or Partial?

The question before progressive advocates of public campaign financing in New York State is whether we push for full public campaign finance on the Clean Money model of equal and sufficient funding grants for all qualified candidates, or whether we settle for partial public campaign financing on the Matching Funds model used for presidential primaries since 1976 and for New York City local elections since 1989. 

A coalition of high-donor capitalists, elected Democrats, and liberal pro-Democratic organizations such as Citizen Action and are behind the Matching Funds bill. See this Nation article from last year,, for an account of this grouping and their objectives. The same forces -- now including Soros fortune heir, Jonathan Soros, and President Obama's tax-exempt advocacy organization, Organizing for America -- are even more focused on New York State in 2013 (see

The proposed 2013 Fair Elections Act for New York State is a partial public campaign financing bill based on the Matching Funds model. It provides for a 6 to 1 match of public funds for qualifying individual contributions of up $250 per donor, with maximum amounts of total public matching funds for each type of race: $150,000 for Assembly, $350,000 for State Senator, $12 million for Governor.

The bills are:
S839-2013 - - sponsored by Senate Minority Leader John Sampson
A4980-2013 - - sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Greens have three major problems with this matching funds bill.

First, the eligibility requirements that are too high for all but very strong and well-organized independent third party candidates to qualify.
State Assembly: $10,000 from at least 100 contributions of $250 or less is required.
State Senate: $20,000 from at least 200 contributors of $250 or less.
Governor: $650,000 from at least 6500 contributors of $250 or less is required.

These qualifying thresholds make it in practice a public campaign financing system for major party candidates only, especially incumbents who have many organizational advantages to begin with.

Proponents of the state Fair Election Act say it is modeled after the New York City matching funds model. But the state bill makes it more than twice as hard to get funding for state assembly and senate races than a NYC council races:
For NYC Council districts with populations of 157,025, it takes $5,000 to qualify.
For State Assembly districts with populations of 129,089 it takes $10,000 to qualify.
For State Senate districts with populations of 307,356 it takes $20,000 to qualify.

Second, the matching funds model of public funding multiplies the inequities of private funding. Suppose one Assembly candidate raises just the $10,000 to qualify and then gets $60,000 more in matching funds for a total of $70,000. Suppose another Assembly candidate raises $20,000 in qualified contributions and gets $120,000 more in matching funds for a total of $140,000. This matching funds system would changes the funding in this race from a difference of $10,000 to a difference of $70,000 between the two candidates' funding.

Third, the bill also allows for backdoor funding for matching funds candidates by wealthy individuals and corporate PACs. This bill does not address the $102,300 maximum contribution (in 2012) that individuals and PACs may make to state and county party committees, which in turn may send additional contributions to the publicly funded candidates in addition to matching funds. These maximum additional contributions by state committees to matching funds qualified candidates range from $2.5 million for gubernatorial candidates to $100,00 for State Senate candidates and $50,000 for Assembly candidates. This gives undue advantage to candidates of the major parties which are funded primarily by wealthy individuals and corporate PACs.

The Green Party supports a Clean Money model of Full Public Campaign Financing.

The Green Party calls for full and equal public campaign funding for all qualified candidates on the full public campaign financing Clean Elections model, not the partial public campaign financing Matching Funds model. The Clean Elections model provides for equal allotments of public funding for all candidates who qualify.

This Clean Elections model has been adopted by Arizona and Maine. In Arizona, it takes a state house candidate 220 $5 contributions ($1100) to qualify for the full public campaign funding allotment. In Maine, it takes a state house candidate 60 $5 contributions ($300) to qualify for full public campaign funding.

There has been no Clean Elections bill introduced in the current session of the New York State legislature, but there was for many years. The most recent was in the 2011-2012 session: The New York State Clean Election Campaign Finance Reform Act:

The Green Party supports this full public campaign financing bill for five reasons:

First, the Clean Money bill has reasonable qualifying requirements that require far lower amounts of money be raised from more contributors than in the matching funds partial funding in the proposed Fair Elections Act:
State Assembly: 400 contributions of $5 to $250
State Senate: 1000 contributions of $5 to $250
Governnor: 20,000 contributions of $5 to $250

Second, the full public financing grants in the Clean Money bill are equal for all qualifying candidates and sufficient to run an effective campaign:
For primaries: $2 per voter enrolled voter in the party of the candidate in the district
For general elections:
State Assembly: $100,000
State Senate: $300,000
Governor: $7.5 million

Third, political parties may receive public funding, reducing "pay to play" politics. The Clean Money bill provides any political party that agrees not to accept contributions of over $5,000 a year from any entity with a 2 to 1 match on all contributions from registered New York voters of up to $250 per calendar year  and up to a total of $2.5 million for the whole state party in any calendar year.

