Thursday, May 31, 2007

Public Hearings?! What a Novel Idea!

We learned from Capitol Confidential last night that Senate Majority Leader Bruno has announced hearings on campaign finance reform. As any astute Albany observer knows, public hearings, especially in the Senate, are much rarer than they ought to be.

CapCon reports that Bruno is apparently trying to “determine if there is a ‘compelling’ need for change.”

Mr. Bruno, in case you’ve missed all of the reports, editorials, op-eds, and constituent letters over the years, allow me to demonstrate the compelling need.
  • Sky-high contribution limits. Even if you cut New York’s contribution limits in half, they would still be higher than those in almost any other state that limits political donations. This discourages candidates from reaching out to the general public for small donations, instead allowing them to rely on money from big donors.
  • Soft-money loopholes. The myriad loopholes in our campaign finance law effectively render our contribution limits meaningless. These loopholes include corporate donations of massive amounts through subsidiaries and limited liability corporations (LLCs) and unlimited donations from individuals and entities to the “housekeeping accounts” of political parties.
  • Limited Disclosure. New York State law does not require contributors to disclose the names of their employers or even the names of those who actually “bundled” and delivered the contributions.
  • Lax Enforcement. The Board of Elections lacks the authority and funding necessary to investigate violations of campaign finance law, and even when fines are imposed, they are not strict enough to discourage abuses.
  • Rampant Personal Use. The prohibition on the use of campaign funds for personal expenditures is so vague and weak that incumbents and past candidates use these funds for junkets, country club memberships, flowers, and leased cars not related to campaign activities. Legislators are also legally allowed to defend themselves against criminal prosecution with their campaign funds!
This all boils down to a government full of officials beholden to special interests and a general public that is essentially shut out of the election process.

This morning’s New York Sun reports that Bruno may try to make the hearings about Governor Spitzer’s past fundraising tactics. We urge him to avoid political stunts and focus on the real problem—New York’s campaign finance laws are in urgent need of reform.

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