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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Poll Finds New Yorkers in Favor of Campaign Finance Reform, Public Financing

Looks like New Yorkers really do "give a hoot" about campaign finance reform.

Siena College's Research Institute put out poll numbers today that show a majority of New Yorkers, 53%, "believe that Governor Eliot Spitzer's campaign finance reform legislation would make elections fairer." 51% of New Yorkers support public financing for elections.

The poll also shows that 62% of New Yorkers oppose a legislative pay raise.

Dadey on Campaign Finance Reform

Check out Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey's great piece in the Gotham Gazette on the need for campaign finance reform. Dadey very clearly spells out exactly what's wrong with New York's campaign finance laws and how we should fix them.

Bipartisan Support for Bill to Improve Voting Machine Security and Reliability; New York Keeps HAVA Money

Twenty-one out of New York’s 29 Representatives are cosponsoring Congressman Rush Holt’s bill that would establish minimum security requirements for voting systems and minimum procedural requirements for the administration of elections. Most significantly, the bill would mandatevoter-verifiable paper ballots and spells out detailed guidelines for conducting post-election audits. More details in this Press & Sun-Bulletin editorial.

Here’s the list of New York cosponsors:

Gary Ackerman (NY-5)Carolyn Maloney (NY-14)
Timothy Bishop (NY-1)Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4)
Joseph Crowley (NY-7)Michael McNulty (NY-21)
Eliot Engel (NY-17)Jerrold Nadler (NY-8)
Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-20)Charles Rangel (NY-15)
John Hall (NY-19)Jose Serrano (NY-16)
Brian Higgins (NY-27)Louise Slaughter (NY-28)
Maurice Hinchey (NY-22)Edolphus Towns (NY-10)
Steve Israel (NY-2)Nydia Velazquez (NY-12)
Randy Kuhl (NY-29)Anthony Weiner (NY-9)
Nita Lowey (NY-18)

If you happen to live in the district of Peter King (NY-3), Gregory Meeks (NY-6), Yvette Clark (NY-11), Vito Fossella (NY-13), John McHugh (NY-23), James Walsh (NY-25), Michael Arcuri (NY-24), or Thomas Reynolds (NY-26), let them know you expect them to support this important piece of legislation!

In other voting news, the Democrat and Chronicle reported yesterday that New York will keep the almost $50 million that was slated to be put toward replacing lever machines with an electronic voting system. The deadline for spending the money was supposed to be last year’s September primary, but a provision inserted in last week’s Iraq supplemental pushed back this date to September 2008.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Powell Leads by Example

We're not entirely sure that it's preferable for legislators to introduce no legislation, but we certainly understand Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV's instinct to buck the practice of introducing bills that are purely symbolic.

The Sun reports this morning that Powell has not been the lead sponsor of a single bill during the last three sessions of the Legislature. Powell argues, "There's much more to being a strong leader than how many insignificant bills you introduce."

Our research from 2004 showed that more bills were introduced in the New York State Legislature between 1997 and 2002 than in any other legislature in the country. Introduction rates have risen across America, but New York has still managed to beat out this general inflation. In 2002, we dwarfed the number introduced in the next highest state, Illinois, by about 100%. The numbers for 2005, our latest year of study, were comparable to those of the previous years.

Compare these to the number of bills actually signed into law, and you get truly dismal enactment rates. The last decade has seen the enactment of less than 5% of all the bills introduced, with slightly better enactment rates for bills originating in the Senate than in the Assembly.

Bill introduction is a way for legislators to show their constituents that they care about an important issue. But this type of credit claiming, if left unchecked, is an extremely inefficient use of resources. We don't have official stats, but Powell declared that each bill introduced "costs thousands of dollars." When legislators are allowed to introduce as many bills as they want, they are distracted from deliberating and negotiating on legislation that has a chance of passing.

