Campaign Finance Reform, in various iterations, has been before the Legislature for at least 5 years. Why hasn’t it passed yet?
In June of 2018 Democrats took a majority in the county legislature for the first time since Ulster People’s founding. Our organization was hopeful that some legislation we’ve long advocated for would finally be passed. At the top of our list was comprehensive campaign finance reform. But with two Democratic proposals on the table, Democratic infighting has stalled any progress.
Trying (and Failing) to Make Sense of the Stalemate
During Ulster People’s endorsement interview with Kathy Nolan (incumbent candidate for Ulster County Legislature District 22), we asked about the status of the campaign finance reform bill she introduced in the legislature (Proposed Local Law 16 of 2018).
Nolan expressed deep frustration that her bill and another similar one, sponsored by Dave Donaldson (Proposed Local Law No. 21 of 2018) had been held hostage in the Laws and Rules Committee, which Donaldson chairs, with no resolution in sight. Donaldson promised a sub-committee, but it was never formed. Public hearings on the bills were postponed nine times.
That is truly a sorry state of affairs.
At Kathy’s suggestion, I attended the April 15 meeting of the Laws and Rules Committee. Donaldson was not there and Kevin Roberts, as deputy, chaired the meeting. Other committee members present were Jon Heppner, Hector Rodriguez and Ken Ronk. Kathy also came. Roberts gave me permission to speak. (I did so as an individual, not as a representative of UP because we had not yet discussed the issue formally and come to any conclusions about our position.) So I simply told the gathering that campaign finance reform was a serious concern to me and to many of my friends, that I was not speaking in favor of either of the two bills, but that I felt that the delays had gone on for way too long and it was time to get this sorted and passed.
To my astonishment, everyone took out their calendars, a sub-committee was convened on the spot and a date was set for a preliminary meeting four days later. Public invited.
Finally, Some Movement
Four UP members attended that first meeting (Ed Kowalewski, Elisa Tucci, Todd Wolgamuth and myself).
It was largely organizational. A draft of the proposed legislation for circulation to all the legislators is planned for June 13th and a June 26th resolution deadline was set, with a floor vote of the full legislature planned for July (before everyone gets too involved with the budget). Between now and then, the sub-committee will meet 4 more times (May 2, May 16, May 30 and June 13). Public invited.
This is a tremendous opportunity for Ulster People to take part in a decision-making process that will profoundly affect how our local democracy functions.
Make Your Voice Heard
The next sub-committee meetings are on May 16, May 30, and June 13th from 6-8 PM at the Ulster County Office Building, 6th Floor. These meetings are open to the public, and we encourage you to attend and make your voice heard!
What’s At Stake
- What cap will be placed on spending limits?
- How do we define “minimum” and “small”? To qualify for the program, candidates must collect a “minimum” number of “small” donations from the community they seek to represent. This both encourages engagement between voters and candidates who seek to represent them and ensures that a campaign relies on local support, not special interests or out-of-district influence. Both minimum and small need to be defined.
- The ratio at which contributions will be matched needs to be established. Will it be 1:1, 3:1, 6:1? Consider the impact of a $10 donation becoming a $20 donation (1:1). Now consider a $10 donation becoming a $70 donation (6:1). 6:1 is obviously a far more substantive amplification. (NYC’s model uses 8:1 and, at our last general meeting, Ulster People discussed a 5 or 6:1 was a good place to start our negotiation.)
When enacted, comprehensive finance reform will:
- establish the amount of public funding available for qualifying candidates who opt into the program;
- place limits on contributions from individuals or groups;
- set strict limits on contributions from appointees;
- and set the total amount of public money to be set aside to fund the program and how it will be administered and overseen.
For a deeper dive into these issues, check out the Brennan Center for Justice’s whitepaper The Case for Small Donor Public Financing in New York.
Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform should be passed NOW. To fail would be a tragic missed opportunity. We can help make that happen.
Learn more about campaign finance reform at our general meeting on May 20
Ulster People’s next general meeting will be on the topic of Fair Elections & Campaign Finance reform. Joan Mandle, a former Colgate Professor who has been involved in the issue for 20 years, will update us on the dysfunction in Albany. County Legislator Kathy Nolan will discuss her comprehensive campaign finance bill for Ulster County.
The Ulster People voting membership will also consider a resolution in support of passing small donor public matching funds legislation in Ulster County.
Join Our County Legislature Observers Group
The Ulster County Legislature (UCL) Observers Working Group attends Ulster County Legislative and standing committee meetings and reports back to our larger body. Our attendance at the Legislature’s regular sessions, at committee meetings and at scheduled public hearings is seen by our endorsed candidates as support and is much appreciated. It’s also a great way to find out what is on their agenda and get to know the individuals who represent us. Please consider going!
Upcoming meetings of the Ulster County Legislature
- July 16 @ 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
- August 20 @ 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
- Legislative Update: Campaign Finance Reform in Ulster County
- Legislative Update: Campaign Finance Reform in Ulster County – Part 2