Friday, April 11, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi. 

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.

NEW YORK

Governor Could Have Responded to McCutcheon Decision with Reform
In a Journal News op-ed, Lawrence Norden and Frederick A.O Schwarz of the Brennan Center, wrote that Governor Cuomo’s refusal to pass meaningful reform in the state budget was especially disheartening in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Despite his promise to pass comprehensive public financing reform for all state elections, the governor approved a narrow and ineffective pilot program for the Comptroller’s office only. This “reform” package did nothing to reduce campaign contribution limits or close loopholes that disproportionately benefit incumbents. Last year, the Moreland Commission found New York’s campaign finance laws to be wholly inadequate. McCutcheon has the potential to exacerbate the problem if New York’s aggregate limits are struck down—which would allow a single individual to donate over $2.4 million to political candidates and committees in an election cycle. In this environment, another corruption scandal is inevitable.

Campaign Finance Laws Empower Donor Class Over Middle Class
In conjunction with the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down aggregate contribution limits, the lack of real reform in the New York State budget empowers the 1 percent, wrote Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post. The donor class now has greater opportunities to buy access to our elected officials. “We live in a world where…public policy is auctioned off to the highest bidder,” vanden Heuvel said. The systematic dismantling of campaign finance laws explains why we’ve failed to make progress on other issues—everything “from lower taxes to deregulation.” Nevertheless, there are ways that citizens can fight back against the avalanche of big money in politics, ranging from federal legislation to a constitutional amendment, all outlined in the article.  

Poughkeepsie Journal: Moreland Commission Should Not Be Shutdown
Last week, the Poughkeepsie Journal criticized Governor Cuomo’s decision to dismantle the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, stating that its “job is far from done.” With more than 30 state lawmakers who have been embroiled in legal or ethical dilemmas since 2000, the state needs an independent watchdog with subpoena powers to not only examine individual instances of wrongdoing, but also to propose solutions to systemic problems of corruption that plague New York. In its 2013 report, the commission outlined examples of illegal and unethical behavior by campaign contributors and lawmakers looking for big checks. However, it did not identify the perpetrators by name. It was expecting to deliver another report by the end of this year and refer the names to law enforcement. “At bare minimum, the state must let the panel complete these tasks.” The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, has taken possession of the commission’s files and indicated that his office will investigate any evidence of corruption.

“Reform” Deliberately Designed to Fail
In City & State, Morgan Pehme called out New York State political leaders—the “four men in the room”—for creating a fa├žade of good government reform, while perpetuating a status quo which greatly benefits incumbents. The budget adopted last week constructed a new pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race. The only problem; it was “concocted deliberately” so that it would fail. The notoriously dysfunctional state board of elections was allocated the responsibility for managing this program. It had to be prepared to implement the law in time for the approaching 2014 elections. Pehme explained that the failure of public financing would allow incumbents to claim that “this experiment should never” be attempted again. It is no surprise that Comptroller DiNapoli, a stern supporter of public financing, choose to opt-out of the ill-crafted proposal. Legislators now need to go back to the drawing board to create a comprehensive reform proposal that includes public financing for all state races and adequate funds for enforcement.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi. 

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.

NEW YORK

New York Times: Most Fundamental Reform Missing from State Budget
Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders passed New York’s 2014-15 budget last week without a comprehensive small donor public matching system—instead establishing a very limited pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race in 2014. Adding to this lapse in leadership, Governor Cuomo said he will disband the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, labeling the narrow ethics reforms in the budget a triumph. This was an especially disappointing development in light of the myriad of corruption scandals that engulfed several legislators in recent years, including three of the last five Senate Majority Leaders or Co-leaders. Newspapers throughout the state saw through the spin. The New York Times opined that the budget’s inadequate ethics reforms do not “come close to attacking the root of the corruption problem” in Albany. “The most fundamental reform,” the Times continued, namely public matching funds for small donations in all state races, “is missing.” 

Syracuse Post-Standard: Public Financing “Pilot” Program a Cop-out
The Syracuse Post-Standard reiterated the shortfalls of the 2014-15 New York budget in an editorial last week. Calling restricting public financing to the comptroller’s office a “cop-out,” the upstate newspaper said that New York City’s successful model demonstrates that a “pilot” program is unnecessary. If such a system would have been implemented, it could have enabled candidates who can’t garner big checks from special interests to compete with small dollar donations from constituents. Unfortunately for now, the status quo, which allows incumbents to build up their war chest to scare off any potential competitors, remains intact.

