Friday, April 13, 2012

Money in 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. “An unusual and well-heeled coalition, trying to tap public anger over the flood of money into politics, is pushing to enact a public financing system for elections in New York State,” reported the New York Times in a front-page article on the New York Leadership for Accountable Government (NY LEAD) coalition.  The Times listed prominent business leaders who support NY LEAD, including Barry Diller, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, restaurateur Danny Meyer and philanthropist Davis Rockefeller Sr. The Times reported that these leaders believe “New York, which they call a symbol of institutionalized corruption, could become a national model for the effort to free elections from the grip of big money.”

2. In preparation for the launch of the Fair Elections for New York campaign, a series of events in Albany and across the state are being held to call attention to state legislators’ reliance on out-of-district campaign contributions—further evidence of the need for a state public campaign finance system that relies on small donors and local money. A partial list of upcoming public events can be found here.

3. The Utica Observer-Dispatch is the latest paper to add its voice to the chorus calling for public financing of elections, noting in an editorial this week that lobbying interests and super-wealthy contributors have skewed the electoral process against the small donor. The paper cited recent reports by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) as evidence of the outsized influence that Albany lobbyists currently enjoy.

4. Speaking of lobbying, the Daily News reports that the NRA has given New York state legislators over $200,000 since 2003: more than the pro-gun group has spent on campaign contributions in any other state. Almost half of these donations came in 2010, when the New York legislature defeated a bill that would have required bullet casings to carry unique markings. Democrats, including Jose Peralta (D-Queens), who sponsored the “microstamping” bill in the Senate, argue that the gun lobby’s donations to the GOP are a key reason for the demise of the bill. On Friday, the Daily News editorial board expressed its strong support for the microstamping law, arguing that senate Republicans should “stop kowtowing to the NRA.”

5. Former governor George Pataki announced this week that he has formed a super PAC, “Tipping Point,” intended to raise money to protect incumbent Republicans in the state legislature and unseat vulnerable Democrats. Pataki declared in an interview that he hopes the super PAC will raise an amount “in the high seven figures. If things go well, in the low eight.”

6. The Times Union editorial board writes this week that the three seats left open by retiring Assembly members will create new opportunities for more competitive races during the next election cycle. Although the decisions by assemblymen Ronald Canestrari (D-Cohies), Jack McEneny (D-Albany) and Bob Reilly (D-Colonie) means the loss of lawmakers who voiced strong support for campaign finance reform and other reform measures, the empty seats will ensure that no candidate in the next election arrives with the advantages of incumbency. “As for reform,” the Times Union writes, “we’ll be looking to those new, would-be incumbents to talk about what it might look like.”

7. The New York Post finds that NYC Comptroller John Liu has spent more in legal defense this year than he has raised in campaign contributions. The past year has seen Liu’s campaign weather a number of legal problems related to the Comptroller’s campaign finance reports, including an ongoing federal investigation, as well as the arrest of both his former treasurer Jenny Hou and a campaign fundraiser, Oliver Pan, who was indicted for his role in a straw bundling scheme.

National Campaign Finance News

1. The battle of the presidential super PACs has apparently begun, the New York Times reports, finding that the Republican super PAC “American Crossroads,” with a war chest of over $200 million, is planning to roll out a huge anti-Obama advertising blitz within the coming weeks and throughout the summer. That “American Crossroads” was co-founded by Republican political strategist Ed Gillespie—who recently signed on as a senior adviser to the Romney campaign—seems to only increase the evidence that the ostensibly “independent spending” of super PACs is anything but, and that voters can expect, as the Times reports, that “the general election campaign will be fought in large part by proxy, via the super PACs.”

2. The upcoming presidential contest “is going to be the most moneyed election in the history of the United States,” according to Bob Edgar of Common Cause. The campaign of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has stated that its goal is to raise $600 million this election season, while President Obama is forecast to raise even more than the $750 million his campaign took in four years ago. These fundraising goals, writes the Times, “make it virtually certain that neither party’s nominee will accept public funds for the general election or the spending limits that come with them.” 

3. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s eponymous super PAC (“Every Republican is Crucial, ” or “ERIC”) recently donated $25,000 to an anti-incumbent super PAC (“Campaign for Primary Accountability”). Cantor evidently intended the money to be used to support Representative Adam Kinzinger, who Cantor supported in a GOP primary against Representative Don Manzullo. This episode illustrates the outsize influence super PACs can have: GOP officials expressed “no doubt” that the $239,000 spent by the Campaign for Primary Accountability significantly contributed to Kinzinger’s victory.

4. The New York Times called on President Obama this week to “nominate [to the FEC] respected nonpartisan individuals dedicated to fair campaigning, and do it soon.” The President promised during his campaign to reform the Federal Election Commission, and he has the authority to name replacements for five sitting commissioners. The paper, however, acknowledged that Republicans would likely seek to block any nominations.

5. Jury selection has begun in the trial of former Senator John Edwards on charges of violating federal campaign finance law. Edwards was indicted last June on six counts of conspiracy, making false statements, and accepting illegal campaign contributions—including using over $900,000 in campaign donations to hide an affair with the filmmaker Rielle Hunter. Opening arguments in North Carolina federal district court are scheduled to begin later this month.

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