On Tuesday, Nov. 12, The Ulster County Legislature hosted a public hearing on reforming a campaign finance law that would impact all future political campaigns in Ulster County.
The law to be amended is called the Ulster County Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform and Accountability Act and it would allow candidates to tap into $75,000 of the county budget. If this law is approved, then taxpayer money would be used, for the first time in Ulster County, to help candidates running for office.
The reform is sponsored by Legislators Jonathan R. Heppner and Hector Rodriguez.
The Laws and Rules, Governmental Services Committee adopted this reform on Oct. 7, the Ways and Means Committee adopted it on Oct. 10 and the Ulster County Legislature voted on Oct. 15 with only legislator, Brian Woltman, to vote against the law.
According to a Daily Freeman article, “opinion on the proposed local law was almost evenly split during [the] public hearing.” Seven out of 13 of the speakers at the meeting opposed the county using taxpayer money to fund political campaigns.
In section two of the proposed law titled “Legislative Findings,” the County Legislature acknowledged that this law has the potential to raise concern among taxpayers regarding “undue influence.”
However, six speakers still did support the reform.
“When we flip the switch, we get light — the same light for all of us, without prejudice, said Highland resident Tom Denton in a letter addressed to The Daily Freeman. “When we open the tap, we get — or hope to get —clean water. When we vote, we get democracy. But when money taints the system, we get a muddied or even dangerous representative government that breeds cynicism and apathy.”
Haley Hershenson, president of the SUNY New Paltz Democracy Matters chapter, a bipartisan organization focused on getting money out of politics, said that the bill has the potential to be beneficial.
“Public campaign financing reduces the negative impact of private wealth on the democratic process,” Hershenson said. “If administered carefully, it can result in greater participation in the electoral process [and allow] more candidates the opportunity to get involved.”
However, she can understand the concerns that come with financing campaigns with taxpayer money.
Hershenson said that “strict disclosure requirements” within the law would be needed for the citizens of Ulster County to “feel there is a sense of transparency.” However, she ultimately believes that the law would be beneficial.
When writing in support of the bill, Denton pointed out that the bill may give “underdog” candidates a fairer shot at running in political elections.
“The campaign finance bill aims to expand the roster of potential candidates and empower the underdog who starts with ambition but few resources, and it supports small donors, who can’t shell out big bucks but want to give their candidates and policies a voice,” Denton wrote. “Elections belong to all of us — who choose to participate. Let’s pass the bill, and we’ll get a healthier, cleaner democratic system.