The seal of the Suffolk County Legislature is pictured at...

The seal of the Suffolk County Legislature is pictured at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge. Credit: Barry Sloan

Suffolk County legislators on Wednesday night approved a Republican-sponsored bill to end the county's $2.6 million public campaign finance program.

The vote was 11-4, with two Democrats and one Republican abstaining. Republicans control the legislature with an 11-7 majority.

"We look forward to making better use of this money for public safety and for hiring important workers like 911 operators and DSS workers. We are going to get to work on this right away," said Presiding Officer Legis. Kevin McCaffrey.

Legis. Robert Trotta of Fort Salonga, who said earlier in the day he would oppose the repeal bill, wound up voting yes along with the rest of the GOP caucus. He said he changed his position because he believes that there soon will be other protections in place to limit the influence of big donors in county politics. 

"I'm confident that the board of ethics will come back with a ruling saying the county executive will be forbidden to receive money from the unions when he negotiates their contracts," Trotta said.

Three Democrats abstained. 

The campaign finance program would be in effect, for the first time, in the 2023 election cycle. It had yet to fund any campaigns.

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

Proponents, including Democrats and government experts, say public campaign financing would help reduce corruption and encourage more diversity by bolstering candidates who lack big donors such as corporations, real estate developers and unions.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, has called on county legislators to vote to keep the program.

“Repealing our landmark campaign finance program would be a major step backward in our mission to build a more effective and efficient government by enabling candidates to focus less on fundraising and more on serving the public interest,” Bellone said last week.

Opponents, primarily GOP lawmakers, argued the campaign finance program uses county money to fund candidates some taxpayers may not want to support.

They say money would be better used to reinstate ShotSpotter technology to detect gunshots and hire more 911 emergency operators.

"We need to start looking at programs that are not working effectively and this is a program that is not working," said Legis. Steven Flotteron (R-West Islip), co-sponsor of the bill.

Legis. Jason Richberg (D-Wyandanch), a supporter of public campaign finance, said the county "should give the program a fair shake." 

"For us to not even put the program in is a travesty," Richberg said. "We owe it to try." 

The program establishes a 4-1 public match with individual contribution limits and a campaign finance board to ensure participating candidates comply.

Candidates for county executive and the county legislature are eligible to access public matching funds through the program.

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

Bellone named Mercy Smith, of Northport, as executive director of the county's public campaign financing program. He has declined to say whether he would veto the repeal bill.

Twelve votes would be needed to override a Bellone veto.

Correction: Two Democrats and one Republican on the Suffolk County Legislature abstained from a vote Wednesday to repeal the county’s public campaign finance law. An earlier version of this story misstated the party of the one of the lawmakers. 

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