Letters: An Open Letter on Campaign Finance Reform to Senator Harckham:
Congratulations on surviving your first session as our state senator!
The new Democratic majority in the State Senate built an impressive record of success in the pursuit of long overdue reform in several high priority areas, including a number of measures, such as early voting, that will make it easier for New York citizens to exercise their right to vote. It is embarrassing that New York has recently ranked near the bottom among states in voter turnout.
New York’s system of campaign finance is another source of shame for New Yorkers. Nearly two dozen state legislators and other officials (of both parties) have been convicted of corruption in the past decade. I know you sought election to the State Senate, in part, to change the culture (and the law) that has allowed this situation to fester.
One essential component in any effort to eliminate corruption is public financing of state elections. The legislature passed a bill creating a commission to develop a plan, before the end of this year, for public funding of state and local campaigns. The idea is to provide funding to candidates that matches the money they raise through small contributions. Similar plans in Connecticut and New York City (which matches small contributions at a six-to-one ratio) have been successful in reducing the advantage that incumbents have in raising campaign money.
It is essential that all members of the Public Campaign Financing and Election Commission be individuals who have proper qualifications and who are dedicated to public funding of campaigns without regard to partisan considerations. There should be public hearings around the state so that citizens have the opportunity to observe and participate in the Commission’s deliberations. Finally, the Commission should stick to issues around public financing and not take on other controversies such as fusion voting.
In addition to public financing, I hope you will be a leader in proposing other steps to reduce the influence of wealthy donors, such as limiting the size of individual donations and prohibiting corporate contributions. We now have an historic opportunity to eliminate the influence of big money in state campaigns and restore public confidence in the ability of elected officials in New York to make decisions that serve the common good rather than special interests.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this important issue.