Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Campaign Finance Reform Makes A Difference... And It Shows

Money and politics have always had a contentious relationship, generally alienating people from the process who do not have much to give to politicians running for office. However in a few cases, reformers have made headway in making elections and the run-up to them more accessible to a wider spectrum of voters. Here in New York a step towards cleaner elections was taken a few years ago, and the results so far are definitely impressive.

From The NY Times:

The examination, to be released on Wednesday by the city’s Campaign Finance Board, shows that changes enacted before the race encouraged 34,000 New Yorkers to make campaign donations for the first time; drastically curtailed the role of businesses, political committees and lobbyists in campaigns; and caused a major drop in donations from those doing business with the city.

Perhaps most intriguingly, the new data suggests that, in a year when voter turnout was historically low and pundits treated the mayoral election as a foregone conclusion, many New Yorkers of more modest means felt compelled to participate in the election process.[...]

For the 2009 election, the city matched donations of $175 or less at a ratio of six to one (turning a contribution of $100 into $700). As a result, the Campaign Finance Board found, almost 70 percent of contributors gave $175 or less in 2009, a 22 percent increase in those donations over the election in 2005. Over all, such donations accounted for 15 percent of all the money raised, up from 8.5 percent in 2005.

Among new donors, the percentage was even higher: 80 percent gave $175 or less.

The next step is to take this, or even a more effective measure, up to Albany and implemented in such a way that New Yorkers across the state can be allowed to participate in local politics. Currently a wealthy donor can give tens of thousands to a gubernatorial candidate (or to anyone running for statewide office), an amount that undoubtedly has significant influence in the way an elected official treats certain issues. By bringing more small-donors into the mix, it not only moves politicians to heed the demands of the general constituency, it allows those without means to run for office themselves.