BY ASSEMBLYWOMAN NILY ROZIC
“Why can’t we get better people to run?” Governor Cuomo asked rhetorically after this month’s scandalous indictments of New York legislators – including some from our own backyard in Queens.
New Yorkers, like all Americans, ought to be able to take pride in the fact that we are governed by our fellow citizens. They are elected by us to represent us, but time and again our process has been undermined and our respect for democracy tested by the way some conduct the people’s business.
As a newly elected New York State Assemblywoman, I navigated a difficult election and I am now eagerly at work in our state’s capital. I see firsthand how our government creates opportunity and promotes values we all believe in. Unfortunately, it is imperfect and it fails us in at least one way: its susceptibility to corruption.
The root of corruption in politics is money. If we do not do something about the power of big money in our campaigns we will never enjoy the scandal-free democracy we deserve.
Money hovers over the electoral process from the very first day a prospective candidate decides to run for office. Supporters and experts, friends and enemies alike, bombard you with the same question: “how much can you raise?” Our electoral process can weed out potentially great candidates who do not have the personal wealth or supporters necessary to raise tens of thousands of dollars.
As the campaign becomes more competitive, big money again plays a decisive role in helping to push some to victory – often at the expense of more populist, progressive candidates. During my race last fall, I amassed approximately 500 low-dollar contributions from donors who were new to the process. Now, as an elected official in Albany, big money remains a corrosive force that tempts some officials to sell out their constituents and constrains others from taking up legislation.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. And I don’t think it should. This week, in the wake of these latest scandals, I’ll be returning to Albany to conclude my first session as an Assemblywoman. I intend to work with my colleagues to pass the Fair Elections Act, pioneering legislation that would overhaul the campaign finance system in New York State and create a structure modeled on New York City’s public financing system.
We can create a small donor matching fund that encourages every New Yorker to get involved in local campaigns and encourages candidates to fundraise in amounts of $20 and $50 instead of $5,000 and $10,000. This will help open up the process by encouraging people who are underrepresented in state government to get involved. As noted in a recent New York Times editorial, “public financing is the linchpin of the entire reform effort. Without it, there is almost no hope for the infusion of fresh faces the system so desperately needs.”
Fair elections can increase participation, transparency, and accountability in our democracy, and replace the power of big money with the power of the people. That would give us a process we could all respect, and a government we could all take pride in again.