Albany Times-Union: State Elected Officials Failed to Address NY’s “Most Glaring Failure”
On Tuesday, the Albany Times-Union termed Governor Cuomo’s failure to pass comprehensive ethics reform the state government’s “most glaring failure.” Last year, the Moreland Commission—which the governor appointed to examine New York’s corruption and campaign finance laws—issued a thorough report detailing the legal and ethical breaches that have become so commonplace in Albany over the past few years. In response to the inadequacy of the current system to address pay-to-play politics, the commission recommended several reforms including public funding to match small donations. Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders “concluded that reform is appropriate only on a very small scale, and only as long as it doesn’t apply to themselves.” The outcome is surprising considering that most legislators, as well as the governor, claimed to support full public financing for all races.

Crain’s New York Business: Ethics Deal Does Little to Deter Corruption
On April 4, Crain’s New York Business criticized New York lawmakers for their inability to deliver on ethics reform. “At least 30 [state legislators] have left office since 1999 because of transgressions ranging from inflating their expenses to sexual harassment to taking bribes,” the editorial stated. Yet the reform provision in the budget made only minor changes to state corruption laws and delegated slightly greater enforcement authority to the state Board of Elections. It did nothing to address the problem of legislators pushing bills or steering funds at the request of special interests and campaign contributors. The decision to eliminate the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was especially troubling, Crain’s said—just as the investigators “had dug their teeth into a plethora of questionable dealings.”

Upstate Newspapers: Ethics Reforms Insufficient to Address Corruption
The Rochester-based Democrat & Chronicle called Governor Cuomo’s inability to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform his administration’s “most notable first-term failure.” The alternative to public financing for all races—a limited measure for the state comptroller election in 2014—was too little and too late, given the election year. The Buffalo News concurred, saying the plan was a “laughingstock.” The dysfunctional state Board of Elections is inadequately prepared to implement a public financing program for the comptroller’s office this election cycle. Moreover, sky-high campaign contribution limits, and loopholes for special interests hoping to get noticed by politicians, are still the norm in Albany for the foreseeable future. Overall, the budget bill was not a compromise for anyone, it was a disappointment.

Letter to Governor Cuomo from New York LEAD Member

Letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo from Daniel A. Simon, a member of the New York Leadership for Accountable Government
_______________________________________________

Governor Cuomo:

I am a member of NY-LEAD, New York Leadership for Accountable Government (I express only my own opinions here). I attended the luncheon in New York City a little over a year ago when you spoke to our group so convincingly about the need for public campaign financing and its importance to restoring trust in government. That expression of such strong, unqualified support makes the near-complete capitulation on this issue in this year’s budget all the more galling, immensely frustrating, and devastatingly disappointing.

You talked about the need for reform supporters to put pressure on public officials to move this issue forward. I believe that such organizations have more than held up their part of the bargain. They have done their best to convince our legislators through persuasion on policy and demonstration of constituent support, and raised the possibilities of primary and general election challenges. Poll after poll shows the public strongly supporting reform, with public campaign financing popular across the political spectrum. There is no inherent reason why this should be a partisan issue; a vote on this subject should be an easy one for any public-minded official, not a tough one.

And I find it inexplicable that the Moreland Commission, which was tasked with investigating corruption in the political process, has been terminated. If the suspected influence of money in politics justified the commission in the first place, it is hard to fathom a non-political reason to suspend its operations now, before its mission has been completed.

With the public squarely on the side of reform, there comes a time when our elected officials must stop talking and lead. In my opinion, the time for action has long passed. There is no good reason not to get comprehensive campaign finance reform done, and there are no excuses for further delays. It is increasingly difficult for people like me who care deeply about our democracy to support those whose actions fail to demonstrate a serious commitment to reform, regardless of what they say on the matter.

Now is the time to back up words with action. Beyond the need to restore confidence in our state government, the nation desperately needs a model for a campaign finance system that reduces the dependence of our elected officials on big money which currently permeates and warps our government. The public is with us on this, but it requires leaders in Albany who will move beyond talk and take the necessary measures to get the job done.

I still hope you will do so.

Sincerely,


Daniel A. Simon

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi. 

