Friday, May 25, 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 Robert Friedman.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtags #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.

New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. Numerous outlets reported that Citizen Action and other groups organized a grassroots door-to-door communication effort last Saturday, speaking with voters in the districts of eight state senators who have been slow to embrace new legislation to establish public financing and comprehensive campaign finance reform in New York State.  The groups vowed to make campaign finance reform a key issue in the 2013 state-wide elections if Albany does not enact a bill in the current legislative session.

2. On the eve of the door-to-door effort to communicate to voters the importance of campaign finance reform, Citizen Action’s Jesse Laymon urged New Yorkers to continue to press for passage of a bill, which would have the state match contributions under $250 at a six-to-one ratio, before the end of this year’s legislative session.  In an interview on YNN, Laymon stated that the support of only half a dozen more state senators is needed to make reform legislation a reality.

3. The Democrat and Chronicle reports on Governor Cuomo’s role in the campaign finance reform effort, as well as his current fundraising activities.  Citizens’ groups and legislators are urging Cuomo to continue to follow up on his publicly expressed distaste for the status quo, his success in fundraising under the current laws notwithstanding.  “He’s playing by the present rules, and he’s doing well under these rules,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice.  “And he’s saying these rules are bad for New York, and we should change these rules.”

National Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. Is the U.S. Supreme Court ready to reconsider Citizens United?  The Montana Supreme Court recently upheld a state ban on corporate political spending, even though plaintiffs argued the ban is unconstitutional under Citizens United.  The Montana ruling was then stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is now deciding whether to put the case on for a full public hearing. Senators John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse formed a bipartisan alliance and submitted a friend of the court brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold Montana’s ban on corporate spending.  The McCain-Whitehouse brief, which echoes many of the points made in the Brennan Center’s brief, notes the considerable problems stemming from unlimited corporate expenditures: “Evidence from the 2010 and 2012 electoral cycles has demonstrated that so-called independent expenditures create a strong potential for corruption and the appearance thereof. . . . The news confirms, daily, that existing campaign finance rules purporting to provide for ‘independence’ and ‘disclosure’ in fact provide neither.”  Over ten groups have filed a friend of the court brief so far, including one filed in support of the Montana law by twenty-two states and the District of Columbia.

2. Proponents of reform are taking strong and creative steps to combat the specter surrounding corporate expenditures.  Already this year, investors have filed resolutions with over 100 companies that, if adopted, would require disclosure of funds used for political advocacy, according to a Chicago Tribune article.  Pressure from investors has also led 43 companies to voluntarily release some information.  At the federal level, advocacy groups have petitioned the Securities Exchange Commission to promulgate a rule that mandates disclosures, and the potential regulations have generated more than 285,000 comments. 

3. Wasteful government contracts continue to be tied to lobbying and campaign contributions.  The New York Times reports that Representative Harold Rogers inserted a provision into a spending bill that secured contracts for a helicopter-parts manufacturer that produces parts at eight times the price of competitors.  Unsurprisingly, the manufacturer, Phoenix Products, has spent $600,000 on lobbying since 2005, and its owners are frequent contributors to Representative Rogers’s political committee.

4. Super PACs provide a vehicle for unlimited spending without political accountability, and political operatives are reveling in the opportunities these new campaigning weapons create, according to an article in The New York Times.  Highlighting how super PACs enable a small group of donors to hold disproportionate influence, one strategist noted that a super PAC supporting former presidential candidate John Huntsman raised more money with only 20 to 30 donors than Huntsman’s own campaign was able to raise altogether.

5. While Citizens United opened the door for corporations and unions to contribute unlimited funds to support a candidate, it has largely been wealthy individuals that have walked through.  Publicity concerns may make public corporations hesitant to engage in partisan fights, but the prospect has yet to deter individuals from spending massive amounts of money to ensure the election of their preferred candidates, Roll Call reports.  From North Carolina to Colorado, aspiring politicians thought to lack a substantial chance at securing a victory have won primaries thanks, in large part, to the backing of a single, free-spending supporter.

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