Legislators: Give Me Your Votes and Your Money

Senate Democrats are proposing to revamp the amount of money candidates can receive, as well as which groups or individuals that they can receive contributions from. They want to put additional emphasis on the average resident giving to a campaign, rather than the money coming from special interest groups, lobbyists or advocacy groups.

So the next time a candidate asks you for a signature on a petition or to vote for him, the next words out of their mouths might be, “Can you contribute to my campaign as well?” In other words, “I don’t just want your vote, but I need your money too.”

“I just recently explored the possibility of running for Brooklyn Borough President,” said Senator Eric Adams. “When you start the process of raising money in a city that has a campaign finance system, and after doing an analysis of the approximately 300 donors, I noticed a strange pattern that was different from the pattern that I see on my state ledgers.

“Overwhelmingly,” he said, “the number of people who donate are firsttime participants in government, small donors, and it’s the opposite of what I have on the state level. Many of the residents are Brooklynites, so clearly the aspect of having a campaign finance system is a game changer in who participates and who supports the various men and women who run for office.”

Even though state lawmakers and many candidates say they despise fundraising, calling it demeaning, and claiming they do not enjoy making those calls dialing for dollars, they want to create a system where they have to make more calls than ever before to seize money from those who cannot give much.

“I say, let’s allow small donors to participate, and that is the direction we would like to go,” Adams contends. “The bill we’re proposing increases the fines for those who knowingly participate and take in obscene amounts of money, and lowers the threshold to a maximum of $2,000 you can receive from an individual donor. It compels you to take 50 percent of $25,000 of minimum contributions for those of us running in Senate races. It compels you to take 50 percent of that from individuals who live in your district.

“You don’t need a Harvard degree to realize that many elected officials do not get their donations from the men and women who ride the buses, drive the highways and attend schools and the churches and shop in the supermarkets,” he added. “We’re no longer the voice of the people who sent us here. We’ve become the voices of those whose interests are here. That is unacceptable.”

Senate Democratic leaders say reforming the way candidates can raise money will level the playing field without saying that it will still give the incumbents who are writing the laws an advantage.

“What the people are calling for is just grounds to have their voices heard,” said Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson. “I think one of the most important things that we can deliver to them is that balance. By promoting campaign finance reform in any shape or form, that levels the playing field so that the 99 percenters can be heard. That is our obligation. That is our commitment and we must do it now.”

The measure appears to be dead on arrival. The Senate Republicans, who control the upper house, contend, “We’re not surprised that Senate Democrats, who have bankrupted the state, would want to force New Yorkers to spend $200 million of taxpayer money to fund political campaigns rather than investing those dollars in our schools or providing incentives for businesses to create jobs. We continue to oppose siphoning off taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns, especially in these difficult economic times.” ”

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, says reforming campaign finance laws will increase the amount of confidence voters have in the way government is run. “It costs money to run campaigns and if the people are not going to provide the money, the special interests will,” Lerner said. “Elections are not functioning the way we want them to. The first thing that can be done to help change the culture is to have elections be about the voters, about the constituents, about the small donors and not the special interests. With a public funding system, the benefits will be obvious to the people who count — and that’s the voters — by refocusing our election campaigns where they need to be.”

There are several bills that have been proposed this year to reform campaign finance laws. They are all languishing in one legislative committee or another waiting for a push by one of the legislative leaders or the Governor.