Fourth, office holders are limited in their campaign fundraising and spending in non election years, reducing "pay to play" lobbying influence. Office holders who participate in the Clean Money system are limited in their non-election year campaign account fundraising and expenditures:
State Assembly: $10,000 in both receipts and expenditures
State Senate: $25,000 in both receipts and expenditures
Governor: $100,000 in both receipts and expenditures

Fifth, the party contributions to gubernatorial candidates are much lower in the Clean Money bill, reducing the influence of wealthy individuals and PACs. While there is little difference in party contributions between the full and partial public funding bills for State Assembly ($40,000 in Clean Money, $50,000 in Matching Funds) and no difference for State Senate ($100,000 in both), there is a substantial difference for governor ($1 million in Clean Money, $2.5 million in Matching Funds).

If we can't get a Clean Elections bill, Greens call for the matching funds bill to be reformed so that independent third party candidates and major party challengers have reasonable access to the matching funds system.

But why can't New York State adopt full and equal public funding for all qualified candidates on the Clean Elections model? Isn't New York more progressive than Arizona?

US Supreme Court DID NOT Strike Down the Clean Money Model

You will often hear proponents of the matching funds model say the US Supreme Court ruled the voluntary Clean Money public financing system unconstitutional. That assertion is not true.

The Supreme's disqualified the "fair fight" supplementary grants that top off the basic public funding grant when a privately funded candidate's spending reached a certain threshold. As the New York Times reported on the June 2011 decision:

"The decision Monday, the Roberts court’s first direct look at public campaign financing, concerned only systems that use matching funds, as opposed to lump-sum grants….'We do not today call into question the wisdom of public financing as a means of funding political candidacy,' Chief Justice Roberts wrote. 'That is not our business.'" (

Clean Money has not been ruled unconstitutional any more than a voluntary Matching Funds public financing system has. The NYC matching funds and presidential primary matching funds and general election grants continue without any changes.

What the court decisions have ruled out are the "fair fight" public financing grants that top-up initial grants with a further public financing grant when well-financed privately funded candidates pass a certain threshold.

These court decisions did not stop the voluntary Clean Money public financing equal grants systems in AZ, ME, or CT, just the second additional grants when privately financed candidates spend very high amounts.

Connecticut Clean Money System Discriminates Against Third Parties

CT has a clean money system, but it discriminates against 3rd party candidates. Discrimination is not really the word for it. It's as exclusionary as a Jim Crow grandfather clause.

Democrats and Republicans get equal grants for collecting a reasonable number of qualifying contributions. But Greens and Libertarians have the additional burden getting petition signatures greater than 20% of the last vote for the office. For NY Governor in 2014, fro example, that would be a petition of at least 953,943 signatures, or 64 times the 15,000 signatures than we had to collect in 2010. This additional petitioning effectively excludes third parties from participation in the CT public financing system.

The Greens sued the state over this. Unfortunately, the US Appeals Court overturned the district federal court ruling against its bias against third party candidates and the US Supremes declined to hear the Greens' appeal. So the practical exclusion of the Greens remains in place.

The CT qualifying contributions of $5 to $100 are less onerous than the proposed NY Fair Elections Law. For State Senator, $15,000 in at least 300 contributes gets you a $37,590 primary election grant and a $91,290 general election grant.  For State Representative, $5000 in at least 150 contributions gets you a $10,740 primary election grant and a $26,850 general election grant. For Governor in 2010, $250,000 in at least 2500 contributions got you a grant $1.25 million primary election grant and a $3 million general election grant in 2010.

The latter grant was raised by legislation to $6 million after the court decision on the Arizona clean money system knocked out supplementary grants when private money candidates go above a threshold. So the Democratic CT legislature voted their candidate $3 million more to compete with the GOPers' $10 million private funds, which was just enough to elect the Democrat to the governorship.

Since the CT system was instituted in 2006, almost all the major party candidates go with the public system. The partisan balance in the legislature remains stable around a 65-35% majority for Dems in both houses. Nothing changed. The Dodd/Lieberman CT Dems are still as pro corporate (Hartford insurance cos., Wall Street bankster in CT suburbs, etc.) as our NY Dems. The CT public financing system is public financing for the duopoly and none for any independent challenge.

Congressional "Fair Elections Now Act" is a Full Public Funding Clean Money Bill

The NYS Fair Elections Act for partial public  campaign financing on the Matching Funds model should not be confused with the Fair Elections Now Act (HR 269) bill introduced in Congress, which is a full public funding Clean Money equal grants system and the kind of reform we should support (

Further Reading:

League of Women Voters Briefing Paper on Campaign Finance Reform in New York State:

The old Citizens Action website, from when they used to support Clean Elections is still online and has some good info: