In New York, Fair Elections reform takes center stage

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New York State Senate candidate Cecilia Tkaczyk has a powerful op-ed in today’s Albany Times-Union on how centering her campaign on her support of Fair Elections reform helped her turn what was seen as an easy win for her incumbent opponent into a race so close that the outcome is still up in the air:

“Even as the votes are still being counted in the race for the 46th Senate District, one result is already in: Fair Elections won. Passing Fair Elections reforms, including the public financing of campaigns, was one of my campaign's core issues. I'm convinced my outspoken support for these reforms is the reason only a handful of votes separate my opponent and me thus far.

“… My opponent, George Amedore, thought he could use this issue against me: In the final weeks of the campaign he and his allies flooded the airways and mailboxes disparaging a Fair Elections system, exaggerating its cost and flat out opposing any real solutions to the problem of big money in politics. In the end, though, voters rejected his view and responded to my campaign's message.

“… we must seize the moment and pass a full system of public financing. The working people of my district and all of New York will never catch a break in this economy until we reduce the influence of lobbyists, big banks and wealthy donors, and they know it.”

It’s clear that New Yorkers are fed up with the pay-to-play culture of corruption in Albany, where the state government responds to big money corporate and special interests over the needs of ordinary citizens. When both candidates in New York’s 46th Senate District focused their campaigns on Fair Elections in the closing days, Tkaczyk in full-fledged support and Amedore opposed, voters moved toward Tkaczyk in droves.

With Gov. Cuomo’s support, and the continued raised profile for Fair Elections reform evidenced by this race in New York’s 46th state Senate district, the time to change Albany is now. Fair Elections would not only be a critical reform for New York politics, but it would also send a strong message to the rest of the country: We can fight back against big money and have a government that works for all of us, not just the people with access and open check books.

Here’s a note from David Donnelly, executive director of Public Campaign Action Fund, about the significance of Tkaczyk’s race:

The opinion piece above was written by Cecilia Tkaczyk, a candidate for state Senate in New York, who makes a very compelling case for why campaigning on Fair Elections-style public financing helped her pull even and possibly win her race (votes are still being counted). An independent electoral effort, spearheaded by New York Friends of Democracy and Protect Our Democracy, engaged in a serious outside campaign including paid television, mail, and telephone calls to try to elect Tkaczyk and define her opponent negatively, all through the lens of where they stood on comprehensive reform. An early October poll had her behind by double-digits, making her story all the more compelling. Other allies like Citizen Action of New York, the Working Families Party, and the Communications Workers of America played essential roles in her election.

Tkaczyk's race underscores the importance of a long-held strategy pioneered by Public Campaign Action Fund: We believe lawmakers won't advance real reform until they know there are political costs to opposing reform and political benefits from being a full-throated advocate. While not sufficient on its own, any set of strategies to pass serious reform must include utilizing politics as an important element of building enough power to win. Lastly, the op-ed also represents a very good application of messaging work we've conducted over the year, which is a satisfying thing to see.