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Matching funds plans fumble in capital

By Sarina Trangle

Several of Queens’ state legislators lamented that a public campaign finance pilot program approved in the New York state budget was limited to the state comptroller’s race in 2014.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Albany’s legislative leaders heralded the move in a joint memo, noting that the pilot would attempt to test how a system modeled after the city’s matching funds program would fare statewide.

City candidates who opt into the public financing program receive $6 per every $1 raised from a city resident, with the city’s disbursements capped at $175 per contributor.

The public financing, often called matching funds, is only released if candidates surpass fund-raising thresholds meant to suss out who is a viable candidate. The program aims to reduce the influence of money in politics and help make city elections more competitive.

The pilot program, which became effective with the budget’s adoption, would require state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to forfeit money he has previously raised for his re-election campaign if he decided to participate in the test run.

DiNapoli, who has been pushing for public financing in state elections, described the last-minute budget deal as a fumble, in part because it set the maximum amount a candidate participating in the pilot could accept from one contributor at $6,000 rather than the $2,000 he had proposed.

“The new proposal fails to set reasonable limitations on donations and assigns implementation to an organization that the Moreland Commission found dysfunctional,” DiNapoli said of the state Board of Elections in a statement. “There are also questions on whether this new proposal can be fairly and reasonably implemented in such a short time frame or whether it was set up for failure.”

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) shared the comptroller’s concerns, noting that at least one good government group had been calling for comptroller candidates not to partake in the pilot to protest its limited scope.

“You can’t have a pilot program on one race for one election cycle,” he said. “If it’s not used, those who are against it will say, ‘See, we tried. It failed. We can’t use it.’”

The senator said early negotiations had focused on building up a fund for the public financing system for a few years before enacting pilots or a permanent system.

He and Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said they believed a public financing system would temper the influence of large donors in Albany.

“The current proposal is a poorly disguised stalling tactic that puts New Yorkers at least another year from fair, equitable, publicly financed elections,” a statement from Stavisky’s office read.

Avella echoed other legislators in saying he would push to enact more comprehensive campaign finance reform.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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