Celebrities Recruited to Make Case on Campaign-Finance Reform

Borrowing a tactic from the successful campaign to persuade Albany lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage, advocates for the public financing of state elections are turning to a celebrity to make their case to New Yorkers.

In a video made public on Thursday, the actor Sam Waterston decried what he calls a “broken system” for campaign fund-raising and suggested the state could match small donations with public funds in an effort to blunt the influence of deep-pocketed contributors.

“You can bet those fat cat CEOs, millionaire lobbyists and multi-billion dollar corporations have their own interests in mind,” Mr. Waterston said as he lamented the influence of large donors in today’s political environment.

Mr. Waterston, of “Law & Order” fame, made his pitch on behalf of Fair Elections for New York, a campaign backed by a coalition of progressive groups, labor unions, environmental organizations and government reformers.

The groups planned to send the video to more than a million New Yorkers, hoping some of them will lobby their state legislators on the issue of public financing before November’s elections. A large part of their challenge is getting New Yorkers interested in a subject that even the most enthusiastic advocates acknowledge can come across as arcane.

“Make sure they know: the time is now for fair elections,” said Mr. Waterston, who currently plays a television news-division president on “The Newsroom.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has said that improving the state’s campaign finance laws is one of his top priorities, and government reformers are hopeful for action either in a special session of the Legislature after Election Day or in next year’s legislative session, which begins in January. But the idea of providing public financing for state elections has little support among Republicans, who hold a narrow majority in the State Senate.

Celebrity endorsements have become a staple of campaigns to influence Albany. Last year, advocates for same-sex marriage recruited a large number of entertainment figures and other well known New Yorkers, including Mr. Waterston, to record videos supporting their cause; this year, Yoko Ono and her son, Sean Lennon, have put together a coalition of celebrities, including Lady Gaga, to oppose the use of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, to extract natural gas in upstate New York.

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