The Working Families Party (WFP) has become a political force in New York State in recent decades. While running as Democrats, many candidates—including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Rep. Antonio Delgado …
The Working Families Party (WFP) has become a political force in New York State in recent decades. While running as Democrats, many candidates—including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Rep. Antonio Delgado and Sen. Jen Metzger—also ran on the WFP line. In the 2018 election, however, WFP endorsed Cuomo’s progressive opponent Cynthia Nixon, but then threw the party’s support behind the governor after Nixon was defeated in the primary.
On November 25, a commission created to work on a plan for the public funding of New York State elections approved changes to the rules that determine whether the WPF can appear on the ballot and receive public funding.
The commission, the Public Campaign Finance Commission (PCFC), voted for a change that requires minor parties in the state to get at least 130,000 ballots or two percent of the total votes cast in an election, to remain eligible to appear on the ballot in the next election cycle. Currently, minor parties need only 50,000 votes. The commission issued its final re-port on December 1.
However, if a minor party does reach that threshold, candidates who run on that party’s line will receive a certain amount of public funding for each small donation of $250 or less. The goal of the public-funding effort is to give small donors more influence in elections. At the same time, the proposed rules from the commission make it harder for smaller parties like WFP to get onto the ballot. The PCFC report calls for setting aside $100 million for campaigns.
Cuomo said WFP will have to work harder to make the ballot, and he also said he was not part of the decision-making process about the proposed change.
WFP director Bill Lipton, however, said Cuomo targeted the party. “The extreme increase in ballot qualification require-ments are a clear abuse of state power to advance the governor’s political agenda,” Lipton said in a statement.
Cuomo and legislative leaders also created the PCFC to come up with a public finance system, and gave the commis-sion the authority to address the issue of minor parties in the state.
New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, who has worked to make it harder for minority parties to get on the ballot, said that he has been on record as opposing so-called fusion voting for a decade. Fusion voting is when a candidate is running on several lines.
He told New York One News that the reason he is opposed to fusion voting is that some minor parties use the system corruptly, but not, he said, WFP. He said, “Corruption in the Independence Party, in essence selling ballot access and their line in exchange for judgeships and clerkships, this has been reported and it goes on.”
Jacobs may be sincere in what he says is an effort to reduce corruption among minor party practices, but some powerful people are opposed to the change because of what it may do to WFP. Sen. Chuck Schumer issued a tweet on November 22 that read, “The Public Financing Commission should focus on the worthy goal of reducing BIG money in politics, not ending fusion voting and the @NYWFP. The WFP helps Democrats in tight seats win races, especially in the House. I’ve worked with the WFP for progressive policies like increased minimum wage, family leave and passing the groundbreak-ing Climate and Community Protection Act in New York.”
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren also tweeted out a defense of WFP, which has endorsed her campaign. “This proposal comes from, of all places, a commission meant to improve our democracy. But attacking the @NYWFP is deeply undemocratic—and it will only benefit Republicans,” she wrote.
In another matter, critics say that the new rules put out by the commission allow wealthy donors too much power in the election system. Currently, individuals are able to donate up to $19,300 for state Senate candidates and $9,400 for Assem-bly candidates. The new rules lower those amounts to $10,000 for a Senate seat and $5,000 for an Assembly seat.
That’s far more than what is allowed in federal elections where individuals can donate only $2,000 for a U.S. Senate candidate and $1,600 for a House candidate.
It’s up to the state lawmakers now to decide if they want to change or block the new rules. If they do, the legislature must return to Albany and vote on the matter within 20 days or the commission’s recommendations become law.
While we support that adoption of public financing for state elections, changing the rules to make it harder for WFP to make the ballot seems like a decision based on political considerations.