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.

NEW YORK

James and Stewart-Cousins: Public Financing Will Benefit Women
In a Sunday op-ed in the Journal News, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and New York State Senator and Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins described the benefits that public financing of elections would bring for women in New York. One observed effect is more women in elected office. The national average for the percentage of elected women lawmakers in state legislative bodies is 24.2 percent. But in five states with public financing, it is much higher: for instance, 35.6 percent in Arizona and 29.4 percent in Connecticut. In New York State, this figure is even lower than the national average at 21.2 percent—in spite of the fact that women make-up more than half of the state’s population. When legislators reflect the population they serve, it strengthens our democracy. And if more women are elected to public office, they can push for attention to issues that affect women and families. Senator Stewart-Cousins took to the radio waves to share her message on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom as well. The president of the think tank Demos, Heather McGhee, agreed in an op-ed in the Albany Times Union, outlining how public financing can lead to greater diversity in our government. In the Journal News, James and Stewart-Cousins concluded, “The governor and the Legislature must move this proposal past the finish line. New York deserve[s] nothing less.”

Schwarz and Soros in Times-Union: “Alternatives” to Reform Are Likely to Maintain Status Quo
In the Albany Times-Union this weekend, Frederick Schwarz, chief counsel at the Brennan Center, and Jonathan Soros, senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, criticized alternatives to real campaign finance reform floating around in Albany. Public financing of elections is supported by a majority of state legislators, the governor, and residents of New York. However, opponents of reform have proposed different ‘remedies’ that are likely to leave special interests as firmly entrenched as they are now. One idea is to overhaul our campaign finance laws through a constitutional amendment. The long and cumbersome process associated with this strategy is sure to delay reform beyond the 2018 elections—which is precisely what some politicians want. New Yorkers cannot afford to wait any longer in light of the epidemic of legislative corruption. “The legislature has all the authority it needs to enact this policy by simple statute, and uses that power regularly on far more controversial issues when it suits it,” Schwarz and Soros said. This week, as the final state budget is negotiated, the governor has a simple choice: to pass real reform and deliver on his promise, or allow the corrupt status quo to continue under the guise of change.

Norden: Public Financing Would Reduce Corruption
Writing in response to an op-ed by Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, Brennan Center Deputy Director Lawrence Norden stated that implementing publicly financed elections in New York is well worth the cost. The reform proposal would allow candidates that can gather enough donations from their constituents the opportunity to access public matching funds in exchange for adhering to stricter contribution limits. Despite the obvious advantages, it is no surprise that special interests that benefit from the status quo of purchasing political access, are opposed to the measure. Sampson’s specious claims were that (1) public financing in jurisdictions such as New York City has not deterred corruption, and that (2) implementing it will cost taxpayers a fortune. However, as the Brennan Center has noted before, New York City has not experienced anything like the corruption scandal of the past since public financing was first instituted. In addition, as Bill Fitzpatrick, the Republican district attorney of Onondaga County has pointed out—after studying the matter on the Moreland Commission—public financing would lead to “astronomical” savings in the long run due to fewer sweetheart deals for special interests. Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders that support reform must now ensure these vital proposals are not bargained away during budget negotiations this week.

Citizens Union Report: Public Financing Generates Greater Electoral Competition
new report by Citizens Union of the City of New York describes the startling differences between New York City and New York State elections when it comes to incumbency and competition. New York City has an operational and highly successful public financing system with low contribution limits, while Albany has no such arrangement in place and sky-high contribution limits. The results speak for themselves. From 2006 to 2012, 21 percent of all state legislative elections in New York City were uncontested, whereas during roughly the same time period, only 8 percent of New York City council races were uncontested. In the 2012 state primary election, only 27 percent of state assemblymen and 18 percent of state senators faced challengers, compared to 57 percent of council members in the 2013 city council primaries. Dick Dadey, the group’s executive director, stated that the report “demonstrates the need for the state to enact comprehensive campaign finance reforms with public funding so that voters have greater choice and our democracy becomes healthier.”

