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Biaggi pushes for campaign finance reform

Jaya Sundaresh

State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi addresses attendees at a town hall in Parkchester.

State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi is leading the charge for a new campaign finance reform measure in New York State, to limit the influence of big money in state politics. Biaggi, whose district includes the Hunts Point waterfront, laid out her proposed reforms on Friday night at a town hall in Parkchester, where she gave the keynote address. 

Biaggi, who upset powerful incumbent Jeff Klein in last November’s election for the 34th District of the New York State Senate, ran on a left-of-center platform. She was joined at the Feb. 22 event by Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, and reform-minded community activists who spoke on a variety of issues, including criminal justice reform and affordable housing. 

Under the new legislation that Biaggi is cosponsoring, the state would provide candidates with six times the amount of donations that they receive of less than $250 each. The proposal emulates a city policy, in which candidates receive eight dollars for every dollar they raise in small donations.

“I really do believe that the political currency that we have in our community and the power that we have is literally us, not the special interests, and not the lobbyists,” she told the crowd of nearly 50 at Saint Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, and went on to denounce the influence that real estate developers and hedge funds exercise in the political process through campaign contributions. 

“We want to see fair campaigns,” said Darryl Herring, a community leader with VOCAL-NY,  which cosponsored the event. “We want the little guy to get in there.” Herring said that the criminal justice reforms his group is fighting for, including bail reform, open discovery reforms and marijuana legalization, would benefit from campaign finance reform, by allowing“ordinary people” to have a say in the political process. 

The law the advocates want to see passed would encourage and reward less well-connected candidates to run for office, said Stanley Fritz, New York City Campaigns manager for the nonprofit group Citizen Action. “It gives regular citizens the ability to amplify their vote,” he said, citing a more diverse slate of candidates that ran and got elected in Connecticut after a similar, small donor matching program was instituted. According to Demos, a public policy organization, 77 percent of candidates in Connecticut were publicly financed in 2012. The program has bipartisan support. 

According to Fritz, a similar initiative in New York state would cost tax payers just $2.50 each annually, which could be taken out of the state’s unclaimed funds account, or the governor’s general operating spending budget. Advocates argue that no additional taxation would be required. 

In the seven weeks that the new Democrat-controlled state legislature has been in session, the state Senate has passed legislation that many New Yorkers have been pursuing for years, including the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which protects transgender rights, the Reproductive Health Act, which codifies the rights granted by Roe v. Wade into state law, and voting rights legislation. That sea change was made possible when candidates running grassroots campaigns ousted incumbents who made up the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), which had controlled the Senate in conjunction with the Republicans. 

“I’d be surprised if there’s a big legislative fight,” said Fritz. “We think the Senate will be supportive of it.”

Biaggi told the Express that she wants to see campaign finance reform on the Senate floor for a vote in April. She noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a similar measure in his state budget, but added that the Senate has a responsibility to pass campaign finance reform of its own. The Assembly passed a similar bill last year, but the state Senate did not vote on the resolution. 

Biaggi expects elected officials who benefit from the current system will resist campaign finance reform. 

“There are people who have been in their seats for many years, who are not used to raising small dollar donations, who are used to getting corporate or real estate money,” she said. 


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