Both the Senate and Assembly should amend their rules to limit the number of bills legislators may introduce in one session. We think placing the cap at 20 bills for each Assemblymember and 30 for each Senator would be a good place to start.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bigger Better Bottle Bill Bashers Back Bruno & Buddies

The AP reports that Senate Majority Leader Bruno will be honored today at a fundraiser in Manhattan sponsored by opponents of the Bigger Better Bottle Bill.

Attendees are being asked to pony up $5,000 that will go to the GOP campaign committee in the Senate. As the invitation boasts, these donations “do not apply toward the $5,000 corporate calendar year limit.”

Not only is the campaign committee accepting cash from special interests opposing legislation currently before the Senate, but they are encouraging donors to exploit one of the biggest loopholes in New York campaign finance law—the ability to give unlimited amounts to party “housekeeping” accounts, freeing up so-called hard money for use on the campaign trail.

This is just one example of unsavory behavior by members of both parties that is nonetheless legal under New York law. And you wonder why the public questions whether incumbents are simply peddling their influence to the highest bidder, feathering their nests and ensuring for themselves almost 100% reelection rates.

It’s time to close the loopholes. Governor Spitzer has proposed capping corporate donations to housekeeping accounts at $50,000, which would go a long way toward curbing the influence of big donations on legislators. Tell your Senator and Assemblymember (or their empty chairs, if you happen to be attending tonight’s forum in Rochester) that they won’t get your vote without action on this crucial issue.

Goo Goos Go on the Road

A group of Goo Goos set off on a road trip across the state yesterday to hold a series of local forums on the issue of campaign finance reform. Forums have been scheduled in Syracuse, Rochester, Schenectady and Manhattan.

Goo Goos plan to prove that Senate Majority Leader Bruno was wrong when he said that campaign finance reform is an issue that "nobody gives two hoots about." At the same time that the Goo Goos set off on their state tour, Common Cause/NY also kicked off a letter writing campaign to Senator Bruno. New Yorkers can visit www.commoncause.org/IGiveAHoot to send a letter to Bruno letting him know that they want big money out of state politics.

More at Common Blog.

--Rachel Leon, Executive Director, Common Cause/NY

Rochester: Rally around Campaign Finance Reform

Yesterday’s Democrat and Chronicle featured an editorial and an op-ed stressing the importance of campaign finance reform.

The editorial board writes:
Give to the right party, or the right politician, and the right results will be had. That's the way things are done. That's how the game is played.

Sure, and that's also why special interests run the state Legislature, block good legislation, perpetuate the bad and keep the incumbency rate at plus-95 percent.
Nathan Jaschik of Citizens for Better Government in New York and Dorothy Borgus of the Rochester League of Women Voters get specific and argue that taxes remain high in New York because special interests have a stake in maintaining the status quo:
It's no secret that New Yorkers have one of the highest combined tax bills in the country. It's also no secret that special interests supply lots of campaign money to keep things as they are. The most effective attack we can make on high taxes is fairer elections through campaign finance reform. So what's the connection? Money!
These pieces come just in time for tonight’s forum on the subject. All Rochester-area state legislators have been invited to share with constituents their views on campaign finance in New York. Here are the details:

Brighton Memorial Library, 7pm
2300 Elmwood Ave
Rochester, NY 14618

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tell Syracuse's State Legislators to Support Campaign Finance Reform

Listen up, Syracuse readers! The state League of Women Voters, along with the Syracuse chapter, will be hosting a public forum tonight to discuss the importance of campaign finance reform. It will be held at the New York State United Teachers Office, 4983 Brittonfield Road, East Syracuse, NY 13057 at 7pm. All state legislators from the Syracuse area have been invited to attend and explain to constituents their views on this important reform. Come out and show your support for the Governor's reform proposal!

Rochester readers, stay tuned for details about a similar forum in your area tomorrow night.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Crackdown on Unethical Lobbyists...by Lobbyists?

