So-Govt. Cuomo and Lt. Governor Hochul (photo: Governor’s Office)
Since Kathy Hochul became governor in August 2021, 47 people have donated the maximum amount, $69,700, directly to her campaign, according to campaign finance documents as of Oct. 3.
In all, the governor’s campaign has raised $46 million in her first 14 months in office. That huge sum won’t be as easy to accumulate in future elections thanks to a new state campaign finance system that will lower individual contribution limits and establish a small-dollar public matching program for state-level offices.
The system, intended to help reduce the influence of big money in politics by increasing the value of everyday donors, will match participating candidates’ small donations with public funds, allowing them to rely less on big checks. wealthy people and special interest groups. It will also lower contribution limits across the board, making it harder, by design, for politicians to collect large sums of cash from individual contributors.
The new system approved in 2020takes effect immediately after Election Day this year for upcoming state election cycles and will apply to state offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller) and to the entire State Legislature, 63 State Senate seats, and 150 Assembly seats.
Then-Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved the system after a commission they had established outlined many of its parameters. Cuomo, a prodigious fundraiser who outspent his opponents, insisted the new rules won’t take effect until after the 2022 election, when he hopes to win a fourth term as governor. Hochul has only continued this style of massive fundraising, including from many wealthy people with state businesses, defeating his main spending opponents and raising flags among government watchdogs.
In the 2018 election cycle, Cuomo raised $37.5 million and spent $36.3 million.
Advocates are eager for the new system to take effect.
“One of the best things about the design of this system is that it gives the most power to the
smaller donations, that is, the people who most need the government to start representing
their interests finally have a say,” said Karen Wharton, an organizer with the grassroots advocacy group Citizen Action in New York, which was one of many groups pushing for the creation of the new campaign finance system modeled on the old campaign finance system. New York City permanent program.
According to Chisun Lee, an election expert at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, contribution limits and public matching have the potential to increase civic engagement. “Candidates will have the option to spend more time connecting with the people they want to represent instead of courting big donors,” he told the Gotham Gazette.
The Brennan Center has pointed to other jurisdictions that have enacted a public match program, such as New York City and Washington, DC, that have seen an increase in the number of candidates who are women and people of color since implementing their systems. Y studies show that women and people of color running for Congress rely more on small-dollar contributions.
Experts widely agree that the system will limit the potential of pay-to-play politics by making it harder for wealthy donors to pour money directly into campaign coffers. But the new system will not require officials like Hochul to pay back already accumulated sums.
When the new system takes effect after the 2022 general election next month, people’s contributions will be capped at $18,000 for offices statewide, even more than many reformers wanted. In just over a year, 518 people gave more than that amount to Hochul’s campaign committee.
“Ultimately, we hope the new law will increase the number of competitive primaries in Senate and Assembly elections and empower candidates who raise small donations in their districts,” wrote John Kaehny, executive director of the good governance group Reinvent Albany, in an email. . “Currently, many state legislators get most of their campaign contributions from businesses and unions trying to influence state action.”
“We hope that the new rules will have the least effect on statewide contests and ironically may even benefit Governor Hochul, if she wins her first election, because she has amassed quite a war chest under the current rules,” Kaehny told Gotham. Gazette.
The new system establishes a public matching program that candidates for state office are eligible for, similar to the New York City model. Participating candidates for statewide office will receive six tax dollars for every eligible campaign dollar raised. Candidates for the State Legislature can get a match from 8 to 1 to 12 to 1, depending on the size of the donation. Only contributions between $5 and $250 are eligible to match and must come from the state or district for legislative candidates.
To qualify for the public match, candidates must demonstrate that they have a viable fundraising operation to begin with. Gubernatorial candidates must raise half a million dollars from 5,000 independent donors in the state. Candidates for the other statewide office must contribute $100,000 from 1,000 state donors. And state Senate candidates must raise $12,000 from 150 district contributors and Assembly candidates must raise $6,000 from 75 district donors (those thresholds are lowered for low-income districts).
The system will limit public matching funds to $7 million (in a primary and general election season) for statewide offices, a figure dwarfed by the huge sums already in Hochul’s campaign account. The match for Senate candidates tops out at $750,000 and for Assembly candidates $350,000 for each primary and general election.
There is no limit on how much a candidate can raise or spend, as long as they adhere to the lower individual donor limits.
Some contributions will not be matched, including those from corporations, lobbyists, and campaign vendors. But, unlike the New York City system, there is no prohibition on raising funds from people with state businesses. Hochul has come under scrutiny recently for doing just that: awarding a lucrative $637 million state contract to a major campaign donor, tech mogul Charlie Tebele, after she suspended competitive bidding requirements. Hochul has denied having any personal involvement in the deal.
The system will require participating candidates to participate in at least one public debate for each election in which the candidate receives public funds. The question of whether and how many Hochul and his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, will engage in a debate has been a point of contention this cycle, with Hochul agreeing to only one debate while Zeldin continues to push for plus.
The new program will do nothing to limit the massive amount of independent spending and Super PAC spending that goes into each election, which is protected by the 2010 Citizens United decision as a form of free speech.
It will be in effect for state legislative elections in 2024, the next gubernatorial and other state elections in 2026, and any special elections held after November. A new Public Campaign Finance Board, located within the State Board of Elections, will administer the program.
This is the last election under the above rules. Hochul has made the most of it. As part of the prolific 14-month fundraising spree, the Governor has raised $11 million in the last three months alone. That spree came after his campaign spent $26 million on the primary, far more than any of his Democratic opponents. As of the filing in early October, Hochul had almost $10.9 million on hand. He has continued to aggressively raise and spend ahead of Election Day, Nov. 8.
Zeldin, on the other hand, has collected a total of $19.4 million, less than half of Hochul’s total loot, as of the early October submission, including $6.4 million in the latest submission period ( from mid-July to early October). He had about $4.5 million left to spend as of the filing, while he continues to raise as well.
Much more of Zeldin’s fundraising has been from small donors, according to his campaigns. Last week, Hochul’s campaign reported that 60% of its contributions came from donors who gave less than $200, compared to 91% reported by Zeldin’s camp.
Neither the Hochul nor Zeldin campaigns responded to requests for comment for this story about how the new system would affect their approach to fundraising.
State law requires New York to establish a campaign finance fund to pay for the public party, though it does not specify how much it must have. The state commission that made the first attempt to establish the system in 2019, before the courts struck it down on jurisdictional grounds, top lawmakers passed a bill to create it, would have set the fund at $100 million per four-year election cycle. .
This year, Hochul and legislative leaders set aside $10.5 million for the operations of the new campaign finance board and another $10 million for public matching funds. That fiscal year ends in March 2023 and more discussion will need to be done in the state budget later on funding the program for most of the 2024 election. New York City paid $127 million in matching funds in the season. 2021 election, although its system has different criteria and thresholds.
“Realizing the new program’s potential depends on strong implementation by the state agency in charge, sufficient funding in the next state budget and, above all, public awareness,” said the Brennan Center’s Lee.