Friday, July 11, 2014

Money in New York Politics

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. This week’s links were contributed by Eric Petry and Syed Zaidi.

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

NEW YORK

State Sen. Libous Facing Charges of Lying to Prosecutors
New York State Senator Thomas Libous, a 13-term incumbent representing Binghamton, was arraigned in federal court last Tuesday for allegedly making false statements to the FBI. Federal prosecutors claim that Libous lied about using his influence as a state senator to boost his son’s salary at a Westchester law firm. Libous and his son, Matthew, have pleaded not guilty to the charges. The indictment states that the elder Libous arranged for an Albany lobbying firm to pay $50,000 to the law firm where his son was employed, in order to inflate his son’s salary. He “took advantage of his position as senator and chairman of the Transportation Committee by corruptly causing lobbyists, who wanted Libous’ influence to benefit their clients, to funnel money through a law firm to his son,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara explained. When questioned by prosecutors regarding these charges, Libous denied involvement in any deal between the lobbying firm and the law firm, according to the indictment. Matthew Libous is being simultaneously accused of tax evasion. If the senator is convicted, it would increase the number of Albany legislators that have been forced out of office due to misconduct since 2000 to 27.

Real Estate Interests Seek to Boost Republicans in November Elections
Following the collapse of the power-sharing coalition in the New York State Senate last week, conservative interest groups are combining their efforts with New York real estate developers to win additional seats and maintain Republican influence in the state legislature. The Republican State Leadership Committee and its affiliated 501(c)(4), the State Government Leadership Foundation, have made significant donations to New York political groups, including $10,000 to the Balance New York super PAC, most of whose funds in turn come from the Rent Stabilization Association PAC and the Neighborhood Preservation Political Action Fund. The Rent Stabilization Association PAC, composed of owners of the city’s rent stabilized buildings, has been actively contributing to incumbent Republican Senators including Andrew Lanza in Staten Island and Jack Martins in Long Island, who are facing Democratic challengers this November. More information regarding contributions and expenditures in the state races will be available following the state Board of Election’s July 15th filing deadline.

Teachout Gathers Signatures to Challenge Gov. Cuomo in Primary
Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law professor hoping to challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary, informed the press this week that her campaign has the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot. Thus far Teachout says she has gathered more than 45,000 signatures from registered Democrats. Although only 15,000 signatures are required to be placed on the ballot, the campaign expects the governor to legally challenge the validity of some signatures. Teachout has been actively seeking support from local Democratic clubs in New York City. She has centered her campaign on concerns regarding rising income inequality and corruption in the state capital. “I would love to be the governor of New York” she told a crowd of likely primary voters. “But I would also like to get this governor of ours … [to] actually listen to the deep, very heartfelt concerns of the Democrats of this state.”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Money in New York Politics

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. This week’s links were contributed by Eric Petry and Syed Zaidi.

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

NEW YORK

Senate Coalition Disintegrates
As the legislative session came to a close last week, comprehensive campaign finance reform remained stalled. Opposition to reform was led by Republicans in the state Senate. This week, the breakaway Democrats who had formed a coalition with Republicans to control the Senate announced plans to abandon the arrangement. The leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Sen. Jeffrey Klein, said the IDC would form a coalition with Democrats next year. The change is expected to have implications for public campaign financing and other reforms left on the table at the end of this year’s session. Governor Cuomo has renewed his pledge to “work to elect people who support” the progressive agenda this election season. Whether the planned Democrat-IDC coalition has a majority in the chamber next year will depend on the outcome of the November elections.

Governor Cuomo Has Raised Millions through the LLC Loophole
In the three and a half years since his election in 2010, Governor Andrew Cuomo has collected more than $6.2 million in campaign funds—more any other New York politician—through a loophole that he previously pledged to close. Under state regulations, limited liability companies are considered individuals and permitted to contribute up to $150,000 per year to candidates and political parties. However, since there is no limit on the number of LLCs a corporation or an individual may create, it effectively allows unlimited campaign contributions. In its preliminary report released last December, the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption recommended closing the loophole due to “the appearance of a relationship between large donations and legislation that specifically benefits large donors.”