The New York Sun reported this morning that there is a movement afoot to create a New York State Ethical Lobbyists Association. The motivation of this group would be to “represent the best elements of our industry, to improve our public image, and to promote public laws that hold each of us to the highest ethical and professional standards,” according to Chad Marlow, the founder of a lobbying agency called the Public Advocacy Group.

We appreciate any private efforts to enforce rigorous ethical standards in New York’s lobbying community, but it remains crucial that we move toward strengthening lobbying laws in the state.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Congress Starting to Look a Bit Too Much Like New York

This morning’s USA Today reports that past and present members of Congress are using campaign donations to defend themselves in criminal or ethics investigations. Two dozen members have spent more than $5 million in fees for the last 27 months for which there are complete records.

For New Yorkers, this all sounds pretty familiar. As we noted in March, state politicians are allowed to use their campaign funds for legal defense if the investigation is “related to the political campaign or the holding of public office.” Similarly, the Federal Election Commission has ruled that it’s okay to use campaign funds as long as you’re defending yourself from charges connected to conduct in office.

If you think campaign donations induce lawmakers to give special access to contributors under normal circumstances, just imagine how much sway big donors have when they give to politicians who need the money to stay out of jail.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Suffolk County Creates Independent Redistricting Commission

Governor Spitzer joined Suffolk County Executive Levy today for the signing of the bill that creates a “non-political commission” to perform redistricting for the county legislature.

As Newsday reports:
Levy's initiative would set up an eight-member commission with four Republicans and four Democrats, but no one actively involved in politics. Members would include four retired judges, two representatives from recognized minority groups and two from good government watchdog groups.
In many respects, this is certainly an example for the state Legislature to follow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

MAPlight.org

Speaking of transparency, this campaign finance-related site just launched a nifty new project attempting to illuminate the connection between special interest contributions and votes in Congress. The site is running exceedingly slowly right now (probably due to publicity at an event this afternoon), but we recommend checking it out later tonight or tomorrow when the traffic slows down.

Some random clicking led me to a page that tells us that, for instance, H.R. 5429, the American-Made Energy and Good Jobs Act, is supported by the chambers of commerce and unions but opposed by the environmental lobby. You can also find out how much money these interest groups have given to individual members.

The Sun is Shining in the New York 20th

Despite the mostly cloudy forecast for the Hudson Valley, Representative Kirsten Gillibrand is shining some sunlight on the 20th District. The Times reported yesterday that shortly after taking office, Gillibrand directed her staff to publish her daily schedule online so her constituents know exactly whom she is taking meetings with. She calls it the Sunlight Report.

We think this is a really impressive act of transparency on Gillibrand’s part, and we encourage all elected officials on the federal, state, and local level to do the same thing. And before anyone complains that this would be prohibitively expensive or time-consuming, officials could simply set up a blog on one of the many free sites and take five minutes a day to type up a few lines.

(Hat tip to Room Eight for catching this one.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

End-of-Session Logjam

The New York Sun reminds us this morning that NYC Mayor Bloomberg has just 37 days left in this year’s legislative session to push through his congestion pricing proposal.

We wish him good luck breaking through the clutter in Albany. Our research shows that the vast majority of bills passed by the Senate and Assembly are approved during the waning days of the session: for example, of the major bills passed in 2005, 84% were voted on after May 15th in the Assembly and 85% were voted on after that day in the Senate. In fact, more than one third of the major bills passed during 2005 were approved during the last three days of the session or during a special session!

We’re skeptical that the Mayor’s initiative, and the hundreds of other pieces of legislation being rammed through at the last minute, are truly getting the deliberation and thought they deserve.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Actually, it's worse than Florida

The Times-Union has a scathing editorial today, rightly lambasting the State Legislature for leaving it up to the counties to decide which new voting system to purchase (under both federal and state law, the lever machines must be replaced), rather than require one statewide system. In particular, given the recent troubles with touch-scrren machines, the paper urges the statewide adoption of optical scan machines, which allow voters to fill out a ballot much the way they would fill out lottery tickets, and then have their votes read by a scanner.