Staten Island Advance: Public Financing Would Make Elections More Competitive
The Staten Island Advance editorialized in favor of matching small donations with state funds this week, in light of the Citizens Union report showing that elections for the New York City council are more competitive than those for the New York State legislature. High contribution limits for state campaigns contribute to this uncompetitive environment by allowing incumbents to build up their war chests to intimidate any rising challengers. The Advance called for comprehensive reform including lower contribution limits, pay-to-play restrictions on lobbyists, greater disclosure, and most importantly a “public matching program that empowers small donors.” Arguing that reforms would be a step in the right direction, the newspaper emphasized that they would go a long way towards reducing incumbency, which breeds a “dysfunctional refuge of politics behind closed doors.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi. 

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.


NEW YORK

New York Times: NY Elected Officials Must Pass Reform before April 1
A New York Times editorial last Thursday pressed Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to pass public financing reform in the 2014-15 state budget by April 1. Arguing that reform would increase the slate of candidates that run for office, the Times stated that this prospect is “the reason many in Albany have tried to stop public financing.” Although Republicans in the Senate have voiced their staunch opposition to reform and pushed an exaggerated cost estimate, it is important to note that millions are spent each year on tax breaks for special interests—the cost of public financing is minute by comparison. In the end, the editorial concluded that despite the plethora of issues in the budget, Governor Cuomo can “earn the most credit at home and nationally if he finally makes campaign finance reform and public financing a workable reality.”

Public Financing Is a Path to Greater Diversity in Politics
An op-ed in the Amsterdam News this week described the benefits of public financing in New York State. Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP, and DeNora Getachew, campaign manager and legislative counsel at the Brennan Center, explained how public financing would make our elected officials more accountable to the communities they represent. As the Brennan Center has shown, New York City’s public financing system has led to greater participation by a more diverse set of donors and helped bring in several “firsts”—the first African American mayor and the first Dominican-American, the first Asian-American, and the first Asian-American woman in the City Council. Dukes and Getachew called on the four men who control budget negotiations “to elevate the diverse voices of thousands of New Yorkers.”

Democrat & Chronicle: Final Push Needed on Campaign Finance Reform
On Friday, the Democrat & Chronicle argued that Governor Cuomo must fulfill his promise to overhaul New York State’s campaign finance laws. Calling New York City’s public financing system a “successful” model to replicate statewide, the newspaper argued that matching small donations from constituents with public funds would open “the door to more potential candidates (particularly those who aren’t wealthy).” The editorial sternly emphasized that Governor Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Silver should not allow campaign finance reform to be become a bargaining chip in the final budget negotiations as it would “bring long-sought fairness and oversight to Albany” once passed.

Brune and Weiss: Albany’s Pay-to-Play System Is Toxic for New York’s Natural Environment
In a Poughkeepsie Journal op-ed last Thursday, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Marc Weiss, board member of the Sierra Club Foundation and a member of New York Leadership for Accountable Government, wrote that Albany’s pay-to-play political culture has disastrous consequences on our state’s environment. Currently, contribution limits for individuals and corporations in New York State are among the highest out of all states that bother to restrict them. Unfortunately, this allows special interests to have undue influence over the policy process as elected officials are forced to spend their valuable time pleading mega-donors for contributions instead of fighting for their constituents. Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal could change this reality. It would lower contribution limits across the board and institute a system of matching small donations with public funds to amplify the voices of everyday New Yorkers. With reform, “We could prioritize the purity of our drinking water over campaign contributions from oil companies…We could cancel tax breaks for companies that pollute our waterways and offer them to environmentally responsible landowners,” Brune and Weiss stated.

Vendor for Dark Money Group Files Response to Anti-corruption Commission’s Subpoena
A vendor for a Common Sense Principles, a Virginia 501(c)(4) group that has reportedly spent millions on New York elections, filed documents in court last week arguing that the Moreland Commission does not have the authority to seek donor information from the ‘dark money’ group. Earlier, the Moreland Commission subpoenaed the vendor, Strategic Advantage International, after it was unable to find contact information for Common Sense Principles. The commission argued that analyzing the organization’s donors and activities would allow it to examine the state’s corruption and campaign finance laws. Common Sense Principles sent mailers in the 2012 elections attacking three Democratic state senate candidates. Its disclosure report showed only a single donor, which turned out to be a shell entity. In its response to the subpoena, Strategic Advantage International said that it has complied with the applicable laws. The group further claimed that “If the names of Common Sense’s donors were to be publicized, the media scrutiny of those donors would surely be intense – and the prevalent media view of the organization is not favorable.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.

