Campaign finance reform focus of LWV annual meeting

Campaign finance reform was the focus of the Chautauqua County League of Women Voters annual meeting speaker, League of Women Voters of New York State President Sally Robinson.

Leaguer Marcia Merrins welcomed Robinson and thanked her for coming to Chautauqua County from New York City.

“We are the only League she is visiting for an annual meeting. So, we are quite honored,” she said.

Merrins said campaign finance reform has been high on the League’s agenda for a long time and in light of recent bribery scandals, it is still a relevant issue.

Robinson said she has served as state League president for about a year now and since then has continued to work through decreased membership struggles and maintain the League’s advocacy presence at the state level.

She said campaign finance reform is important because it affects many other issues.

“We have been working on one issue, as Marcia said, for many, many years: campaign finance reform. Why is campaign finance reform important? Many think that the biggest threat to our democracy is the outside influence of money in politics. It shapes the agenda of what issues are addressed by our elected officials and undermines the representative character of our democracy.

“Think about a policy issue that is really important to you: heath care, environmental concerns, I heard someone mention hydrofracking earlier, simple taxes, smaller government. These are issues from both sides of the political spectrum. Time and time again simple approaches to these issues are blocked by the corrupting influence of money,” she said.

She said New York state has extremely high limits for contributions; four times higher than other states’ average limits for individual contributions and three times higher than the federal limit, and almost the lowest voter turnout rate.

She said for many years campaign finance has been a problem and nothing was done. However, proposed bills in the state legislature and Governor Cuomo’s support of campaign finance reform lends hope change may be on its way.

Robinson said there are solutions to this issue.

“The League’s advocacy has two tracks. The first, push for important reforms to the system: disclosure of outside spending, lower contribution limits, closing loopholes and in particular improving enforcement. and improving enforcement and second, supporting public financing of campaigns as the best long-term solution to combat undue spending,” she said.

She also advocated for small donor matching funds, like that done in New York City where candidates agree to campaign limits and donations are matched by a ratio of 6:1. She said this brings fundraising and voter outreach together and creates campaigns built on small individual donors and fosters voter participation.

“It’s important to open up the electoral process to more New Yorkers by reforming the system to attract a more diverse and competent slate of candidates, resulting in more competitive elections,” she said.

She said there also needs to be the creation of state public financing system, an independent campaign finance agency and audits on candidates’ use of campaign funds.

Robinson added what individuals can do to have their voices heard is to write a personalized letter to their state representatives.

“Speaker (Sheldon) Silver has the Fair Election Bill, which has some but not all of what the League would like to see … Right now, the advocates are thinking if people like all of you out there get in touch with your legislators and tell them that campaign finance reform is very important to you that is the best thing you can do. It is a very difficult nut to crack and one of the reasons it is so difficult is unlike, for example gay marriage, this impacts the way politicians get elected. So it is something that is sort of fundamental to them and their survival,” she said.

In order to access more information on campaign finance reform visit lwvny.org and under educational materials a powerpoint, background and worksheet are available.

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