The Times-Union notes that Florida has learned a lesson New York should learn: touch screen machines have serious flaws. Florida Governor Crist wants the state to replace its touch screen machines with optical scans for all Election Day voting. The paper opines:

More and more, it is becoming easier to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the various voting systems now on the market.
That certainly is the case now, thanks to the Florida experience. There's no doubt that Florida rushed too quickly to embrace touch-screen voting devices. The flaws in these systems, which operate much like ATM machines, have been pointed out by good government groups for years. Many systems lack an adequate paper trail, while others produce no trail at all. And they are vulnerable to hackers who can invade their software and skew results. Or the software may simply malfunction and fail to account for thousands, even millions, of ballots.

This isn't entirely fair. As the Brennan Center Task Force on Voting System Security made clear, Optical scan machines are vulnerable to software attacks and programming errors too.

More importantly, what the Times-Union misses is that New York isn't facing a choice between "ATM" style touchscreens and optical scan machines. The touchscreens New York must buy are "full face," meaning every single candidate and race are on a single screen (voters don't get asked one question at a time as they would on an ATM machine). The machines are outrageously expensive, difficult for many disabled voters to use, and (most importantly) because they are so confusingly designed, are likely to cause thousands of lost votes in every election.

If you think Sarasota's 18,000 lost votes in the last election was bad -- imagine that problem every election. That's reason enough, as far as we are concerned, to echo the Times-Union's call:

It's time then -- past time, really -- for New York's county boards of elections to make the right decision and select optical-scan machines throughout the state

Raising Green on the Greens

Today's Daily News reports that in 2006, New York State politicians spent $1.7 million in campaign contributions on golf, shelling out big bucks on greens fees, caddie fees, staff tips, and golf pros.

Most of the politicians claimed these outings were campaign fundraisers, but the DN points out that several, including Senate Majority Leader Bruno and Deputy Majority Leader Skelos, appear to be spending campaign cash on regular visits to the country club.

Isn't it time for stricter laws against employing contributions for personal use?

Brennan Center Op-Ed in Buffalo News

Kahlil argues in this morning's Buffalo News that the rules of the Legislature should be improved to enable rank-and-file members to participate in the legislative process before we take steps toward implementation of initiative and referendum. He refutes the idea that redistricting reform would create unbreakable one-party control in New York:
There’s little evidence to suggest that the GOP can’t win elections or that electoral tides couldn’t sweep them back into power should they lose it. So rather than concerning ourselves with stemming the legitimate power granted by voters to the Legislature, our representatives should work to ensure that the will of the electorate is effectively channeled by offering meaningful rules and redistricting reform.

League to Hold Forums Supporting Campaign Finance Reform

As part of a statewide effort to promote an open discussion on the importance of reforming the way campaigns are financed in New York, the state League of Women Voters and two of its local chapters, along with Common Cause and NYPIRG, will be holding public forums in Rochester and Syracuse next week. We encourage all to attend to show your support for campaign finance reform!

Here are dates, times, and locations:

Wednesday, May 23rd, 7pm
New York State United Teachers Offices
4983 Brittonfield Road
East Syracuse, New York 13057
RSVP to Joan Johnson at jaj62@twcny.rr.com

Invitations have been extended to Senators John DeFrancisco and David Valesky as well as Assemblymembers Joan Christensen, William Magnarelli, Albert Stirpe, William Barclay, and Brian Kolb.

Thursday, May 24th, 6pm
Brighton Town Library Meeting Room
2300 Elmwood Avenue
Rochester, New York 14618

All state-level legislators have been invited to attend.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Curiouser and Curiouser

We've heard a lot lately about Judge Kaye's struggle to unhitch the issue of judicial pay raises from the albatross of legislative pay, but this morning's Post reported an interesting spin on the subject. Assemblyman Kirwan, a Republican from Western New York, is accusing Kaye and the Court of Appeals of refusing to take up a case he was involved in because they were concerned for their own pocketbooks.

