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Originally Published: March 20, 2014

Citizens Union report finds NYC public matching system aids in increasing choice and competition

State legislative races are more likely to be uncontested, feature fewer candidates and have slightly more incumbents re-elected

CU urges public funds matching program modeled on city system be created through state budget authorizing legislation to ensure NYS voters have greater choice and fairer elections

Citizens Union today released a report, Fair Elections for New York State, 2014 Update: How Public Matching Creates Greater Voter Choice and Candidate Competition, which compares elections for state legislative seats held in New York City to races for the New York City Council. The report’s findings show that state legislative elections occurring within New York City feature a greater number of uncontested races, fewer candidates for voters to choose from, and incumbents who face less competition.  City council races feature greater choice and candidate competition due to the strength of the city’s public matching system.

With Governor Andrew Cuomo’s inclusion of a comprehensive campaign finance proposal in his executive budget, and the inclusion of a public matching system modeled on Speaker Sheldon Silver’s campaign finance legislation in the Assembly’s budget resolution, Citizens Union’s report demonstrates the need for the final state budget authorizing legislation to include needed campaign finance reform.  The State Senate majority coalition in its budget resolution also left the door open for campaign finance reform and signaled a willingness to address the long overdue issue.

Citizens Union’s major findings in these areas are:

  1.  21 percent of all state legislative contests in New York City went uncontested in both the primary and general elections in the four cycles between 2006 and 2012 while only 8 percent of races were uncontested for the City Council during the three cycles between 2005 and 2013 (See Figure D in report).
  2. Incumbents were challenged in only 27 percent of assembly seats and 18 percent of senate seats for the 2012 state primary elections occurring in New York City, while 57 percent of incumbents were contested in the 2013 city council primaries (See Figure B in report).
  3. In primaries featuring incumbents, fewer than 20 percent of state legislative primaries occurring in New York City had 3 or more candidates from 2006 to 2012, while 59 percent of city council primaries had 3 or more candidates from 2005 to 2013 (See Figure G in report).
  4. In primaries for open seats, voters have far greater choice of candidates for city council races, with 5 candidates typically running (rounded from 4.6), while state assembly primaries had an average of 3 candidates (rounded from 2.9), and state senate primaries had only 2 candidates run (rounded from 2.4) for those races occurring in New York City (See Figure H in report).
  5. The re-election rate for state legislators from New York City was 96.5 percent from 2006 to 2012, while city councilmembers had a slightly lower re-election rate of 94.1 percent from 2005 to 2013 (See Figure I in report).

“Citizens Union’s report demonstrates the need for the state to enact comprehensive campaign finance reforms with public funding so that voters have greater choice and our democracy becomes healthier.” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union.  “This year’s budget process presents an opportunity for the state to respond by including in the final authorizing legislation comprehensive campaign finance reforms, including a public matching system.”

“Voters deserve a campaign finance system that is fairer and creates greater voter choice and candidate competition.” said Rachael Fauss, Policy and Research Manager and primary author of the report. “The shockingly high number of wholly uncontested races for state legislative seats in New York City – one in five – demonstrates the need for a sea change in the way in which campaigns are funded.”

CITIZENS UNION’S RECOMMENDATIONS

In order to increase the choices voters have on Election Day and address the lack of competition, Citizens Union calls upon state government leaders to build on the successful model of the New York City campaign finance system through implementation of the following reforms via the authorizing language of the state budget this year:

  • Inclusion of a public matching program that empowers small donors;
  • Independent, effective enforcement to prevent violations of campaign finance law while assisting candidates in compliance;
  • Lower contribution limits for individual candidates and political parties;
  • “Pay to play” limitations for contractors and lobbyists; and
  • Robust disclosure of money in politics, from candidates, parties and independent political actors.
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