Supporters of New York City's campaign finance program say it's curbed the influence of big money on local politics, and should be a model for reform, but the program also has its critics, including one candidate who's challenging the program in court. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report, Part 3 of his week-long series "Smart Money."
The field of mayoral candidates is heavy on lifelong politicians with years of fundraising experience, plus one self-funded billionaire, John Catsimatidis.
That makes it tough for an outsider like nonprofit founder George McDonald to compete. So McDonald is suing, seeking a court's permission to collect contributions above the $5,000 limit set by the city.
"That's something that a person like I, who's been working in the public interest for 25 years but not collecting names of people to support a political candidacy, should have available," McDonald said.
Others, like Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion and Catsimatidis, object to the so-called public matching program, whereby the city matches small private donations at a six-to-one ratio.
"I don't think taxpayer money should go to professional politicians," Catsimatidis said.
"Last cycle, we spent close to $30 million financing political campaigns," Carrion said. "Those resources ought to be used for the city."
On the state level, Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing to replicate the city program.
"It works well in New York City," Cuomo said. "It'll work well in New York State."
However, Republicans in the state Senate have so far resisted.
"I do not support using taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns," said State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Skelos says public financing would cost the state more than $200 million, but one study puts the figure no higher than $41 million. Reformers say Albany dysfunction and corruption are even more costly.
Still, many prominent Republicans say it's a matter of principle.
"Why should taxpayer money be used to fund the campaign and the philosophy of a candidate with whom you disagree?" said John Faso, a former candidate for governor.
As for New Yorkers, polls show strong public support for public financing of campaigns, including a Siena College poll last month that found 61 percent of voters statewide in favor. As for the George McDonald lawsuit, a judge's ruling could come any day.