Could public funding take a lot of money out of NY politics?
Former Republican State Assemblyman Brian Kolb was among lawmakers who voted against creating a system of state-funded campaigns.
Now he is one of the officials, along with former Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lifton, who is overseeing bringing the new system online.
“I’m not skeptical of the program itself because now I’m trying to be part of how it works, which is good,” Kolb said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s just the fact that intuitively I’m all about protecting taxpayers’ money.”
Kolb would have preferred the money to come from sources such as revenue from the state cannabis program. Instead, government matching funds will be drawn from unclaimed funds overseen by the state comptroller’s office.
Either way, Kolb said he wanted to make sure the money was spent properly. This will involve hiring staff to oversee the new system, which will be in place for the new election cycle.
New York state’s public matching system will be one of the largest in the country, but Kolb wants to use other systems as potential models. And reducing fraud will be the overriding objective.
“The good news is whether it’s New York or other municipalities or states, it’s learning from them,” he said. “If we’re going to have a program, let’s do it right, but let’s make sure no dollars are wasted or mis-spent by the very people who use the public campaign finance system.”
Proponents of the new New York State-funded campaign system hope it will finally eliminate the influence of big money in politics.
For years, good government organizations have denounced New York’s campaign finance laws as too lax. Limits on campaign contributions are too high, as is the influence of major donors themselves. Brennan Center’s Chisun Lee hopes that will change soon.
“This is the nation’s strongest response to an issue we’ve seen explode this election cycle here and across the country,” Lee said. “That problem is how seriously undemocratic the financial side of our democracy has become.”
The new system will lower contribution limits to just a few hundred dollars. Donations made to a legislative candidate in the district will be matched with public money. Lee hopes the system will counter the rise of deep-pocketed donors who have begun funding super PACs with millions of dollars.
“We’ve seen that public matching funding from smaller donors attracts new donors who haven’t participated in that side of the political process,” Lee said.