Bill to kill Suffolk’s public campaign finance will be voted on Wednesday
Suffolk lawmakers are at odds over whether to end a new public campaign finance scheme that would provide $2.6 million a year to underfunded candidates for county office as a final vote on the question looms this week.
County Executive Steve Bellone held a rally in Hauppauge on Friday to urge the county legislature to preserve the program to allow “grassroots candidates to run for office and challenge the status quo.”
Bellone said, “When we invest in a system like this – a state-funded campaign – we are helping to shift the balance of power. We are empowering citizens to participate in democracy.”
But Republican legislative leaders and some minority Democrats say the money could be better spent funding the county’s public safety initiatives.
“We use county revenue to support election candidates that the taxpayer might not want to support,” Chairman Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said.
McCaffrey is among supporters of a GOP-sponsored bill to repeal the campaign finance program. The repeal measure is slated for a vote Wednesday in the Suffolk County Legislature, which Republicans control with an 11-7 majority.
Ten votes would be needed to approve the repeal measure.
Bellone did not respond to a question Friday about whether he would veto a repeal. Twelve votes would be needed to override a veto.
The legislature, under a prior Democratic majority, established the campaign finance program in 2017.
The money to fund the scheme, which will come into effect for the 2023 election cycle, comes from revenue from Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.
Funders said the scheme would boost applicants who lack the backing of big donors such as corporations, property developers and unions.
The program establishes a public 4-1 match with individual contribution limits and a campaign finance board to ensure participating candidates comply.
Candidates for County Executive and County Legislature are eligible to access government matching funds through the program.
Public matching funds can only be used for campaign efforts such as mailings, political literature, polls and staff, officials said.
Leader of the Legis Minority. Jason Richberg (D-Wyandanch) called on fellow lawmakers not to end the program before it had a chance to get up and running.
“Contrary to popular belief, the program does not use taxpayers’ money. Instead, it would be funded by county proceeds from video lottery terminals at Jake’s 58 Casino. I believe we have a duty to at least see the program in action before making a decision on its future,” said said Richberg.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Smithtown) abstained in a committee vote on the repeal bill last Thursday, but told Newsday on Friday he would vote against ending the program.
Ian Vandewalker, senior democracy program attorney at NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, said public campaign finance programs such as Suffolk engage “more diverse people in the political process because their voice will count.” more than before “.
“With attacks on our democracy increasing by the day, Suffolk must set an example for the nation by protecting this vital program from last minute attacks,” Vandewalker said.
McCaffrey, who voted against the original bill to establish the campaign finance program, said money from the program “can be better spent” on initiatives such as “fire detection technology that would help reduce gun violence in many of our communities.”