Friday, June 08, 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. Although the clock on this legislative session is winding down, reform advocates remain confident that New York’s legislators will enact new campaign finance rules in the near future. “The question about campaign finance reform and public funding of elections is whether it will be adopted soon or sooner,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause. While government officials are hesitant to say that anything will pass before the end of the current session, multiple reform bills have been introduced.  Grassroots activists continue to pressure reluctant legislators to support reform, and civic leaders such as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch are pushing for change.

2. The campaign finance reform movement heard from some important labor allies this week. Numerous unions voiced their support for bringing reform to New York and urged Albany to enact the proposed public financing bill, which will match small donations at a six-to-one ratio. “It is imperative that we address this issue during the 2012 legislative session,” wrote New York State United Teachers in its memorandum of support.

3. New York has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to enhancing its disclosure rules. A new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition gives the Empire State a score of 10 out of 100. This makes New York second to last among the fifty states, just ahead of North Dakota. The Coalition recommends both stronger enforcement of current state disclosure rules and adoption of important reforms, including mandating the disclosure of “electioneering communications” (spending that is intended to influence an election but that steers clear of so-called “magic words” such as “vote for” or “vote against”) and requiring political advertising to include information about the ad’s sponsor.

4. The New York Times reports that the Committee to Save New York, an advocacy group that has supported a number of Governor Cuomo’s policies, received significant donations from groups seeking to bring casinos to New York. The article questions the timing of the donations and Governor Cuomo’s public support for growing the gambling industry, while the Cuomo camp denies that the contributions in any way affected his policies. An editorial in The New York Times urges Governor Cuomo to ask his supporters to voluntarily disclose their contributions to the Committee, even though the state ethics board has yet to issue rules that would mandate such disclosure.

National Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. Calls for stricter enforcement of IRS rules grow as advocacy groups walk a fine line in their efforts to keep donors anonymous. An editorial in The New York Times argues that the IRS has been too lax in defining what it means for a 501(c)(4) non-profit to have a “primary” purpose of political activity, which would force such groups to give up their (c)(4) status and either pay taxes on donations or convert to a Super PAC and disclose donors.  A more stringent rule on how these groups can spend their money, the editorial contends, will benefit the public through either increased tax dollars or increased disclosure.

2. The potentially corruptive tie between campaign contributions and candidates was a theme this week. After a jury acquitted John Edwards of one count of receiving illegal contributions and the judge declared a mistrial on five other counts, speculation continues as to whether the government will retry the former presidential candidate. The Supreme Court declined to take an appeal of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, meaning that his conviction for illegally accepting $500,000 in campaign contributions intended as a bribe will stand. And now, the Justice Department has indicted a lobbyist for illegally funneling campaign contributions to Senator Harry Reid. Senator Reid has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

3. Record amounts of money were spent in the Wisconsin recall election, according to an article from The New York Times. In total, the election cost $63.5 million. The two candidates spent $32.2 million, and issue ad groups and independent expenditure groups spent the rest. Governor Scott, who outspent his opponent $29.3 million to $2.9 million, prevailed on Election Day.

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