Adi Talwar

Election Day at the Tracey Towers Polling station located near Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx.

New York State’s campaign finance laws feature extremely high limits for individual donations. A person can give $44,000 to a candidate for statewide office during the general election, in addition to thousands more during a primary, compared with a limits of $5,400 a cycle for federal offices, including president. The state’s rules also treat limited liability companies as people, which allows corporations that control multiple LLCs to max out multiples times under those generous limits.

As Jessica Wisneski, legislative and campaigns director for Citizen Action of New York
and Alison Hirsh, 32BJ’s vice president and political director, told WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show on Wednesday, those two problems are top targets of the new Fair Elections for New York coalition that they are helping to lead. The coalition hopes to capitalize on the New Democratic majority in the state Senate, and the 2018 campaign promises of Gov. Cuomo and other leaders, to achieve landmark changes in New York’s campaign-finance rules.

But those changes alone won’t be enough, Hirsh said. Without a new, public financing system for campaigns in which small private donations are matched with taxpayer money, closing the LLC loophole and lowering contribution limits could leave candidates who operate within the system outgunned by wealthy self-financing candidates and independent expenditures.

And without changes to the voting system (early elections, same-day registration, no-excuse absentee voting and more) all those campaign-finance changes could fall short of reinvigorating democracy in the Empire State. New York City’s campaign-finance system has n LLC loophole, maintains lower contribution limits and offers a generous public match to low-dollar donations. It has succeeded at empowering small donors and new candidates. But turnout in city elections continues to be pathetic, perhaps because of the creaky voting system.

In other words, the reform agenda works better as a recipe, with all the required ingredients, than as a menu.

Listen below to Wisneski and Hirsh as they break down the reform agenda and the politics around it, and also to Ben Max and yours truly breaking down the political headlines of the day, from the Joe Esposito firing to the allegations that the mayor is AWOL, the legislative pay-raise brouhaha to a new poll showing Amazon’s broad (though qualified) appeal.

Jessica Wisneski and Alison Hirsh

De Blasio’s Stumbles, Crime’s Status, Amazon’s Appeal