NYS Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries

The New York State Assembly will adjourn for summer break next month, on June 21st.  But fair election advocates are waiting for lawmakers to take action on a bill that has already been introduced, meant to make primaries more competitive and reconnect voters with the people they vote for.  It’s called the 2012 Fair Elections Act, and the goal is to level the playing field by breaking the so-called “message monopoly” currently enjoyed by the candidates with the most money.

New York State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (@teamjeffries) is behind the act, and he’s also running for Congress to represent Brooklyn. He joined us on The Dylan Ratigan Show to talk about the Act and some of the problems it hopes to tackle when it comes to money, politics, and voter participation in primaries.  Here are a few stats:

– Only 10% of voters participate in dominant primaries.
– 63% of incumbents ran unopposed in primaries in 2012
– In 2010, 396 incumbents ran for re-election, and only four lost
– 94% of winning candidates in elections are the ones with the most money
– Congressional candidates must raise something like $10,000 a week to compete in re-election.

Here are the basics: NY’s Fair Elections Act would establish an optional public financing system for primary, general and special election campaigns for all state offices.  The bill would require a candidate to have a minimum number of small-dollar donors who must be from the candidate’s district, to ensure big-money donors don’t have an overwhelming influence on elections.

A candidate for state office who meets all the requirements would be allowed to receive matching contributions of $6 for everyone $1 he or she raises on contributions of less than $20.  The public funding would be capped at a specific limit, depending on the office being pursued.

This is similar to public financing for New York City’s elections, which provides $6 in matching funds for every $1 raised, which has had some success in making elections more fair: it allows for more competition and smaller donors, gives small donors a bigger impact, and leads to an increase in citizen participation in elections.

So, how would this all be paid for?  Jeffries proposal would do it through either a $5 income tax check-off, or by a 10% additional surcharge on fraudulent practices in stocks, bonds or other securities.

Would this get us closer to more fair and participatory elections in New York State? What about solving the “money in politics” problem that we’ve been focusing on all year? Let us know what you think in the comments below, or over on our Facebook page!

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