Kirwan, along with Senator Liz Krueger and the Urban Justice Center, brought a suit challenging, among other things, the fact that minority members of the Legislature are given less staff, office resources, and member items than members of the majority. Kirwan alleges that the members of the Court of Appeals didn't want to ruffle the feathers of the Legislature while they were seeking a pay raise.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

New York 18th in Per Capita Spending on Legislature

New York isn't at the bottom of every list.

This morning’s edition of the Daily Courier, a Pittsburgh-area newspaper, featured an article about the movement in Pennsylvania to reduce the size of the General Assembly, which is the second-largest state legislature in the country. Currently, the House has 203 members and the Senate has 50.

A special committee of the General Assembly is considering proposals to cut the size and cost of the body. A researcher from the National Conference of State Legislatures testified that in 2005, Pennsylvania spent $23 per resident on its legislature, making it the third most expensive per capita in the nation. Alaska came in at $47.52 per resident and Rhode Island spent $23.86.

So where’s New York on this list? We’re the third most populous state, we have the third-highest paid legislators in the nation, and we have the second-highest rate of general government expenditures. But we only come in 18th in amount spent per capita on our legislature.

Anybody have a plausible explanation? Comment away...

Get Real

While it was rather odd timing for the Governor to hold or announce big fundraisers (and one out of state, to boot) in the middle of a major campaign finance reform push, we agree with two letters to the editor of the Post Standard that appeared in today's edition; in the end, the Governor must operate under the same rules as everyone else. We especially liked Oneida resident Richard Simberg's take:
Unfortunately, the Legislature and former governor Pataki have allowed corporations and the wealthy to buy their way into state government to an unprecedented degree and left average citizens out in the cold. Any reformer naive enough to unilaterally refuse campaign money will soon be powerless to make any reforms.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Spitzer Proposes Open Discussions of Hot Topics Before Close of Session

Governor Spitzer requested at today’s five-way leadership meeting that the leaders convene for open meetings once a week with the appropriate committee chairs and ranking members to discuss specific items on the agenda for the remaining weeks of the session. As long-time advocates of public airings of issues, we are delighted to hear this proposal to hold what amount to preemptive conference committees on specific bills ranging from campaign finance reform to public authorities to energy costs.

Here’s the audio of the leadership meeting.

Lower Contribution Limits Do Not Favor Wealthy Candidates

Michael Waldman and I have an op-ed about campaign finance reform in this morning's Newsday. We argue against the misleading assertion that lower contribution limits only benefit wealthy candidates. In fact, carefully crafted reforms would force candidates to widen their fundraising nets and bring more people with diverse backgrounds into the political process.

Here's a taste:
When longtime incumbents, especially conservatives, suddenly start sounding like William Jennings Bryan, watch your wallet. Fear of millionaires is not an argument against reform; it's an excuse.

As long as we allow private money to be contributed, prudent contribution limits are important. They make it harder for wealthy interests with legislative goals to influence policy through big gifts. They force candidates to widen their fundraising nets, bringing more people with diverse backgrounds into the political process. Our sitting legislators may not like competition, but they are not entitled to the almost 100 percent re-election rates that incumbents in New York currently enjoy.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

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Competing Assessments of Prospects for New Voting Machines in ‘08

Depending on which New York-area newspaper you picked up this morning, you either got a glimmer of hope about the possibility of voting on new machines for the ’08 elections or a dash of cold water.

The New York Times reports that Douglas Kellner, a chairman at the state Board of Elections, believes the state may be ready to install new electronic voting machines for the November 2008 elections, though he has all but ruled out the idea that they might be in place in time for the presidential primaries. Kellner argued at the House hearing yesterday, “If we certify the new machines by December, they should be able to get most of the system in place for the November 2008 election. And I think the September primary, too.”

