Legislative Update: Campaign Finance Reform in Ulster County – Part 2

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

Series Navigation

Skip the Straw Law passes UCL!

Chalk up a win for sanity!

On Tuesday May 21, the Ulster County Legislature passed LOCAL LAW NO. 20 of 2018 (A Local Law Requiring Restaurants And Fast Food Service Establishments to Provide Plastic Beverage Straws Solely Upon Request), otherwise known as “Skip the Straw,” 14-7, with all Democrats, plus Heidi Haynes, C-Stone Ridge, and Craig Lopez, R-Shawangunk, voting in favor.

Final approval rests with Pat Ryan, who was sworn in as the new County Executive on June 9.

Ulster People advocated strongly for passage, passing a unanimous resolution in support of the proposed law at our general meeting in May, that was read aloud prior to the Legislature’s vote.

Ulster County banned the use of polystyrene by the food service industry in March 2015 and a ban on single-use plastic bags is scheduled to go into effect in July. In fact, we led the way for the statewide bag ban, which takes effect in March 2020.

Fun fact: Malaysia and the Philippines are among those countries fed up with being our plastic waste dumping ground. Adding insult to injury, we then blame them for polluting our oceans. They’ve decided their best option is to send it back. Hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic waste in thousands of containers are heading back home, back to their countries of origin. Ball’s is whose court?

Skip the Straw isn’t THE answer to the crisis in our oceans, but it’s another small step in the right direction! Nothing wrong with celebrating small victories — as long as we don’t lose sight of the big picture.

If you are feeling brave, check out this heartbreaking video of a chef preparing a fish.

Skip the Straw Law

Not the Last Straw, but a step in the right direction.

On Thursday, May 9, the Ulster County Legislature’s Energy and Environment Committee approved passage of the “Skip the Straw Law”  (Proposed Local Law Number 20 of 2018:  A Local Law Requiring Restaurants And Fast Food Service Establishments Provide Plastic Beverage Straws Solely Upon Request).  The proposed law will be voted on by the full Legislature on Tuesday, May 21. As always, you are invited/encouraged to come make your voices heard.

This law does NOT ban plastic straws!  You can still have your plastic straws – all you have to do is ask.  It is no more than a gentle reminder to businesses and consumers that our oceans are facing a crisis we ignore at great risk.  

According to the Daily Freeman,reaction to the measure has been split among legislators and the public.”  Some feel it is too autocratic and costly for businesses. Some feel it doesn’t go far enough and should include other single-use plastic items, like stirrers and cutlery.  But, as Majority Leader Jon Heppner pointed out, amending the law would trigger more public hearings, more debate – and more delay. “It’s a step in the right direction.

At Ulster People’s May 20 general meeting, I will be introducing a resolution in support of the Ulster County Legislature’s “Skip the Straw Law.”

Fun fact:  

According to the international Earth Day Network, if we don’t change our ways, by 2025, the oceans will contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish. By 2050, we’re looking at an ocean that will be home to more plastic (by weight) than fish.  

Corporations, municipalities, and even national governments are implementing bans on plastic straws.  Starbucks has committed to eliminating them by 2020, thereby eliminating more than a billion straws a year.  So have Hyatt, Hilton American and Alaska Airlines, and Royal Caribbean. The E.U. banned them in April. Seattle and Malibu have banned them in 2018.  San Francisco and New York are considering proposals. And on May 13, Ron DiSantis, the Republican Governor of Florida, vetoed a bill that would have prevented local governments from passing plastic straw bans: the Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach and Miami Beach plastic straw bans stand!

Another Fun Fact:

Common wisdom says paper straws are 6 to 10 times more expensive than plastic. But public pressure has created new markets for reusable straws made of materials like paper, silicone, stainless steel, glass and bamboo.  And for a disposable alternative: I ordered a 200-Pack of 100% Plant-Based Compostable/Biodegradable Flexible Alternatives for $8.99 (about .7 percent more) from Amazon. Report to follow arrival.

Weigh in on Skip the Straw!

Please consider coming  to the May 21 meeting of the Ulster County Legislature when a vote will be taken on the “Skip the Straw Law.”  You needn’t speak – your presence alone reminds our legislators that we are paying attention and that we care. If you do decide to speak (please do!), remember to show up a few minutes early to sign up.

Ulster People’s next general meeting

(at which I will present my resolution to support the “Skip the Straw Law” to our voting members) will focus on Fair Elections and Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform at both the state and local levels. It is open to the public.   Please come!

Legislative Update: Campaign Finance Reform in Ulster County

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.

Showing UP

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

At issue:

  • 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

Series Navigation

UCL Report: UCL Term Limits Resolution

At the July 17th Ulster County Legislature Regular Session, 59 speakers signed up for the public comment period. Many of them were there to address Resolution 285: A Local Law Adopting An Administrative Code To Create Term Limits.

But whether or not there should be term limits for county legislators wasn’t the main issue for many who showed up to speak. What they were primarily concerned with was that Reclaim NY was behind a well-funded push for passage of the law. They spoke about Reclaim’s association with Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, about dark money, hidden agendas, outside influences trying to hijack our local democracy.

Reclaim NY is a 501c3 nonprofit organization funded by Mercer, a Long Island billionaire, hedge fund manager, owner of Cambridge Analytica and one of Trump’s largest campaign contributors. In 2016, Mercer donated at least $500,000 to Congressman John Faso’s election campaign.

