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Advocates urge Hochul to veto campaign finance bill that they say weakens new public system

A voting sign at the David Gantt R-Center on North Street.
James Brown
A voting sign at the David Gantt R-Center on North Street.

Proponents of a new public campaign finance system for state offices in New York say Gov. Kathy Hochul should veto a bill passed by the State Legislature that they say severely weakens the law.

The 6-to-1 public matching fund system first takes effect in the 2024 election cycle.

Joanna Zdanys with New York University’s Brennan Center warned, though, that a measure approved in the Democratic-led state Senate and Assembly earlier this year would subvert that system and cost taxpayers extra money.

“The Brennan Center and many others are opposed to this bill and are calling for Governor Hochul to veto it,” Zdanys said.

Numerous reform groups in 2019 successfully pressed for the legislation establishing the public matching funds system. The public money to augment donations of $250 or less was aimed at empowering small donors over deep-pocketed interests.

But the bill approved in June changes that. Instead of limiting the donations qualifying for matching funds to $250 or less, the new standard would be the current maximum donation of $18,000. While the full amount would not receive the 6-to-1 public matching funds, the first $250 of the larger donations would be matched with public money.

“This bill runs counter to the spirit of the law,” Zdanys said. “The law, as it was originally enacted, was intended to amplify the voices of everyday donors, not those of major contributors who already have such an outsized say in New York state politics.”

The bill was controversial when it was approved last June. It was narrowly adopted in the state Senate, with two of the public campaign finance law’s original co-sponsors voting no.

Hochul does not normally signal in advance whether she will sign or veto a piece of legislation. But she did say last summer, shortly after the measure was approved, that she had not been involved in the efforts to change the maximum donation limits, and that she and her legal advisers would be looking closely at the bill.

“I need to look at each one very carefully, and make sure that there are no unintended consequences to anything we do,” Hochul said. “That’s going to be one of my highest priorities.”

Zdanys said 150 candidates from both major political parties have already signed on to the program for the 2024 election cycle.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.