The Newsday editorial board, on the other hand, sees this type of optimism as misplaced, citing the “snail’s pace of the state Board of Elections” and calling it “madness to make counties put new machines into service for the first time in a presidential general election.”

We’ll have to wait and see what actually happens, but we do urge lawmakers and state and local officials to take whatever time is necessary to ensure that our new election system is secure and accurate.

Monday, May 07, 2007

How About Independent Redistricting with a Nice Tall Glass of Rules Reform on the Side

Are you concerned that New York is going to become a one party state if we adopt an independent redistricting process?

You’re not alone. Lawmakers, including Senator James Alesi writing in the Buffalo News [link updated] last week, have expressed hesitation at the idea of reversing the gerrymander that keeps Republicans in charge of the Senate and Democrats dominant in the Assembly. By party affiliation, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state almost 2-to-1.

Alesi argues that, if redistricting is truly done in an impartial way, “the citizens of this state must have significant protection against the predictable outcome of one party controlling both houses of the Legislature, congressional districts and a predictable long-term occupation of the governor’s office.”

First, we don’t grant Alesi’s premise that Democrats will form an iron grip on the executive branch. Didn’t Republican George Pataki just leave office after 12 years in power? Hasn’t the overwhelmingly Democratic city of New York been run by Republican mayors for just as long? New Yorkers know how to split tickets.

But more importantly, we don’t think Alesi’s solution of adopting unbridled initiative and referendum is necessary to give all New Yorkers a proper voice in government.

What we really need is legislative rules reform. Without a constitutional amendment, even without agreement between the Assembly and Senate, each house can clean up its rules to give rank-and-file members of both parties the opportunity to effectively represent their constituents.

By equalizing staff and office resources, improving the committee process, allowing votes on legislation even when it’s unpopular with leaders, and institutionalizing conference committees, the Legislature can clear the way for the people’s representatives, regardless of party and geography, to participate in the creation and implementation of innovative solutions to New York’s most urgent problems.

Securing Our Voting Systems

Larry is testifying this morning before a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on voting machine security and reliability. His recommendations include improving the process for voting machine certification and mandating basic measures that are already in use in many places, such as regular post-election audits and banning wireless components.

Friday, May 04, 2007

If Only Tedisco Could Convince Bruno

Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco announced yesterday that he will introduce legislation to regulate the practice of bundling campaign contributions. Tedisco seeks a $100,000 limit on the contributions an individual may bundle, and further, he thinks bundlers’ identities, occupations, employers and spouse’s employers should be made public.

The Post characterizes this move as a “shot across the campaign finance bow at Eliot” and argues that Tedisco is “out-reforming Eliot.” Like proposing further reform of a broken system is a bad thing. It may be a political game of “gotcha,” but in the end, passage of this type of legislation would benefit New Yorkers.

We welcome all reforms that would limit the influence of big donations over elected officials, and we don’t care which side of the aisle they come from. Now, if only Tedisco could get Bruno and the Senate majority on board and effect real change...

Brennan Center Op-Ed in Times Union

Our Executive Director, Michael Waldman, has an op-ed in the Times Union this morning, railing against the media and politicians who have criticized Spitzer for continuing to fundraise while he champions campaign finance reform. Here's a snippet:
While the Times Union has been a vocal supporter of campaign finance reform and Spitzer's most recent proposals to lower contribution limits, it has joined news outlets and editorial pages across the state in giving ink and credence to Bruno's attack on the governor for refusing to unilaterally disarm. Political reporters and editorial writers across the state have been gamely repeating Bruno's trope ad nauseam that Spitzer is somehow doing something underhanded by continuing to play by the rules of the game while actively seeking to change them.

Few of those stories have included even a sentence about Joe Bruno's own record raising special-interest dollars. Rather they gamely quote Bruno like Claude Raines in Casablanca as being just shocked -- shocked! -- that Spitzer would offer access for contributors. Of course, contributors are getting access.