NEW YORK

NY Assembly Passes One-House Budget with Public Financing Reforms
On Tuesday in Albany, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spoke to a large group of Fair Elections supporters gathered for a rally. Silver assured the activists that public financing and comprehensive campaign finance reform would be in the one-house budget to be released by the Assembly the following day. “You all have until April 1st to convince the Senate to do the right thing and pass campaign finance reform,” he added. On Wednesday, the Assembly approved its one-house budget plan with the aforementioned reforms included. Specifically, the Assembly budget proposed a fund to match donations up to $250 from constituents at a 6-to-1 ratio; similar to Governor Cuomo’s budget, which was introduced last month. Under the Assembly proposal, a 10 percent surcharge on penalties for securities fraud and a $5 check-off on tax return forms would fund the system. On the Senate side, the Independent Democratic Conference and the Republicans are still negotiating the details of the chamber’s one-house budget. A Senate resolution released Thursday said that the Senate budget would modify Governor Cuomo’s public financing program, but did not specify how.


Fmr. NJ Governor Whitman: NY Can Serve as Shining Example of Reform
In a recent interview, the first female governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, explained why she supports Fair Elections reform in New York. Whitman stated that public financing presents a grand opportunity for New York to showcase itself as a leader in reform. Although she was not an early supporter of public financing, she soon realized that it would allow “those who don’t have access to great wads of money the opportunity to compete.” In addition, she said, public financing could help control the extraordinary costs of running an election campaign—as it did when she was running for governor in New Jersey. When asked why there is so much opposition to public financing among Republicans (her political party), she replied that the “Koch brothers aren’t the only people who give a lot of money. There’s a MoveOn.org and there are the unions, so it should play to [the Republicans’] advantage too to see some of this [reform] and get some of their nontraditional candidates more attention.” 

McCutcheon Presents Opportunity for New York to Address Money in Politics
This year, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in the Washington Post that although the decision is difficult to predict at this stage, one possibility is that the Roberts Court could invalidate aggregate contribution limits—restrictions on the total amount that one individual can donate to all political campaigns within an election cycle. Regardless of the outcome, the decision presents an excellent opportunity for New York State to address the torrent of unlimited spending on elections by special interests. Governor Cuomo has proposed a series of reforms including matching small donations with public funds, in order to give constituents the same clout that mega-bundlers and PACs have in Albany. The measure would also reduce sky-high contribution limits and beef up enforcement of campaign laws. In addition, the system also presents distinct advantages for women. “All five states that have public financing rank in the top 12 for the proportion of women legislators, with two in the top five.”

Sign-Up for McCutcheon Rapid Response
McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission has been termed the next Citizens United. Aggregate contribution limits are vital to preventing the circumvention of candidate contribution limits. The U.S. Supreme Court could issue its ruling in McCutcheon any day. Join the McCutcheon Rapid Response team to be ready for an event on the day of a ruling.

Norden: Public Financing Can Make Elected Officials Dependent on Their Constituents Rather than Special Interests
In a Buffalo News op-ed last week, Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, stated that comprehensive campaign finance reform, with a public funding option, is the most practical remedy to the influx of big money in state politics. Although some reformers have pinned their hopes exclusively on a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United, such a feat would entail a long and arduous process including the cooperation of 37 states and two-thirds of Congress. Alternatively, public financing can mitigate many of the problems—such as the disproportionate influence of special interests and mega-donors—of the current system, and has a real shot of passing this year. It has already garnered the support of a majority of assembly members, senators and the governor. The objective of any reform, Norden explained, should be to make politicians dependent on their constituents rather than those writing the biggest checks. “The experiences of Connecticut and New York City,” he noted, “show that comprehensive campaign finance reform, with public financing at its core, can be a valuable step toward cleaning up our state government.”

Cuomo Releases Ad to Push Public Financing of Elections
Governor Cuomo’s campaign has released a set of ads regarding his budget priorities as negotiations over the topics continue. Among these, is an ad that asks state residents to call their representatives in Albany to urge them to support the governor’s comprehensive reform package, which includes public financing of elections.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.