Outside Money Plays Big Role in New York Congressional Primaries
Federal Election Commission filings compiled by the Sunlight Foundation demonstrate that outside groups were actively spending money in New York’s Congressional primary races. In the 21st Congressional District in upstate New York, outside groups came to the rescue of former Bush administration aide Elise Stefanik, in her primary battle against investment fund manager Matt Doheny. American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-linked super PAC, spent almost $800,000 on the race criticizing Doheny as irresponsible and a “perennial loser.” Another group, New York 2014, was formed just last month and, despite its nondescript name, all of its $370,000 in expenditures were in support of Stefanik. New York 2014 is funded by five rich out-of-district contributors, all with key roles at financial firms. The biggest donor to New York 2014 is Kenneth Griffin, founder and CEO of hedge fund Citadel LLC, who also recently made the largest single contribution in the history of the state of Illinois. Stefanik emerged as the victor in this week’s primary, and will go on to face Democrat Aaron Woolf in November. Outside groups were also active in the 1st Congressional district Republican primary race between Lee Zeldin and George Demos, where independent expenditures hit $1.8 million. Such groups are likely to be a factor in the upcoming general election races as well.

Green Party Candidate to Challenge Cuomo, Astorino
Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s gubernatorial nominee, will compete against Gov. Cuomo and Republican nominee Rob Astorino in the general election. Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, meanwhile, is collecting signatures to run against Cuomo in the Democratic primary. She has criticized the governor over his failure to pass campaign finance reform to address public corruption. An April Siena poll showed that a left-leaning challenger to Cuomo from the Working Families Party would garner 24 percent of the vote and cut Cuomo’s lead by 19 percent. Although the WFP has already endorsed Cuomo, Hawkins said that he is the “ticket that 24 % is looking for.” The most recent Siena poll however illustrated that Hawkins would capture only 4 percent of the vote in a race with Cuomo and Astorino. Nonetheless, Hawkins remains optimistic: “People have gone through some different things and they’ve basically seen they’ve got to be independent and speak for themselves, instead of attach themselves to the latest liberal Democratic hope,” he stated.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Money in New York Politics

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. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

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

NEW YORK

The Daily Gazette: New York’s 2014 Legislative Session a Failure
The New York State legislative session is ending this week without major progress on big-ticket issues such as campaign finance reform, minimum wage, and the women’s equality agenda. The Daily Gazette called the session a “big flop.” The upstate newspaper said that the failure to pass campaign finance reform would allow big money to continue “to influence elections at the expense of worthy candidates who don't have access to large donors.” Although the legislature had several months to work to find solutions to these pressing concerns, they largely failed to address them.

Law Professor Teachout Plans to Mount Primary Challenge to Gov. Cuomo
Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor, is collecting signatures to mount a Democratic primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Her decision to run follows a contentious Working Families Party convention, where the third party nominated Cuomo for their ballot line in this year’s gubernatorial election. Teachout however, still garnered 41.3 percent of the vote at the convention. Now, she needs at least 15,000 signatures by registered Democrats to secure her name on the ballot. “Four years ago, Andrew Cuomo stood on the steps of a courthouse named after Boss Tweed and promised to clean up corruption in New York State. But he, as Gov. Cuomo, has become the problem that candidate Cuomo promised to fix,” Teachout told the press. She also leveled criticisms against the governor’s economic and fiscal policies, and emphasized the importance of reforming campaign finance to raise the voices of average voters. “I believe in democracy, not donors,” she said.

Mistrial in Corruption Case Involving State Sen. Smith
On Tuesday, Federal District Court Judge Kenneth M. Karas declared a mistrial in the corruption case involving New York State Senator Malcolm Smith and former Vice Chairman of the Queens County Republican Committee Vincent Tabone. Prosecutors had failed to provide the defense with recordings of telephone calls and text messages from a government informer, Moses Stern, which may have been relevant to the trial. Since more than 28 hours of the conversations were in Yiddish, the defense asked the judge for more time to translate and digest the recordings. Some of the jurors could not serve for this extended period of time, which would have pushed the trial into mid-July. Defense attorneys for Smith and Tabone did not consent to going forward with the trial with fewer jurors, leading Judge Karas to schedule a new trial for January 5th, 2015. The trial of the third defendant—former  New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, who allegedly served as an intermediary for Smith’s bribery schemes—will resume in a week. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Money in New York Politics

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. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

