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.
For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.
New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News
1. Former State Congressman Mike Arcuri expressed his strong support this week for a state system of public campaign financing. Arcuri, a member of the NY LEAD coalition, wrote that such a system would put regular voters back “in the driver’s seat.” Arcuri also decried Albany’s “culture of dependence on large campaign contributions,” describing it as a corrosive and expensive practice that reduces public faith in state government.
2. Opening arguments began this week in the federal corruption trial of Pedro Espada, Jr., and his son Pedro Gautier Espada, who are accused of using the Soundview Healthcare Network as “their own taxpayer-funded piggy bank” by funneling more than $500,000 from the organization and spending it on cars, spa treatments, and other personal luxuries. The former state Senate Majority Leader and his son are charged with theft, embezzlement, and misapplication of federal funds, as well as conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
3. Evidence introduced in the ongoing corruption and bribery trial of former Yonkers Councilwoman Sandy Annabi has cast the spotlight on another public official: state Senator Tom Libous, who, according to witness testimony, pushed a law firm to hire his son—and inflate his starting salary—in exchange for steering government business toward the firm’s practice.
National Campaign Finance News
1. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week shows that nearly 70% of Americans believe that super PACs should be illegal. The poll also found that broad bipartisan support for banning super PACs: the level of opposition to super PACs by Democrats (70%) and Tea Party supporters (69%) was nearly identical, and well over half of Republicans (55%) favored banning the groups as well. Additionally, of the 69% polled who believed that super PACs should be banned, over half felt “very strongly” about the issue—an indication that Citizens United is squarely at odds with public opinion on corporate campaign spending.
2. A nationwide coalition of campaign finance reform groups called this week for all presidential candidates, including President Obama and the four remaining Republican primary contenders, to reveal the names of their major “bundlers,” the fundraisers who steer millions of dollars to campaign war chests. Although federal law only requires presidential candidates to disclose the names of bundlers who are also registered lobbyists, major candidates in both parties disclosed other bundlers as well during the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections—a practice currently followed only by the President. The coalition letters to individual candidates are available here.
3. The AFL-CIO Executive Council released a statement on Wednesday that roundly condemned the flood of corporate spending unleashed by Citizens United, praised current efforts at campaign finance reform, and threw its support behind public campaign financing as an effective way to “enfranchise voters and ensure that wealth does not yield disproportionate influence.” The AFL-CIO also called for greater disclosure of corporate contributions and campaign expenditures, better contribution limits for wealthy individuals, and other reform efforts “to bring about greater fairness, openness and participation in elections.”
4. The Washington Post finds that candidate and campaign spending during the GOP primary has been cut in half since the last presidential primary, and that the influence of super PAC spending has been amplified by weak fundraising. According to David Donnelly of the Public Campaign Action Fund, traditional fundraising has been supplanted by “this new phenomenon of people writing huge checks in support of the candidates. You’re replacing excitement with those who have a huge amount of money.”
5. The downturn in GOP primary fundraising from small individual donors can also be attributed to sky-high contributions by corporations and wealthy backers, argues Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, who finds that Republican super PACs, and billionaire backers such as Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess, may reduce contributions from ordinary citizens. “It sends a bad message to ordinary voters,” Nyhart said. “You begin to feel like politics is a playing field that only millionaires and billionaires are allowed on.”