Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 16, 2013

Official elects for a change|Movement seeks to use public dollars to fund campaigns

Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — The biggest underdog of last fall's New York state Senate elections was a farmer and school board member, who beat a wealthy, veteran politician in a district drawn by his party specifically to get him re-elected. Now, she is driving a movement designed to give candidates a shot at winning no matter how much money they have, through the public financing of campaigns.

Cecilia Tkaczyk, now a Democratic senator, is the darling of an effort nationwide to enact voluntary public financing of state-level campaigns, which was a big part of her platform to get elected.

"We have to change how we elect people to office," Tkaczyk said. "... When you change how you elect people, you will have people representing the voters more, who care what the voter thinks, rather than chasing dollars to fill their campaign coffers."

Supporters of the idea want to use public funds to match even small campaign contributions, limit big donations and restrict how funds are spent. For example, a donation up to $175 could be matched 6 to 1, giving a candidate $1,225. A $40 donation from a private citizen, a rare small donation in most elections these days, turns into $280 for the candidate.

Advocates see it as a critical alternative to campaigns dominated by wealthy special interests. The 2012 presidential campaign attracted more than $2 billion. In New York, the fall legislative elections cost $105 million to fill 212 seats, and incumbents usually won easily if they were opposed at all.

"We need a system that's one person, one vote — not one dollar, one vote," said Dan Cantor of the state's Working Families Party.

Tkaczyk herself got a critical boost of $250,000 from activist Jonathan Soros' super PAC, which seeks public financing of campaigns that would limit the influence of such groups. Her dramatic win by 18 votes after a court-ordered count that took 73 days is helping put attention on New York, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo apparently pushing what would be the state's next big policy issue.

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