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


NEW YORK

Public Financing Trial Could Show Power of Small Donors
In a guest column for the Post-Standard, David Rubin, a former dean at Syracuse University, wrote that the trial public financing program for the state comptroller race presents an opportunity to demonstrate the power of small donors. Although current New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has declined to participate in public financing—citing concerns over the inadequate structure of the pilot program—his Republican challenger Robert Antonacci has said that he will op-in. Donations up to $175 by New Yorkers to Antonacci’s campaign will be matched with public funds at a 6-to-1 ratio, if he first qualifies by raising $200,000 including at least 2,000 small contributions. In return he will have to abide by spending limits and a $6,000 per person contribution restriction. Non-participating candidates running statewide, meanwhile, can accept up to $41,000 from a single donor. “Public financing empowers local donors who can actually vote for the candidate. It forces candidates to court us, one small donation at a time,” Rubin explained. And until state legislators pass reforms that apply to all races in the state, “we will get elected officials purchased for us by others, with the awful results we see in Albany and Washington.”

Major Issues Unresolved for Final Week of NY Legislative Session
With just one week left in the New York State legislative session, press outlets are predicting that few big-ticket issues, such as public campaign financing, the women’s equality agenda, medical marijuana or the Dream Act, will be resolved. Although Governor Andrew Cuomo has publicly vowed to campaign against the ruling coalition in the senate unless headway is made on some key issues, Democrats in the chamber are not optimistic about legislative progress. “Whether they allow certain things to get done, it’s up to them,” said Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in reference to the senate ruling coalition of Republicans and five breakaway Democrats. However, Senator Jeffrey Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference and Majority Co-leader of the chamber, did not rule out the possibility of public financing reform passing before the session is over. “We still have two weeks to govern,” he stated, “[t]he political season has not started yet as far as I’m concerned.”

Albany Times-Union: Bruno Acquittal Demonstrates Need for Reform
Last month, former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was acquitted of corruption-related charges. Bruno allegedly accepted $20,000 per month in consulting fees from a businessman with a stake in Evident Technologies, according to prosecutors, and then subsequently approved a $250,000 state grant to the company. This did not qualify as corruption under federal law, the jury determined. The Times-Union said that the trial was a troubling demonstration that ethics and campaign finance laws need to be reformed in Albany. To “take money from somebody doing business with the state they can influence,” should be illegal, the newspaper wrote. And there should be more stringent restrictions on what campaign funds can be used for, along with significantly lower contribution limits.

Corruption Trial of New York Officials Brings New Revelations
The trial of New York State Senator Malcolm Smith has brought to light new evidence concerning his alleged scheme to become mayor of New York City. According to the FBI, Smith wanted to become the leader of the Senate Democrats, in an effort to raise his profile and subsequently run for the mayoral race in New York City. Smith asked Moses “Mark” Stern, a government informant posing as a businessman, to give him $27,000—money that was later to be dispersed to other senators to cement his influence. It “puts me in a better position to run for mayor than just being in the senate,” Smith told Stern. Following this, at a meeting between Stern, Smith and another FBI informant, Smith asked the men for their help in persuading three of the five Republican County Chairmen to authorize his mayoral candidacy on the Republican Party line. Smith sought to do this by bribing the officials, prosecutors allege, using former New York City Councilman Dan Halloran as his middle-man.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Money in New York Politics

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. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

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

NEW YORK

Working Families Party Nominates Cuomo for Governor
At the Working Families Party’s convention this weekend, the progressive third party nominated Governor Andrew Cuomo, giving him its ballot line in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Cuomo captured 58 percent of the state committee’s weighted vote, while Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout—who has challenged Cuomo for his failure to address legislative corruption—received 41 percent. In a video message, the governor informed WFP delegates that he is firmly committed to passing progressive priorities including public financing of elections, a higher minimum wage, the Dream Act, and women’s equality initiatives. “To make this agenda a reality, we must change the leadership of the Senate,” he stated. For the first time, Cuomo openly said that he would oppose the Senate Independent Democratic Conference: “Either they announce that they agree to come back to the Democratic Party, or they will face primaries this year from our unified Democratic coalition.” Teachout is still considering contesting Cuomo in the Democratic primary. She would need 15,000 signatures on nominating petitions by July 9th to get onto the ballot.  

