Video of the Event Available Here
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today joined with elected officials and advocates to call on the Suffolk County Legislature to keep Suffolk’s Campaign Finance program intact. The legislature is slated to vote on legislation to repeal the program on Wednesday.
“Suffolk County’s public campaign finance program is designed to empower grassroots candidates to run for office and challenge the status quo,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “Just as we have become a model for other suburban counties, let us not back-track and become the model for what could have been. I am calling on all my colleagues in the legislature to keep our campaign finance program intact.”
“The county’s campaign finance program went through all of the appropriate steps and was approved by the legislature but is not yet fully up and running,” said Suffolk County Legislature Minority Leader Jason Richberg. “Contrary to popular belief the program does not use taxpayer dollars. Instead, it would be funded through county proceeds from the video lottery terminals at Jake's 58 casino. I believe we have a duty to at least see the program in action before making any decision on its future.”
In 2017, the Suffolk County Legislature established the County’s Campaign finance program utilizing revenues generated from Jake’s 58 and Suffolk County Off Track Betting. In 2021, County Executive Bellone appointed Mercy Smith to serve as the Executive Director of the board after a nationwide search.
The Suffolk County Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is a nonpartisan, independent agency authorized to administer the Suffolk County Fair Elections Matching Fund Program. Outside of New York City, Suffolk County is the largest County in the State to establish a campaign finance program, and currently candidates will be eligible to participate in the program starting with the 2023 election cycle.
The program establishes a 4-1 public match with individual contribution limits and a campaign finance board to ensure compliance for those candidates who participate.
Candidates for both County Executive and County Legislator are eligible to access public matching funds through the program. Public funds provided through the County’s program may only be used for election efforts, including mailings, political literature, polling and staff.
Current campaign finance board members include, Executive Director Mercy Smith, Lisa Scott, President of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters, Adrian Fassett, CEO of the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, Inc., and John Toomey, former Suffolk County District Court Judge.
Studies have shown that publicly-funded elections have many positive impacts, including increased voter participation, reduced power of large donors and special interests over elections, and greater empowerment for ordinary citizens to run for office.
Susan Lerner, executive Director of Common Cause/NY said: “Suffolk County is leading the way in campaign finance reform by empowering everyday New Yorkers through a matching fund program for county elections. Repealing or defunding this program will not only be a step backwards but will send a message that special interests are more important than voters in county elections. Suffolk County must keep and continue to fund its campaign finance program and restore public trust. We stand with County Executive Steve Bellone in his continuing support of the county public financing program."
Beth Rotman, Director of Money in Politics and Ethics, Common Cause said: “Opponents of citizen-funded election programs like to talk about them as wasting taxpayer dollars but the opposite is true. Experience with these people-powered programs proves that getting special interest money out of campaigns in fact diminishes the stranglehold of special interests over the policy debate and saves taxpayer money. In the state of Connecticut, one vote alone after the first run of the program has saved the public $24 million a year and that was 13 years ago, leading to a savings of over $300 million to date—from one bill. As the people of Suffolk County stand ready to be more empowered to participate in their own democracy, it is outrageous to abruptly upend all of the work that has gone into preparing to launch the new administration, laying waste to public resources and forcing candidates and the public to return to a system of traditional special interest based funding of elections.”
Ian Vandewalker, Senior Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice said: “We applaud County Executive Bellone for standing up for the people of Suffolk County. Small-donor public financing is one of the best tools we have for empowering community members in an age of special-interest influence. It enables candidates to spend more time with people they seek to represent instead of dialing for big dollars. It engages more, diverse people in the political process, because their voices will matter more than before. Everywhere it's been tried, it's worked. With attacks on our democracy increasing by the day, Suffolk must set an example for the nation by protecting this vital program against last-minute attacks.”
Lisa Tyson, Executive Director, Long Island Progressive Coalition said: "It seems some Suffolk County lawmakers are against the word 'defund' except when it comes to things that would help create a well-functioning democracy. The county's public campaign financing program, which the Long Island Progressive Coalition helped create, must be allowed to move forward. Once implemented, it will make candidates more accountable to the people they represent instead of deep-pocketed donors, and it will produce a legislature that is more representative of the county at large. Nixing the program will hurt the Suffolk County communities that continue to be underrepresented and unheard."
For more information on Suffolk’s Campaign Finance program, visit https://sccfb.suffolkcountyny.gov/.