Monday, September 24, 2007

Highlighting the Need for Hearings on Specific Bills

In Friday's Times Union, Albany hotel owner Gary Smith wrote that a ban on fundraisers within 40 miles of the Capital during the legislative session will be detrimental to the hospitality industry in the area. This type of provision has been a part of some of the campaign finance reform proposals considered in the Assembly and Senate over the years.

We agree with Smith that the positive effects of such a ban are questionable. What's to stop lawmakers from hopping in their cars and holding a fundraiser in Cobleskill (45 miles) or Gloversville (50 miles)? Certainly, it would be an inconvenience to drive an hour to attend a fundraiser, but this type of ban would not serve the purpose of shutting down fundraising during the legislative session. We should also note that this type of provision could prevent legislators from the Capital region from holding fundraisers with their own constituents.

A sessional ban on lobbyist contributions, like the one in Arizona or Maine, could be a more effective way of curbing special interest influence over legislators during the legislative session.

Irrespective of which new campaign finance measures are considered, Friday's article underscores the importance of holding public hearings on specific pieces of legislation. It is not sufficient for the Senate to hold nebulous "roundtable conversations" on the First Amendment theories surrounding campaign finance reform.

In order to truly allow individuals, businesses, and other organizations to have meaningful input in the legislative process, the sponsor must lay the provisions of a proposed bill out on the table for everyone to see and comment on. Anything less should be viewed as an attempt by opponents of reform to delay long overdue progress on the issue.

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