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Compromise eyed in Albany to delay public funding of campaigns

The deal would include creating an entity to help structure and fund the proposal for the 2020 campaign. 

A view of the State Capitol in Albany

A view of the State Capitol in Albany on Jan. 15. Photo Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — A compromise being considered behind closed doors would delay a system of using public funds to finance campaigns for a year, officials close to the talks said Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has included in his budget proposal a plan to provide state funding equal to six times the amount of small donations from private citizens — but not corporations or wealthy special interests — as way to limit the influence of big-money donors. 

Estimated costs of the program range from $60 million to well over $100 million. And the amount of state funding is a concern in a budget that has become tougher since January because of a growing deficit and declining revenues.

Three officials in the legislative and executive branches said the proposed compromise arose as the days elapse toward a deadline to approve a state budget by April 1.

The compromise would include creating an entity within the state Board of Elections to help structure and fund the proposal for 2020. That could be done in the budget or in the remainder of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end June 19, the officials said on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak about closed-door negotiations.

Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Queens) said he’s familiar with the proposed compromise and he supports the idea of a longer look.

“I am in favor of getting it right,” he said outside a hearing on the proposal. He said the complex system may also require study and debate beyond this legislative session before it is approved.

“If we don’t come up with a process that is fair in this short time, I don’t see any problem in taking more time to get it right,” Sanders said.

On Tuesday Cuomo said he wasn’t giving up on getting his proposal in the budget.

He said he was “cautiously optimistic” the Legislature would agree to his proposal, but warned in a radio interview that “it is controversial. We have done a lot of reforms … but the best one is going to be a public financing system. I hope we progress on that in the budget.”

Public financing of campaigns has been a top goal this legislative session of progressive Democrats, who campaigned on the issue last fall.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said the complex issue has drawn mixed support in early closed-door discussions.

After a closed-door meeting with Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Wednesday, Heastie wasn’t predicting quick passage.

“It’s a topic on the table. It’s on that list of overall things we have to try to figure out,” Heastie told reporters. He said major issues include how to deal with wealthy groups that can legally spend millions of dollars to boost or damage candidates as long as they don’t coordinate with campaigns, and how much the state should spend to match a candidate’s contribution.

“There are a lot of open questions that members have,” Heastie said on Wednesday.

Stewart-Cousins didn’t comment on public financing of campaigns before the brief news conference ended.

Progressive groups have demonstrated and lobbied in Albany this week to drum up support for public financing of campaigns.

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