This is the second installment of our series on Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform in Ulster County. Read Part 1 here.
Ulster People Unanimously Passes a Resolution Urging our County Legislature to Enact Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform
Ulster People Talk Campaign Finance Reform
Campaign Finance Reform led the agenda at Ulster People’s general meeting in May. Joan Mandle, a 20-year veteran of the struggle, updated us on the dysfunction in Albany. County Legislator Kathy Nolan discussed the comprehensive campaign finance bill she has proposed for Ulster County. I reported on the progress made by the Legislature’s subcommittee charged with crafting legislation that will (hopefully) give Ulster County our first publicly financed elections.
Ulster People’s Resolution in Support of Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform
After the presentations, Ulster People voted unanimously to endorse the following resolution:
Ulster People for Justice and Democracy supports the efforts of the County Legislature to pass a Comprehensive Campaign Finance Law. The two proposals currently before the Legislature (Proposed Local Law 16 of 2018 and Proposed Local Law No. 21 of 2018) represent a start, but they differ in important ways from each other and from what we would like to see in the final law.
Ulster People would like the final legislation to include:
- $2500 in public funds to be distributed in total when a candidate has raised $500 in donations of $5 or more including at least 50 individual donations;
- A 5:1 matching fund ratio;
- A cap on individual contributions of $250.
This resolution has been forwarded to the members of the Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform Subcommittee.
Work in Progress
This resolution will not be our last word on the subject of Campaign Finance Reform.
First, it concedes that our goal of a closed system, in which all campaigns are publicly financed and all candidates bound by the same spending limits, just isn’t realistic at this moment. It is, however, an important step in the right direction.
Second, it pertains only to those aspects of the proposed legislation that the subcommittee has already taken up– specifically local campaigns. Statewide campaigns have yet to be addressed.
How we got there:
The Cap on Matching Funds
The subcommittee has (tentatively) agreed to a $2500 cap on matching funds for local candidates. That is based on the total amount the subcommittee members believe the County might be willing to budget and the assumption that $3000 (the $500 raised to qualify plus $2500 in public funds) is a reasonable amount to finance a competitive local campaign.
Ulster People is okay with $2500–as a starting point, though we would like to see a higher number.
Qualifying for Matching Funds
The subcommittee (tentatively) agrees that, to qualify for public matching funds, candidates must raise $500 in small donations (between $10 and $100), including at least 50 individual donations.
Ulster People agrees that 50 individual small donations to a campaign demonstrates a reasonable level of community support and helps weed out frivolous or non-competitive candidates. But we strongly encourage the subcommittee to adjust their definition of a “small donation” and consider allowing $5 donations to also be counted towards the $500 qualification. It obviously would take more effort to raise $500 in $5 increments, but supporters who think their $5 won’t make a difference might think differently when told that when matched 5:1, $5 becomes a more substantial sounding $30. If the goal is more citizens feeling invested in a candidate and a campaign, why not make the minimum $5?
The Matching Fund Ratio
After the second subcommittee meeting, Ed and I had an Aha! moment I think worth sharing. We (Ulster People) had been advocating matching fund ratios of 5:1 or 6:1,thinking candidates would get more public money. Not so.
The same qualifying threshold ($500) must be reached, including the same 50 individual contributions, but the maximum any candidate will receive in public funds remains the same. All a higher ratio changes is how long it takes to get there.
The subcommittee has (tentatively) agreed to a 3:1 ratio. 50 donations of $10 each gets a candidate to the qualifying threshold of $500. When matched at 3:1, $500 becomes $2000, only $1500 of which is public money. There’s still $1000 left in matching funds and any number of ways to get there (100 $10 donations; 10 $100 donations).
Ulster People wants a 5:1 ratio—if for no other reason than to avoid the weeds. When matched at a 5:1 ratio, the qualifying $500 would become $2500, maxing out the public funds available. Done. It’s simple and straightforward. Give them the money and be done with the calculations.
Individual Contribution Limits
Remember that the presumed goal of enacting campaign finance reform is to counter the overwhelming influence of wealth on our political process. But candidates who opt into this public financing program are free to continue raising money even after maxing out their public money. The only constraint is the legal limit on individual contributions. The subcommittee has (tentatively) agreed to a limit of $500.
Ulster People believes that a $250 is limit is one we can live with, though we would prefer it to be lower. A lower cap on individual donations doesn’t mean that some candidates with deep pocket donors won’t outraise and outspend their opponents, but it does make buying an election proportionally harder– and the voices of small donors are proportionally augmented.
The subcommittee has yet to resolve some tricky issues, among them: Who will be responsible for oversight? How much will the county have to budget to keep the program adequately funded? Does it make sense to introduce legislation at the local level first and at the statewide level sometime in the future?
To be continued….
Make Your Voice Heard
The subcommittee has now met three times and are scheduled to meet next on June 13th (6-8 PM at the Library, 6th floor of the Ulster County Office Building). Tracey Bartels, Chair of the UCL, and the two Ulster County Board of Elections Commissioners, Ashley Dittus (D) and Tom Turco (R), are scheduled to appear to discuss, among other things, how the program might best be overseen. The public is welcome and encouraged to come.
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
- Campaign Finance Subcommittee MeetingJune 13 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
- Regular Session of the Ulster County LegislatureJune 18 @ 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
- Regular Session of the Ulster County LegislatureJuly 16 @ 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
- Regular Session of the Ulster County LegislatureAugust 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