That's the problem. Too much access often leads to bad public policy. That's why we want reform. Bundling should be disclosed. But it isn't illegal and it won't go away until we pass public financing.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

DiNapoli's Matching Funds Proposal

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has announced a proposal to experiment with partial public financing of campaigns. He wants to test the system during the Comptroller’s election in 2010.

A carefully crafted public financing system would be a significant step forward for New York. Public financing helps to ensure that the force of a candidate’s ideas, not her personal fortune or fundraising prowess, determines who may successfully run for office. This type of system also frees candidates and officials from the rigors of fundraising so they can spend more time listening to their constituents and developing innovative policy solutions.

We at the Brennan Center welcome efforts to reform the comptroller elections. We hope that DiNapoli's bill is the start of a serious conversation about public financing in New York State. But substantively, this bill is not calculated to achieve the goals of public financing.

Effective partial public financing systems encourage candidates to pay more attention to smaller donors by providing candidates with public funds to match small contributions. For example, New York City has a 4-to-1 match, which means that a candidate receives $4 in public funds for every $1 of a contribution up to $250. Unfortunately, DiNapoli’s bill turns the purpose of matching funds on its head by rewarding candidates who collect larger contributions and at a much higher ratio: the plan would match contributions as high as $2,500 at 6-to-1 for general election contests.

The spending limit structure in DiNapoli’s proposal is also flawed. Most public financing systems require candidates to limit their expenditures in exchange for receiving public funds. DiNapoli’s plan calls for generous expenditure limits to allow candidates to get their message out to the public—$5 million for a primary election and $7.5 million for the general. But it also contains a provision that would lift these already high limits completely when participating candidates are faced with high-spending privately funded opponents. Most systems raise the cap but do not do away with it altogether under these circumstances.

We urge DiNapoli to fine-tune this bill so it would in fact achieve the type of reform New York so desperately needs. In this case, the devil is truly in the details.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Lou Dobbs Doesn’t Read ReformNY

Thanks to a loyal reader, it has come to our attention that Lou Dobbs wrote a scathing commentary for CNN.com, railing against news outlets across the country for covering immigrant marches and ignoring Law Day. He writes:
It was also an unfortunate and ironic choice on the part of the organizers of the demonstrations. May 1 in the United States is actually Law Day, a day first established by President Eisenhower in 1958 and ultimately codified into law in 1961 at the beginning of John F. Kennedy's administration. The purpose of Law Day is to give all Americans an opportunity to reflect on our legal heritage, and by statute, encourages “the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.”

I'll bet you know about the illegal alien amnesty marches, but I don't know of a single news organization, electronic or print that pointed out that May 1 is America's Law Day. The cable news networks gave almost wall-to-wall coverage to the illegal alien demonstrations, but they apparently couldn't find any American celebrating Law Day.
It’s tough, but I guess we have to come to terms with the fact that Lou Dobbs is not among our readership. (For those of you who missed it, we blogged on Law Day yesterday.) Still trying to decide if we should write him a letter to correct the mistake...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy Law Day!

You probably know that it’s May Day, the traditionally pagan holiday that has turned into one of frolicking in the spring sunshine and leaving baskets of flowers or goodies on people’s doorsteps.

But you might not know that today is also Law Day. Codified as 36 U.S.C. 113, Law Day was first introduced by President Eisenhower to celebrate the rule of law and express appreciation for our liberty. Eisenhower’s proclamation states:
I urge the people of the United States to observe the designated day with appropriate ceremonies and activities, and I especially urge the legal profession, the press, and the radio, television and motion picture industries to promote and to participate in the observance of that date.
As people of the United States, practitioners of the legal profession, and quasi-members of the press, we will be taking a few minutes today to “remember with pride and vigilantly guard the great heritage of liberty, justice, and equality under law which our forefathers bequeathed to us.”