Friday, March 02, 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 and #fairelex.

New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey has joined the push for comprehensive campaign finance reform—including the creation of a statewide public financing program—by joining the NY LEAD coalition, a group of prominent civic and business leaders committed to public campaign financing in Albany. Kerrey explained in a statement, “At the moment there is little hope that Congress will enact a Federal law that provides a voluntary system of public financing. In New York – thanks to the leadership of Governor Cuomo – it could happen. By doing so New York would give power back to small donors in State campaigns and set an example to the U.S. Congress.”

2. John Liu’s campaign treasurer, Jia Hou, has been arrested on charges of fraud and obstruction of justice. Coming a mere two weeks after one of Liu’s most prominent Democratic fundraisers was indicted on similar charges, the arrest casts further doubt on the credibility of Liu’s fundraising practices. It also highlights the crucial role that robust disclosure and enforcement provisions play in New York City’s public campaign finance program, given Hou’s failure to adequately identify donors in her filings to the Campaign Finance Board.

3. The New York Times observes that Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year will make it more difficult for the state Comptroller to audit state contracts before they are signed, arguing that in Albany, “where waste and corruption are too often the default mode,” the value of meaningful pre-audits by the Comptroller’s office should not be taken lightly, regardless of the efficiency gains that the new audit process would achieve.

4. New York will lose two congressional seats as a result of the 2010 census, and Congressional legislators appear to have noticed: those in the greatest danger of losing their seats in the redistricting process have given a combined $169,527 to lobbyists working on the process in the New York state legislature. Representative Nita Lowey, a Democrat, gave $10,000 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee’s housekeeping account in November 2011, and Representative Richard Hanna, a Republican, has given $10,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee since last year as well.

National Campaign Finance News

1. The New York Times finds a significant amount of overlap between presidential candidates and their super PACs, suggesting that the theoretical independence of super PACs does not work in practice. The article singles out the relationship between Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and the “Restore our Future” super PAC that supports him, finding, for instance, that both the campaign and the super PAC have both paid a single consulting firm, TargetPoint, for assistance with direct mail. TargetPoint’s founder, Alexander Gage, admitted that the situation looked “ridiculous.”

2. A Democratic state legislator in Kentucky is advocating for a public financing system for judicial candidates running for the state supreme court. State Representative Jim Wayne (D-Louisville) said: “It’s conceivable that special interests could buy Supreme Court justices and put them on the bench. We think that our system is vulnerable to this type of purchase of Supreme Court justices.” The proposal would let judicial candidates obtain voluntary public financing after raising $10,000, including $5,000 in small contributions from at least 200 donors.

3. Former US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) suggested this week that Supreme Court justices are becoming “squeamish” at the results of their controversial Citizens United ruling, that the ruling has damaged the Court’s credibility, and that he was optimistic the Court might consider reversing itself. Feingold remarked that, given the unprecedented amount of corporate money the decision has unleashed, the Justices “know they’ve done something even worse than Bush v. Gore in terms of the credibility of the court.” In February, Feingold had also attacked President Obama for deciding that his re-election campaign would back a super PAC, arguing that the President was “dancing with the devil.”

4. The billionaire Koch brothers announced this week that they would donate a combined $60 million to super PACs to defeat President Obama’s re-election campaign, in what US Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) calls a “gross perversion of the political process.” Blumenauer notes that in the final three months of 2011, Obama’s re-election campaign and the DNC raised a similar amount from 583,000 separate contributors giving an average of $55 apiece, and that the Koch brothers’ multimillion-dollar threat would “cancel out the efforts of half a million American citizens.”

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