The recent news that part-time GOP gubernatorial candidate and full-time billionaire Tom Golisano will spend $5 million to fund a political action committee to support those who share his vision of reform left some observers confused about the state's contribution and expenditure limits. Golisano lawyer Henry Berger boasted they can spend whatever they want to Azi Paybarah of the Observer. Is that true? Well, yes, and New York notoriously lax campaign finance laws aren't to blame.
Brennan Center counsel Ciara Torres-Spelliscy notes that if Golisano is making "independent expenditures," they in fact can be unlimited under his right to free speech. That's the result of the landmark 1976 Supreme Court decision Buckley v. Valeo, which was reaffirmed by the court 20 years later in Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Commission. But in order to be "independent expenditures" Golisano may not coordinate his spending in any way with a candidate or party. If he crosses that line, the spending becomes a contribution to the candidate or party which is subject to the state's contribution limits. But, there remains the question of contributions from individuals to PACs.
However, it's worth reviewing the state's PAC limits for coordinated expenditures, which, it should come as no surprise, rank among the highest in the nation. According to the Brennan Center report Paper Thin issued in 2006:
CONTRIBUTIONS FROM PACS TO CANDIDATES FOR THE STATE LEGISLATURE
Of the 34 states that restrict contributions from PACs to candidates for the state legislature, New York ranks fourth highest in contributions to candidates for State Senator ($13,900 per campaign cycle), and eighth highest in contributions to candidates for State Representative ($6,800 per campaign cycle).
CONTRIBUTIONS FROM INDIVIDUALS TO PACS
Of the 24 states that limit contributions to political action committees, or PACs, only one state, Louisiana, imposes higher limits than New York. Individuals in New York can contribute up to
$50,100 $150,000 per election cycle to PACs, depending on the candidate supported, while states such as Massachusetts impose limits as low as $500 per year, or 0.1 percent of New York’s limit.