NEW YORK

Women Leaders Sign Letter to Gov. Cuomo and Legislature Urging Reform
This week, more than 160 women business, philanthropic and political leaders signed onto a letter to New York’s legislative leaders and governor, encouraging them to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform with publicly funded elections. “For women in particular, this kind of reform is vital to participation in politics,” the letter stated. Women comprise merely 18 and 25 percent of the seats in the New York State Senate and Assembly, respectively. By contrast, in five out of the six states with publicly funded legislative elections, women constitute a higher percentage of legislators than the national average. In those five states, the percentage of female legislators is at least 8 percent higher than in New York. Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice were just some of the signatories on the letter.

Female Political Leaders Hold Press Conference in Albany on Public Financing
On Wednesday, several female state political leaders, along with members of the Fair Elections for New York coalition, gathered in Albany to press Governor Cuomo and the New York State Senate to pass small donor public financing in the 2014 budget. Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that “our current elections system forces candidates to raise ever-increasing sums of money leading some lawmakers to focus more on large donors than their constituents.” Other prominent women including, Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, Letitia James, public advocate of New York City, Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters of New York State, as well as a host of New York Senators and Assemblywomen also spoke at the press conference. The event came on the heels of a Brennan Center-sponsored panel that included Kathleen Rice, district attorney of Nassau County; Barbara Lawton, former lieutenant governor of Wisconsin; and Julie Muraco, managing partner of the Praeditis Group LLC. At the panel, the speakers discussed their experience running for office under the current campaign finance system, and why the issue of public financing is important to them as civic and business leaders. Empirical research has shown that raising money may be a deterrent keeping women from running for office. Rice explained that this is because women “still don't have the inherent financial infrastructure men do.” Lawton added that public financing has the potential to bring more women into politics, as it decreases the burden of fundraising from special interests and mega-donors.

Anna Roosevelt’s Letter to Cuomo: Make New York a Model for the Nation
On Saturday, the Times-Union published Anna Eleanor Roosevelt’s letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to ensure that public financing of elections stays in the state budget. Anna Roosevelt, the granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, said that with Congress gridlocked, the opportunity for resolving the problems of governance lies with the states. Governors of New York, from Theodore Roosevelt, who as president first proposed public financing as a remedy to the corruption of the Gilded Age, to Mario Cuomo, who authorized the Feerick Commission to investigate the state’s campaign finance laws, all understood that “New York can set the pace for the nation.” Roosevelt applauded the governor for including reform in his budget, saying that such a system would incentivize candidates to raise money from small donors, rather than special interests. However, she insisted, Cuomo must now “leverage to ensure a vote” on the matter, and make certain that reform stays in the budget during the last-minute negotiations with the leaders of the Assembly Democrats, the Senate Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Republicans. “I know that millions of New Yorkers — and many millions more beyond New York — will be grateful if you indeed accomplish this,” Roosevelt stated.

Utica Observer-Dispatch: Public Financing Should Pass This Year
This week, a Utica Observer-Dispatch editorial pressed Governor Cuomo and state legislative leaders to pass reform before the April 1st deadline for the budget. Some lawmakers are reluctant to accept reform, the Observer-Dispatch argued, because the current system provides incumbents with “comfort and job security.” Most incumbents have widespread name recognition in their district and a large war chest of campaign funds to deter any potential challengers. In order to build up their campaign funds, legislators rely heavily on lobbyists, corporations, and a few ultra-rich donors—everyone except their constituents. In Maine, the editorial pointed out, 70 percent of legislators partake in a public financing program, which has also boosted participation. “That’s what New York needs…For the first time, campaign finance reform is more than just talk. Cuomo has taken action by including it in his budget, and he now needs to stand his ground. We urge him to do that and make sure this finally gets done — for the sake of all New Yorkers.”

Assemblyman Boyland Convicted on Bribery Charges
In a federal court on Thursday, Assemblyman William Boyland (D-Brooklyn) was convicted on all 21 counts of bribery, mail fraud and extortion that he faced. The 43 year-old Assemblyman was accused of accepting $14,300 and soliciting another $250,000 in bribes from two undercover FBI agents. One of the agents posed as a businessman seeking Boyland’s assistance in obtaining permits for a carnival in the Assemblyman’s district. Boyland also allocated public funds for the elderly into a non-profit organization he controlled, later using the money for campaign events. In addition to all of this, Boyland submitted more than $70,000 in fraudulent reimbursement expenses to the Assembly. This latest departure brings the number of vacancies in the 150-member Assembly up to 10, along with two in the state Senate—many due to corruption, sexual harassment and other ethics scandals.