Reclaim NY claims to be non-partisan, yet their mailings urging support for passage of the term limit legislation were only sent to registered Republicans. Reclaim also purchased full-page ads in local papers and many social media ads in support of the legislation.

Resolution 285 calls for limiting county legislators, the county executive and county comptroller to 12 years of service, but the 12-year clock would not start until after the local law is adopted, so all current officials would be able to serve another 12 years should the legislation become law.

The UCL voted to postpone the vote until the Sept 20th Legislative Session, thereby eliminating the possibility of the resolution getting on the ballot this election cycle.

Ulster People for Justice and Democracy does not have a formal stance on the matter of term limits, but if you would like to address the legislature about this law, or the decision to postpone the vote, or the intervention of Reclaim N.Y. in our local politics, plan to show up for the September 20th regular meeting of the UCL (Ulster County Office Bldg, 244 Fair St. in Kingston (6th fl) at 7PM and sign up to speak. Or just come to show your support for the process. And you can always contact your county legislator and express your views.

Find your legislator at http://ulstercountyny.gov/legislature/legislative-members.

 

UCL Report: “Bring Your Own Bag Act”

One of the proposed laws that currently being considered by the Ulster County Legislature is Proposed Local Law Number 10 Of 2018, A Local Law Promoting The Use Of Reusable Bags And Regulating The Use Of Plastic Carryout Bags And Recyclable Paper Carryout Bags, otherwise known as the “Bring Your Own Bag Act.” This Local Law is the culmination of a decade of discussion in the Legislature. It would ban the use of all single-use plastic bags and require stores to charge 5-cents for recyclable paper bags provided to customers. Restaurants located outside of grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores or foodmarts would be exempt. Legislator Tracey Bartels (D-Gardiner) sponsored the law, and Dave Donaldson (D-Kingston) co-sponsored.

At a public hearing in June, 19 community members spoke in favor of passage, and three opposed.

On July 16, the Laws and Rules Committee had voted to block the legislation from moving forward to a vote by the full legislature. The vote was Donaldson, Heppner and Joe Maloney voting to move the forward; Roberts and Haynes against. Chairman Ronk, who has the right to sit in on any committee and vote (which he does whenever he thinks his vote will be needed) cast the deciding vote against. A majority is required for a resolution to pass.

Bartels and Donaldson were able to force the bill onto the Legislature’s August agenda by executing a “petition to discharge,” a procedural move that allows a legislator to bring a measure that has been blocked in committee to the floor of the full legislature by gathering the signatures of eight legislators on a petition. This move does not guarantee a final vote for or against passage— only consideration by the full body. In fact, that is what happened. Bartels, the bill’s sponsor, asked that it be referred back to the Energy and Environment Committee for further work. Look for it on the September meeting agenda.

According to the EPA, between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags worldwide are used each year, with less than 5% of those recycled. They end up on our streets, clog our waterways and sewers, and the chemicals they are made with leach into our water and our food, ending up in our breast milk, semen, saliva and urine. Environmental groups estimate that tens of thousands of animals, including whales, birds, seals and turtles, die every year as a result of mistaking plastic bags for food.

Other people in other places have learned to manage without single-use plastic bags, including five other municipalities in N.Y., the city of Chicago, the states of California and Hawaii, and numerous countries around the world.

Please, for the sake of all of us in Ulster County, in New York State, in the country, the world and on the planet, take a stand on this bill.

Check the agenda for the September meeting of the UCL, or check back here, for an update on this important legislation. Plan to sign up to speak or just show up and lend your support.

UPDATE: On September 20, the Ulster County Legislature passed, by a vote of 15 to 7, Resolution No. 283.2: A Local Law Promoting The Use Of Reusable Bags And Regulating The Use Of Plastic Carryout Bags And Recyclable Paper Carryout Bags.

Ulster County stores will be prohibited from using plastic bags and will charge at least 5 cents for each paper bag they provide customers, which they can keep— IF Mike Hein signs it.

Introducing: Ulster County Legislature Observer Reports

Help your community stay informed about local government!

The Ulster County Legislature (UCL) Observers Working Group was formed because, even though so many of the issues that come before the UCL have real consequences for our community, so few of us know very much about who they are, what they do, and when and where they do it. Their meetings are open to the public and, as citizens, we can not only observe, but we can also take part in their discussions and try to influence their decisions.

The reports generated by this group will keep our members educated about legislation that is being discussed and voted on. They can alert our members when issues of particular importance warrant a show of community support–– either for or against a measure. And when all 23 seats are up for grabs next year, they will help us decide which legislators (or hopefuls) to endorse and support. We can only make informed choices if we’ve been paying attention.

If you are interested in attending one of the monthly meetings and filling out a simple report-back form, please contact Elisa (elee2chee@gmail.com) or Tamara (ttelberg@gmail.com) for more info.

Legislative Meetings take place in the Ulster County Office Building, 6th Fl., 244 Fair St, Kingston at 7PM.

Also important are the Republican and Democratic Caucus meetings which take place one hour prior to the Leg Meetings at 6PM in designated meetings rooms in the same building.

The upcoming 2018 meeting dates:

  • September 20
  • October 16
  • November 2
  • December 18