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Goodell opposes public campaign financing

State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown

Count State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, among those opposed to public financing of election campaigns.

Goodell issued his concerns during a recent public hearing by the Public Finance Reform Commission. The commission was created as part of the 2019-20 state budget to create a way for public financing of state elections. Most public campaign finance systems match a candidate’s private fundraising once it reaches a pre-determined threshold.

New York’s commission is scheduled to release a report the day after Thanksgiving with its recommendations. If no changes are approved by state lawmakers before the end of the year, the commission’s recommendations will become law. The commission has met several times over the past few months and seems likely to recommend public financing of electoral campaigns for state and local offices while possibly recommending changes to the state’s fusion voting system, potentially rendering decreasing the voice of parties like the Green Party, Conservative Party, Independence Party and Libertarian Party.

One of Goodell’s concerns is that a public campaign finance system that matches campaign donors for incumbents gives incumbents an even greater advantage over challengers for public office. Incumbents typically have a well-developed list of donors, Goodell said, which allows them to raise more money than their challengers while doing less legwork. Incumbents are also allowed to carry over unspent money from one campaign cycle to another.

“Incumbents will also likely meet participation thresholds much quicker than their opponents because of their existing donor lists,” Goodell said. “This means that an incumbent will likely enjoy a substantial financial advantage much earlier in the campaign, which is incredibly important in framing the campaign issues, building campaign momentum and raising even more money. The importance of raising substantial funds early in the campaign is even more critical as the result of recent Election Law changes that moved the primary date more than 10 weeks earlier, from the second Tuesday in September to the fourth Tuesday in June. The implementation of early voting two weeks before the general election also forces campaigns to spend more money earlier in the campaign season.”

Goodell said it would be easy to scam a public campaign finance system, including doubling the public match by splitting a household’s donations between the heads of household while also noting that giving state money to an individual or private undertaking may be unconstitutional under a 1995 state Court of Appeals decision in Schultz v. New York state.

The assemblyman also said it is a conflict of interest for state legislators to vote on spending public money on campaigns since public financing of campaigns would create financial advantages for incumbents. Other constitutional concerns included unlawful delegation of lawmaking authority, a claim made during legal challenges of legislative pay raises and bans on outside legislative income, and a claim that the state Constitution prohibits non-budget legislation to be passed as part of a budget bill.

Goodell also advocated for the commission to ban “pay to play” behavior in which state legislators or others running for office receive campaign donations from lobbyists, contractors or advocates who want to be considered for state contracts or ask legislators to vote a certain way on legislation. Legislators can’t accept gifts or gratuity exceeding $15 in value, but can accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Pay to play scandals in recent memory listed by Goodell include awarding of contracts to donors as part of the Buffalo Billion program, awarding $25.4 million to Crystal Run after its executives donated $400,000 to state officials in campaign contributions and the recent approval of a $140 million Medicaid reimbursement rate increase days after a donation by the Greater New York Hospital Association.

“The solution is relatively simple,” Goodell said. “It involves banning campaign contributions from lobbyists, those seeking grants or rate hikes or similar compensation from state government, including the top executives of such organizations, and those seeking legislation that would provide them with unique pecuniary or other benefits.”

Smaller political parties should be protected from possible takeover by major party officials as part of any recommendations, Goodell said. There are instances in which ballot lines have been provided under the state law that gives a statewide ballot line to a political party that has at least 50,000 votes cast for its candidate for governor regardless of the number of registered party members. Some parties have ballot lines throughout the state despite having few party members enrolled in specific counties, meaning major parties can have family or friends register as members of the new party and control its local endorsements.

“One solution to this issue might be to require local endorsements to be made by the new party’s statewide committee until such time as the new party has a threshold number of registered voters in the local political subdivision who have been registered in the new party for at least one year,” Goodell said. “In this manner, it would be much more difficult for a major party to ‘take over’ the local minor party endorsements.”

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