Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone vetoed legislation that ended the county's Campaign Finance Program during a news conference in Hauppauge on Tuesday.  Credit: James Carbone/Newsday

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday vetoed GOP-sponsored legislation to end the county's $2.6 million public campaign finance program, arguing the bill would exacerbate financial barriers preventing candidates from running for office while providing special interests increased control of local government.

Last month, the Republican-controlled legislature voted 11-4 — with two Democrats and one Republican abstaining — to end the program, which establishes a 4-1 public match of campaign funds. 

The program, which was set to go into effect for the first time in the 2023 election cycle, also sets individual contribution limits and creates a campaign finance board.

"An investment like this, a very tiny investment in our electoral system and in democracy, will pay for itself many times over in reducing the kind of cronyism that we have seen," Bellone, a term-limited Democrat, said at a news conference in Hauppauge with good-government groups.

The program, approved in 2017 when Democrats ran the legislature, would use revenue from the Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. to provide matching campaign funds to candidates running for county office who agree to fundraising parameters.

"The program will increase community representation by attracting women, young adults, people of color, low-income earners and essentially any individual who demonstrates the tenacity, gumption and perseverance required to run for office," said Mercy Smith, executive director of the Suffolk County Campaign Finance Board.

But opponents contend the program uses county revenue to fund candidates that some taxpayers may not want to support and that OTB revenue would be better spent on public safety initiatives.

"There's a lot of bipartisan opposition to campaign finance and we think we've got the votes now to override the veto," said Majority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst). " … I believe even people on the Democratic side, philosophically believe the same way we do."

Overriding Bellone's veto at the legislature's July 26 meeting will require 12 votes — a path that would likely require all 11 Republicans and at least one Democrat.

Last month, Legis. Al Krupski (D-Riverhead) voted with majority Republicans to end the program while Legis. Manuel Esteban Sr. (R-Commack) was the only Republican abstaining.

Legis. Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) was one of two Democrats — Legis. Thomas Donnelly (D-Huntington Station) being the other — who abstained during last month's vote.

But Gonzalez said Tuesday that he now supported the program because it would help everyday candidates "run evenly with the status quo."

Public matching funds may be used only for election efforts such as mailings, political literature, polling and staff, officials said.

"This is about changing the way government works in Suffolk County," said Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

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