The Campaign Finance Reform Commission, the panel tasked with creating a statewide system of public campaign financing, has released its final report, just under the wire to hit its deadline. It’s 144 pages of in-the-weeds details and its recommendations – binding on Jan. 1, 2020 unless the state Legislature takes immediate action – will take effect at different times, ranging from less than a month to the 2026 election cycle.
Only portions of the final report will go into effect immediately on Jan. 1, 2020. Beginning immediately thereafter, third parties that wish to retain their automatic ballot will need their candidates to receive 130,000 votes or 2% of the total votes cast, whichever is higher, every presidential and gubernatorial election. That means parties such as the Working Families Party and the Conservative Party will have to reach that threshold in next November’s presidential election.
The other immediate effect is more stringent ballot access for independent candidates. Candidates seeking statewide office as an independent or on an unestablished party line would need to gather 45,000 signatures or 1% of the total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, whichever is lower. Those candidates will also need to seek out 500 signatures in each of at least half of the state’s congressional districts. However, since this only impacts statewide elections, candidates would not be affected by this requirement until the time comes to gather petition signatures for the 2022 election.
The proposals creating the new public campaign financing system and setting lower contribution limits will not take effect until the day after the election held on Nov. 9 2022. The logic is that the 2022 gubernatorial election cycle is already underway, from a fundraising standpoint, so any changes to campaign finances should take effect right as the 2026 cycle begins. That also means that neither the upcoming 2020 state legislative races, nor the 2022 elections, will be able to raise public funds and nor will they be subject to the future contribution limits. However, the 2024 state legislative candidates will be able to receive public matching funds and must adhere to lowered contribution limits. For statewide office, the new limit – which will take effect Nov. 9, 2022 – will be $18,000 per cycle. For the state Senate, that number will stand at $10,000, with the Assembly set at $6,000.
While the public financing system will not take effect until late 2022, its infrastructure will begin well before that. A Public Campaign Finance Board, which itself will be a part of the state Board of Elections, will be set up to oversee the new system. That board will be made up of the four BOE commissioners, as well as three new members who will be appointed for five-year terms beginning July 1, 2020. So while the system itself is still over two years from implementation, the board that will build and regulate the program will come into existence early next summer.
Before anything actually takes effect, though, the state Legislature has the opportunity to completely undo everything in the report by convening a special session before Dec. 22, passing new legislation and getting that signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Although there has been speculation about whether legislative leaders would call back lawmakers during the holiday season to address the commission’s recommendations, the prospect seems unlikely. Given that even the most immediate change among the proposals won’t actually happen until November, lawmakers have at least all session next year to make whatever changes they see fit through legislation.