A new bipartisan group of business and civic leaders wants to reform the way elections are funded in New York state.
New York Leadership for Accountable Government, also known as NY LEAD, formed recently to advocate for comprehensive campaign finance reform. Its membership includes former politicians, business owners and attorneys from across the state.
One of the group's members is Scott Murphy, the former Democratic representative from New York's 20th Congressional District. He lost to Republican Chris Gibson in 2010 after a term of about a year-and-a-half.
(Enterprise file photo)
"We've got to change our campaign finance system," he said. "What we're doing in New York is not working, it's not getting people involved in the process, it leads to big-money special-interest groups having outside influence, and it leaves most voters feeling like there's nobody looking out for their interest."
Murphy said campaign finance reform works. In New York City elections, for example, there's a cap on what wealthy people and special interests can give. There's also an incentive for smaller donors: a public matching fund.
"So you have a match to their small donations," Murphy said. "In New York City, if you donate $100 it gets matched six-to-one, so the candidate gets $700. So for smaller donors, it amplifies their voice.
"I think a lot of the people involved in New York LEAD are people that have been involved in campaigns, a lot of them are big donors, and they realize that the system is really broken and it leads to candidates spending way too much of their time talking to super-wealthy people and to special-interest groups that are well organized."
Murphy said everyday, average voters feel like the system is rigged because of tax exemptions and deductions they believe exist for special interest groups. NY LEAD supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal for a small dollar matching fund.
Right now, someone with business to come before the state Legislature can give $60,000 to someone running for office and expect the favor will be returned, Murphy said.
"It's a bad system," he said. "For a lot of them, they're so interested in the government and giving large amounts of money because they're going to get it back somehow."
According to Murphy, NY LEAD wants four reforms put in place as soon as possible:
a voluntary "multiple match" system based on New York City's program
lower contribution limits and closure of contribution loopholes
reduced contribution limits for parties that do business directly with the state
a system to enforce these rules with the state Board of Elections.
Murphy said NY LEAD doesn't have a formal position on the Citizens United decision that prohibited the federal government from placing limits on political donations from corporations and unions. But he said many of the group's members feel it doesn't take the country in the right direction.
Murphy said the proposals offered by NY LEAD could result in more non-traditional candidates seeking office.