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State Public Finance Commission holds first meeting Wednesday

The first meeting of the commission created to devise a public campaign finance system for New York's political races is scheduled for Wednesday. Advocates hope the commission, which has been slow to start, will start taking steps toward a final report due in December.

The commission, announced in March, does not yet have a staff or a schedule of promised public hearings, but advocates for public campaign financing in New York say they hope that will be announced at the meeting. 

John Kaehny with the government reform group Reinvent Albany said his group has 18 recommendations for the commission. 

"Making sure that there's a small donor matching program for New York that is something akin to what New York City has," Kaehny said. "Small campaign donations would be matched 6-to-1." 

Kaehny said New York's donation limits are among the highest in the nation, and he'd like to see those greatly reduced.

The advocates worry that the commission's final recommendations might include a "poison pill." The panel will also look at whether to end the state' system of fusion voting. It permits cross-party endorsement for major party candidates by minor parties.

The state's Conservative Party and the progressive Working Families Party are both suing the commission over that provision, saying ending fusion voting would put them out of business.

Amshula Jayaram with Demos is with the Fair Elections Coalition, which has similar requests for the commission. Jayaram said fusion voting should not be part of the discussion, and is "irrelevant" to public financing of campaigns.

"We are trying to open up our democracy," Jayaram said. "We don't open up democracy by cutting out political parties. We just don't."

The head of the State's Republican Party, Nick Langworthy, said he does not expect the commission to recommend any type of public financing soon. He said Gov. Andrew Cuomo is dependent on that money. 

"They want to squeeze every drop of juice out of the lemon they can in this state," said Langworthy, who added Cuomo is not "amassing" a war chest to run for re-election in a matching funds donor program.

"Something tells me you'll have a system that'll come out after his next election," Langworthy said.  

The governor had a $25 million campaign war chest for the 2018 election and spent money freely against primary and general election opponents. 

Republicans are against public financing of campaigns saying taxpayers should not have to pay for political ads and other campaign-related activities. 

But they are not totally against spending limits. Langworthy is advocating for an end to campaign contributions from contractors who have business before the state, including ones that are awarded grants through economic development projects. 

"We call on the governor do the right things and end the pay to play culture in this state," Langworthy said. 

He said that's led to corruption in the past, and two bid rigging and bribery scandals within the Cuomo Administration's economic development programs led to prison terms for several former Cuomo associates. The governor's office did not have an immediate response.  

Kaehny said his group supports limits similar to ones in New York City, where a vendor with a contract with the government can't give more than $500 to a candidate's campaign.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.