The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

New York City's Model Public Financing System Must be Upheld, Replicated Statewide

Good Government Groups File Brief in Ognibene v. Parkes


A coalition of good government groups that have been advocating for public financing and comprehensive campaign finance reform in New York State filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday supporting New York City's model small donor public financing system. The groups urged the Court to affirm that public financing furthers democratic values by helping restore the influence of all New Yorkers during campaigns and remove the influence of special interest sponsors.

The Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Union and pro bono counsel at Proskauer Rose LLP, drafted the amicus brief. These groups -- together with Common Cause New York, the League of Women Voters of New York, and New York Public Interest Research Group -- filed the brief in Ognibene v. Parkes, a challenge to New York City's successful system brought by campaign finance reform opponent James Bopp.

The brief stresses the importance of the City's public financing system, which has enjoyed robust participation by serious, credible candidates. Public financing has promoted voter choice by increasing diversity and competition in city elections and dramatically expanded the number of New Yorkers who contribute to campaigns as small donors, the brief states.

"Public financing is a powerful weapon against the corrupting influence of special interest money in our elections," said Mark Ladov, counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy and Justice Programs. "Just as public financing put a major dent in scandal in New York City, it can help us clean up Albany next. New Yorkers should urge Governor Cuomo and the legislature to pass public financing on the state level, creating a model for reform that the rest of the nation can follow."

"The City's public finance system stands tall as a bulwark against a nation awash in political spending dominated by corporations, unions and other moneyed interests," said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union. "The brief filed today by Citizens Union and our good government partners is more than a defense of the City's model system, it is a clarion call for replication by New York State and governments across our country."

"Political fundraising has become a race to the top, and the disproportionate influence of high worth individuals on the process undermines the core principles of our democracy," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director at Common Cause New York. "Yet New York City's public financing system has allowed for a true citizen legislative body, with people of average means able to run for higher office. We should be fighting to replicate, not dismantle it."

"The League of Women Voters of the City of New York was an early and staunch supporter- and remains so today- of the New York City Campaign Finance Law because the League, at the national, state and local level consider the public campaign financing laws as important tools to protect, extend and encourage the use of the franchise," said Mary Lou Urban, Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York.

"New York's landmark campaign finance law is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant climate of influence peddling by big monied interests. That's why are proud to defend the law from attack," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for NYPIRG.

Two aspects of New York City's public financing program are at issue in Ognibene. One conserves taxpayer dollars by reducing grants in non-competitive races, and the other releases candidates from voluntary campaign expenditure limits in particularly expensive races. "These provisions are entirely compatible with the First Amendment's robust protection of political speech," the brief states.