Working Families Party Endorses Challengers to Independent Democratic Conference
In addition to Governor Cuomo, the Working Families Party (WFP) endorsed candidates challenging two members of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The IDC –composed of five breakaway Democrats—rules the state senate in a coalition with the Republicans. Former New York State Attorney General Oliver Koppell, running against IDC head and Senate Majority Co-leader Jeffrey Klein, garnered the endorsement of the WFP for the 34th district in the Bronx. However a number of unions in the party, including the Hotel Trades Council, the United Federation of Teachers and the Mason Tenders, backed Klein instead. Koppell has said that legislative priorities, such as public financing of elections and the Dream Act, would have passed if the Democrats controlled the chamber instead of the IDC. A spokeswoman for the IDC said that Senator Klein “is a lifelong Democrat who is not walking away from his strong record of core Democratic legislative accomplishments and looks forward to a healthy debate of ideas…in the coming election.” In the 11th district, located in Queens, the WFP endorsed former New York City Comptroller John Liu over the current incumbent, IDC Senator Tony Avella.

Buffalo News: Without Aggregate Contribution Limits, Reform Even More Critical
In an editorial on Monday, the Buffalo News criticized the New York State Board of Election’s decision to not enforce the state’s $150,000 aggregate contribution limit, saying it sends a clear message that the system is “broken.” The announcement from the state board came following two recent court decisions concerning aggregate contribution limits. The upstate newspaper argued that the continual erosion of campaign finance regulations would cede even more power to wealthy special interests that wish “to buy influence across the state.” The dominance of big money in state politics will generate greater opportunities for legislative malfeasance, exacerbating New York’s culture of corruption. The editorial concluded that reform is now critical, starting with lowering the sky-high individual contribution limits.  

New York Elected Officials Spent Campaign Funds on Legal Defense
According to the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), New York State elected officials have spent more than $7 million in legal fees using their campaign funds in the past 10 years. Unfortunately, many lawmakers in Albany have faced a plethora of legal problems related to corruption or other unethical or illegal conduct in recent years. Under state law, politicians are not prohibited from using their campaign funds for legal defense. Former state Senator Carl Kruger, for example, faced one of the costliest legal battles, and spent $1.7 million from his war chest on defense attorneys. In 2012, he was sentenced to prison for corruption related to bribes. Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG’s research coordinator, said that legislators and Governor Cuomo have “made promises they are going to fix the [campaign finance] system…and this is something we strongly encourage them to include.”

Friday, May 30, 2014

Money in New York Politics

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. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

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

NEW YORK

Gov. Cuomo May Oppose Senate Coalition if Public Financing Isn’t Passed
Governor Andrew Cuomo implied this week that he may oppose the ruling Senate coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats this coming fall if the chamber does not pass public campaign financing. “If public finance is not passed by the end of session, I will consider the [Senate] coalition a failure,” Cuomo said. “I would give my opinion to the people of the state,” he continued. The governor is facing pressure from the progressive Working Families Party, which might not endorse him on the party’s ballot line if he doesn’t achieve public financing reform. The party’s nominating convention is this Saturday. Independent Democratic Conference Senator Jeffrey Klein, who leads the chamber in a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans, has also insisted that reform must be enacted before the end of the session. He did not rule out aligning with the mainstream Democrats if it fails. Former state Attorney General Oliver Koppell will be challenging Klein in the June Democratic primary. Although negotiations were well underway with Republicans regarding public funding, the discussions were derailed following a warning from the Conservative Party. Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long told Skelos that his party would not endorse Senate Republican candidates if they vote for public financing reform.

NYS Board of Elections Will No Longer Enforce Aggregate Contribution Limit
Commissioners at the New York State Board of Elections decided last week that the board will no longer enforce the state’s $150,000 aggregate contribution limit. Under the state’s aggregate limit, a single individual could not contribute more than $150,000 combined per calendar year to all political campaigns, parties, and independent committees in New York. The board’s announcement came after recent court rulings concerning aggregate contribution limits. In early April, the U.S. Supreme Court declared federal aggregate contribution limits unconstitutional in McCutcheon v. FEC. Soon thereafter, a judgment by a federal district court nullified New York’s aggregate contribution limit of $150,000 as applied to independent expenditure groups, such as super PACs. The recent Board of Elections decision nullifies the aggregate contribution cap regarding donations to all candidates, parties, and political action committees, in addition to independent expenditure groups.

