Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform (Sept. Update)

We’re SO Close!

But our work is not done! The sub-committee has completed its work on the proposed 2019 Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform law. It has been to the lawyers and now will go to the legislators. A Public Hearing will be scheduled, the legislators will vote and, assuming it passes, it will go to the County Executive.

There is no guarantee that he will sign. We have to keep the pressure on!

The Need

Ulster People would like to see a closed system, in which all campaigns are publicly financed and all candidates bound by the same spending limits. That’s not happening now, but passing this law is certainly a step in the right direction.  

New candidates, whose limited resources kept them from running in the past, will take advantage of public matching funds to run competitive campaigns.  The undue influence of large contributors and the corruption they invite will be curtailed. Our democratic processes will be supported.   

The Numbers

Local candidates, having qualified for public funds by raising $500 in individual small donations, will have their contributions matched at a 5:1 ratio up to a maximum of $2500.  Candidates receive their share of public funds as soon as they qualify.  

If legislators push back and insist on a 3:1 ratio in the final bill, it actually makes very little difference. Candidates would receive only $1500 when they have raised the initial qualifying $500, leaving $1000 still available. To receive that final $1000, they would have to raise another $333 in small donations ($999). The maximum amount available to each candidate remains unchanged. It just takes a little more effort to get there.

For County-wide candidates, the ratio (5:1 or 3:1) makes no difference at all.  They must first raise $15,000 in small donations to qualify. Either a 3:1 or a 5:1 matching ratio gets them well over $23,000, which is the maximum amount they can receive in public funds.  

Contribution limits (individuals, partnerships, political committees, labor organizations) are set at $3500 per election cycle for county-wide races and at $650 for local races (and considerably less for those doing business with the county). 

The Public Hearing 

has yet to be scheduled. The date and time will be posted here as soon as it’s on the Legislative Calendar and we will suggest possible talking points at that time.

This may be the most important issue the legislature has taken up this session. It’s been years of promises and finally there’s an end in sight!  Whether or not you decide to speak, your presence is evidence of support and the legislators care.

Please watch for the hearing date and consider showing up!

The Prize!

Passage of this local law in the Legislature–and the County Exec’s signature– means that Ulster County could  have real comprehensive campaign finance reform for local and county-wide races before the end of the year. 

In the meantime, please put pressure on our County Executive and Legislators every chance you get.  Send an email. Make a phone call. If you are in a meeting with Pat Ryan or any of our legislators, ask about their position on Campaign Finance Reform.  Make sure to let them know how important it is to you–– to all of us. Give a speech. Tell them it’s time–– past time–– for Ulster County to have real Campaign Finance Reform.  Finally! No more delays!    

Let’s make sure that happens! 

Read our past coverage on campaign finance reform in Ulster County:

Update on Campaign Finance Reform (post 7/8 meeting)

This legislation appears to be moving forward! 

The Need

The document clearly states the need for reform, citing the undue influence of large contributions on our democratic processes, and “the specter of quid pro quo corruption, even more so when the contributor is involved in government contracts.” 

The Issues Considered

The list of issues still to be resolved before this legislation moves to a vote of the full legislature continues to shrink.   The lawyers have weighed in where necessary, and tentative agreement has been reached by the subcommittee on the vast majority of specifics, including:

  • Candidate pathways to qualification for public financing;
  • The amount of public funds to be made available to candidates and the ratio at which they will be distributed;
  • Campaign contribution limits; and
  • The amount to be appropriated to and maintained in the campaign finance fund.

Among the remaining unresolved issues is a question about responsibility for oversight, but as options have been clarified and evaluated, the subcommittee is moving closer to a resolution. 

What Comes Next

The legislative subcommittee members (Jonathan Heppner, Hector Rodriguez and Ken Ronk) are preparing a pre-draft document for Tracey Bartels, Chair of the Legislature. Tracey will attend the next meeting (date yet to be determined) prepared to share any questions, issues or comments she might have. 

Barring (unanticipated) major revisions, the document will then be filed with the clerk and copies made available to all the legislators.  The caucuses will discuss, amendments (if any) will be considered, a public hearing scheduled and— a vote taken!

What You Can Do

Following the next meeting of the subcommittee, I will post another update. By that time, we should know with more certainty what the proposed legislation will look like.

If it is diluted beyond the point where it seems likely to accomplish what we are hoping for, real Comprehensive Finance Reform that effectively limits the intrusion of big money into our local and county-wide elections and makes it possible for those with limited resources to wage competitive campaigns, we will have a chance to lobby our legislators and make our preferences known.

The official public hearing (date to be determined) will be scheduled, at which you will all be allowed to speak.

In the meantime, you can attend either the July 16th or the August 20 regular legislative session (7PM in the Legislative Chambers on the 6th floor of the County Office Building, 244 Fair Street, Kingston, NY) and add your voice to their deliberations. (If you want to speak, you should plan to show up a little before 7 to sign up.)

The Prize!

The legislature’s passage of this local law (and the signature of the County Executive) means that Ulster County could  have real comprehensive campaign finance reform for local and state-wide races before the end of the year. 

Let’s make sure that happens!  

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

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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

There are no upcoming events at this time.

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May General Meeting: Fair Elections

Please join Ulster People for our May General Meeting! This month’s topic is “Fair Elections” at the state and county level.

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.

Getting on the Ballot in NY State Part 1: Background

Getting on the Ballot in New York State - Part I: Background

This post is an excerpt from our forthcoming The Ulster County Electoral Field Guide, developed by Ulster People Vice Chair Penny Coleman. We have done our best to ensure its accuracy as of March 2019.

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New York’s Election Laws (Background)

Election laws and procedures are different everywhere you go in the U.S. and at every level of federal, state and local government.  The way things are done in Ulster County might be similar to the way things are done in Columbia or Green, but don’t count on it. It’s always best to make sure you understand what the specific local rules are for the office you are seeking. Check with the BOE and never assume that what was true for last year’s election will be true for the next.

Image by Let NY Vote

Some background on New York State Election Politics:

If you think voting restrictions are only a southern shame, think again.  New Yorkers have endured some of the most restrictive voting rights laws, and consequently one of the worst records on voter turnout, in the country.  In 2016, we ranked 41st in voter turnout. That was an improvement over 2014, when we ranked 49th, with only 27% of eligible voters making it to the polls.

Continue reading “Getting on the Ballot in NY State Part 1: Background”

Nominate Someone to Run for Local Office!

Do you have a friend, family member, co-worker or neighbor who you think would make a great candidate? Nominate them to run for local office!

We are looking for leaders who genuinely represent their community. We are especially eager to support candidates who are women, people of color, and come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

A lot of the best candidates aren’t seeking the spotlight — they might have not even considered running for office before. Your nomination could plant the seed of something great.

Supporting First Time Candidates

Running for office can be intimidating, especially if you don’t have access to wealthy donors and political insiders. Ulster People is working to change that. Our volunteers have years of collective experience working on local campaigns in Ulster County, and we’ve developed materials designed to quickly bring first-time, grassroots candidates get up to speed.

2019 is the Year to Build Our Bench

This November in Ulster County, all 23 county legislative seats are up for election. Many other local offices are also on the ballot. If we care about building a more diverse and energetic bench of politicians, this is the year we need to do. the. work.

But because of New York State’s recent primary consolidation (overall, a good thing!), the time frame for deciding to run and get on the ballot has been greatly condensed from past years. We have less time to recruit great candidates, which makes your nominations all the more important!