Friday, February 24, 2012

Money and Politics This Week

Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling 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. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Matthew Ladd and Dan Rockoff.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics

New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. Proposed regulations by the State Board of Elections for disclosing independent expenditures will create a loophole that allows lobbying groups to continue publishing anonymous attack ads, according to advocates who have reviewed the proposal. The Board’s proposed regulations require disclosure for advertisements containing “express advocacy,” but this requirement can be dodged by avoiding the use of certain key words such as “oppose” or “elect.” Citizens Union points out that the NYC Campaign Finance Board’s proposed regulations call for disclosure of all “electioneering communications,” a requirement that considerably tightens the loophole in NYC. The full text of the proposed state regulations is available here.

2. Twenty-seven members of the City Council sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo this week expressing their strong support for voluntary public campaign financing in New York State, and urging the Governor to propose “comprehensive and effective reform” modeled on New York City’s small-donor matching program.

3. Over half of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee’s spending since last July was made to a consultant with strong ties to convicted felon and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Susan Ralston, the principal of SBR Enterprises, was forced to resign from her position as an aide to Karl Rove in 2006, after the House Government Reform panel issued a report detailing her role as a go-between for Rove and Abramoff.

4. A new report by the money in politics watchdog group Maplight reports that super PACs received more than two-thirds of their total contributions in 2011—roughly $100 million—from only a handful of states, with New Yorkers contributing $13.3 million. The only state with more contributions was Texas.

5. The New York Observer profiles the rise and fall of William Boyland, Jr., the Brooklyn Assemblyman currently under indictment on federal corruption charges—his second such indictment in twelve months. The profile notes that several candidates have emerged to challenge him for his seat, and that polls and petitions calling for Boyland’s resignation have begun circulating in Brownsville.

National Campaign Finance News

1. An editorial in the New York Times highlights the corrosive effect of super PAC influence in federal elections, pointing out that the vast majority of contributions to Republican super PACs are made by a handful of super-wealthy contributors such as Sheldon Adelson, Harold Simmons and Foster Friess, and concluding that “all but the most privileged Americans will pay the price if the nation’s wealthiest can buy elections.” The Times also reported earlier this week on Republican “superdonors,” the wealthy businessmen whose donations form the vast bulk of total contributions to right-leaning super PACs. The report singles out the Texas tycoon Harold Simmons, whose total Republican super PAC contributions total over $14 million, noting that more than $50 million given to Republican super PACs came from just two dozen individuals or corporations.

2. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, February 17 issued a stay of a decision by the Montana Supreme Court that had upheld the state's restrictions on corporate political spending. The Montana case will allow the Supreme Court to revisit Citizens United much sooner than expected. Justice Ginsburg, writing for herself and Justice Breyer, voted to grant the stay but suggested: “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in [Citizens United], make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’ A petition for certiorari will give the court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

3. Two weeks after stating that President Obama was “dancing with the devil” in accepting super PAC funds for his re-election campaign, former U.S. Senator and lead co-sponsor of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act Russ Feingold has joined the President’s campaign as a co-chair. When asked if his firm commitment to campaign finance reform made his an odd choice for the position, Feingold replied that he was accepting the position for “a president who I believe will help us appoint justices who will overturn Citizens United.”

4. A federal grand jury in Florida is hearing evidence in the FEC investigation of Florida Representative Vern Buchanan, a heavyweight fundraising organizer for GOP candidates nationwide, the New York Times reports. The House Ethics Committee is also examining Rep. Buchanan’s failure to disclose financial dealings in several business interests that could be linked to his fundraising activities.

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