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Publicly funded political campaigns: what you need to know

BOROUGHWIDE – The New York State Public Finance Commission’s vote to create a $100 million state-funded campaign finance system hit the political world like an earthquake and not just because of money.

At its meeting on Nov. 25, the commission also voted to change the threshold by which small, grassroots political parties can qualify to be included on the election ballot, a move that led to an outcry by groups like the Working Families Party.

Here’s what you need to know:

Under the new system, so-called third parties (in other words parties other than Democrat or Republican) must garner at least 2 percent of the overall vote in an election, or 130,000 votes (whichever is higher) in order to secure a line on the ballot in future elections. And the parties must meet the strict threshold every two years.

Under the current system, third parties have to receive at least 50,000 votes every four years in a gubernatorial election to maintain ballot status.

The new system will mean that parties will have to re-qualify every two years instead of every four years.

The state’s new publicly-funded campaign finance system will go into effect in 2026, two years after the next gubernatorial election, and will allow candidates who qualify to receive matching funds.

Candidates for State Senate and State Assembly can receive matching funds in a 12-1 ratio for every $250 in campaign contributions they receive, as long as the contributions are coming from donors in the candidate’s district.

Candidates for statewide office, such as those running for governor, can qualify for matching funds at 6-1 ratio. The limit on campaign contributions from an individual that a candidate for governor can receive is $18,000. Only contributions of $250 or less can qualify for matching funds, however.

The commission’s ballot access vote has generated a great deal of criticism due largely to the fact that smaller parties, like the Working Families, the Independent Party and the Green Party, could have a tougher time staying on the ballot.

“The extreme increase in ballot qualification requirements are a clear abuse of state power to advance the governor’s political agenda,” New York Working Families Party Director Bill Lipton said in a statement.

“This is a power grab by the governor and his allies to consolidate power and weaken independent progressive organizing,” Lipton added.

The Working Families Party endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rival, actress Cynthia Nixon in the 2018 Democratic Party Primary.

Jerry Kassar, chairperson of the New York State Conservative Party, said he’s not wild about the new rules, despite the fact that his party isn’t likely to have much trouble maintaining its ballot line.

“The Conservative Party could be the only surviving small party in New York under this proposed, 2 percent threshold, but our principles get in the way of any celebrating,” said Kassar, a Dyker Heights resident.

Kassar also expressed opposition to the campaign finance system.

“We continue to believe that Governor Cuomo’s commission lacks the constitutional authority to make law — only a duly elected legislature can do that — and we remain philosophically opposed to taxpayer funded political campaigns. This is a classic example of government engineering a crisis and then presenting an impossibly bureaucratic solution to it on the backs of taxpayers,” he said.

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