Albany Times-Union: Public Financing Reform More Urgent Without Aggregate Contribution Limits
Yesterday, the Albany Times-Union criticized the Board of Elections’ decision to not enforce the state’s aggregate contribution limit, saying it would allow a single wealthy donor to “pour millions of dollars into an election like this fall’s, when every state office will be up for grabs.” As it stands, New York’s individual contribution limits are already sky-high: $41,000 for statewide offices, $8,400 for the Senate and $4,100 for the Assembly—just for the general election. The decimation of aggregate contribution limits only exacerbates the problem. To make matters even worse, since Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) are subject to individual rather than corporate contribution limits under New York campaign finance regulations, one person could set up several different subsidiaries to funnel millions more into state campaigns. The editorial called on the legislature and Governor Cuomo to immediately take action by reducing the individual contribution limits for state offices, closing the LLC loophole, and instituting a system of public campaign financing so that elected officials can “pay attention to small donors,” rather than just courting millionaire contributors.

Buffalo Common Council Passes Resolution to Explore Small Donor Public Financing
The Buffalo Common Council passed a resolution this week to explore the possibility of adopting a public campaign financing system for local offices. Council Member Joseph Golombek, who is pushing the measure, commended his colleagues for being open to reform, especially considering that it would allow challengers to “actually…raise money,” when running against incumbents. According to the resolution, in 2011, incumbents in the Buffalo Common Council outraised opponents by a margin of 24-to-1. The resolution charged a committee, composed of citizens from local labor unions and advocacy organizations, with examining the possibilities of a municipal public financing system. Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York, praised the resolution, calling it an opportunity to “bring more small donors into elections,” and to broaden the “range of candidates” running for office.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Money in New York Politics

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. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi and Emily Apple. 

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

NEW YORK

NY Times: Gov. Cuomo Must Put His Words into Action
Last week, the New York Times pressed Governor Cuomo to put his words on reform into action. Under the status quo, special interests reign supreme in Albany, the editorial stated. Incumbents face little competition because they can easily flood their war chests with sky-high contributions. A system of public financing that matches small donations with public funds offers the potential to both increase candidates’ reliance on small contributors and to diversify the pool of candidates that run for office. Recently, in the 2014-15 budget, the New York legislature and Governor Cuomo passed a pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race. Republican state comptroller candidate Robert Antonacci has already said that he will participate in the program. Although the Republicans in the state senate claim they are opposed to public financing, the fact that they were willing to agree to this trial demonstrates that there is hope for passing more comprehensive legislation. The Times said Cuomo should consider campaigning against lawmakers that refuse to pass reform.

Fmr. State Sen. Bruno Acquitted of Fraud Charges in Re-trial
Last Friday, former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was acquitted in federal court on fraud charges, ending a decade-long legal battle. In 2009, Bruno was convicted on two counts of mail fraud for allegedly receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from Jared Abbruzzese, an Albany businessman, and overpaying Abbruzzese for a horse prosecutors said was worthless. However, the conviction was later vacated on appeal based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that honest-services fraud convictions cannot be based solely on concealment of a conflict of interest. In 2012 federal prosecutors brought new charges against Bruno for allegedly accepting $440,000 in bribes and kickbacks from Abbruzzese, disguised as consulting fees while in office. Last week, the jury found Bruno not guilty of the charges. The ruling comes after the conviction of Assembly Member William Boyland Jr. and Assembly Member Eric Stevenson this year on bribery charges. 

NYS Board of Elections Scrambling to Set up Public Financing Program
The New York State Board of Elections (BOE) released draft regulations governing the new pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race last week. According to Capital New York, the state BOE asked the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to administer the program—a request the city board refused because it is legally prohibited from doing so. However, the NYC CFB has provided other assistance to the state agency such as forms, language for regulations and other advice. State legislators and Governor Cuomo claimed that the trial program was launched to test the practicality of a statewide public financing system. Good-government groups, as well as incumbent state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, argued that the pilot was poorly constructed and deliberately designed to fail. Ian Vandewalker, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, stated that “it was a mistake to give [administration of public financing] to the Board of Elections. By their own account they don’t have the budget—to give them a new responsibility, it doesn’t really make sense.”

Support for Public Financing Increasing Among New Yorkers

In a new poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University, the majority of voters surveyed—55 percent—indicated that they believe New York State government is dysfunctional. Eighty-one percent, an overwhelming majority, replied that corruption in state government is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. Similarly, 78 percent thought that Governor Cuomo’s decision to shut down the Moreland Commission, which was investigating corruption in the state legislature, was a political deal struck with legislative leaders, rather than a “decision based on good government.” And a plurality, 46 percent, said that they approve of public financing of election campaigns for statewide and state legislative races. Typically, when this question is posed to voters with details regarding the comprehensive reform plan—including lower contribution limits and matching small donations—support jumps above 60 percent.