The state’s Commission on Public Finance met on Long Island this week and voted to reverse itself on how to implement a system of campaign finance reform.
"We had a very strange occurrence in the last session where five commissioners reversed their votes from the previous session that had happened just the week before. And as far as I can tell from the discussion they had it wasn't based on any new evidence or study that was presented to them," said Larry Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Last week the Commission voted unanimously to provide public matching funds for small donations. But on Tuesday, the Commission voted in a narrow 5 to 4 vote to limit public matching funds to donations candidates raise only within the individual Senate and Assembly districts they are running for.
After each meeting, video is posted on the Commission website of all votes, but video of last week's unanimous vote mysteriously never made it onto the website. That fueled accusations of backroom deal making and inadequate public oversight of the process.
"It's not as transparent as it should be. We think a weak program is emerging that could be designed to protect incumbents rather than empower small donors," said Alex Camarda, of Reinvent Albany.
The Tuesday vote was led by appointees to the 9-member Commission by Governor Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. Appointees of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and the two Republicans voted against overturning the previous vote.
"The issue is right now with Governor Cuomo and Speaker Heastie is that they want to hold on to a very hegemonic sense of power and we have to stand up as a people in this state and say absolutely not," said Jawanza Williams of Vocal New York.
Critics say if you limit matched contributions to those raised just in district, the program is likely unworkable. New York City allows matching funds for donations made from individuals who live anywhere in the city.
Experts say the logical thing to do here is allow matches on dollars raised throughout New York State, based on the city's model. The Commission has made no final determinations yet. There is another meeting next week. Their final report is due next month.