Saturday, November 23, 2013

Money in Politics This Week

The Brennan Center regularly compiles 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 Katherine Munyan and Syed Zaidi.

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


Philanthropic, Civic Groups Send Letter to Cuomo Urging Public Financing of Elections
Major philanthropic organizations and numerous environmental and civic groups sent a letter to Governor Cuomo on Tuesday urging him to support the public financing of state elections. “We are concerned that the views you and many other leaders have articulated will have a very hard time being translated into action unless systematic reform occurs in New York,” they stated. The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption is set to release a report of its findings and recommendations by December 1. It has been investigating state campaign finance and corruption laws and practices for the past six months. Among the signatories to Tuesday’s letter were the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the New York Foundation, and the Park Foundation. Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club also voiced their concerns in the letter.

DiNapoli and Stringer Join Tele-town Hall to Promote Comprehensive Reform
On Tuesday evening, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller-elect Scott Stringer, and a host of good-government groups held a “telephone town hall” to encourage citizens to demand small donor-financed elections in New York State. Addressing the crowd, DiNapoli said that mega checks to state politicians in Albany are “downing out the voices of everyday New Yorkers and it’s distorting our priorities.” Regarding concerns about the use of public funds for election campaigns, DiNapoli added that with a “$135 billion budget…spending $20 or $30 or even $40 million, that’s really a small investment with a tremendous payback.” Stringer informed the callers that matching small donations with public funds helped him challenge Eliot Spitzer, a self-financed opponent who spent over $10 million in the race. “[I]f it were not for the New York City campaign finance program the fact that we could continue to raise money — $50 or $100 or $200 at a time — knowing that money would be matched six to one giving us a shot at this race we would have been doomed from the start,” he stated. The reform groups urged the Moreland Commission to endorse comprehensive campaign finance reform, including public financing, as a solution to change the pay-to-play culture in Albany.

Lawmakers Reject Corruption Commission’s Request for Disclosure of Outside Income 
Lawyers representing the New York State Assembly and Senate jointly filed papers in Manhattan Supreme Court on Friday challenging the Moreland Commission’s subpoenas seeking information on outside income of legislators. Albany lawmakers work part of the year and are allowed to seek private employment. The commission asserts that disclosure is necessary for the sake of transparency and preventing potential conflicts of interest. The initial request, for legislators earning more than $20,000 in 2012 from private practice, was sent out in August. In response to a rebuke by lawyers representing the Senate Majority Leaders – a coalition of Republicans and four break-away Democrats – the commission subpoenaed the firms employing the lawmakers. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he is confident that the commission would prevail in court.


House Ethics Committee Drops Investigation into Taiwan Trips
After an investigation spanning more than a year, the House Ethics Committee dismissed charges against Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY) and Rep. Peter Ruskim (R-Ill.) last Friday. Both cases involved 2011 trips to Taiwan.  The travel’s legality depended on who organized and paid for the trips. A private university in Taiwan allegedly sponsored both trips, but an initial investigation by the independent House of Congressional Ethics found “substantial reason to believe” that the Taiwanese government paid, which would count as an impermissible gift from a foreign government under Congress’s rules. The Ethics Committee concluded there was insufficient evidence to continue the investigation.  Its report states that Owens “should have known” the trip was improper due to the continued involvement of the lobbying firm Park Strategies, which represented the Taiwanese government for $20,000 a month at the time of the travel. However, the Committee will not pursue charges against Owens since he paid back the cost of the trip.

House Passes Expansion of FEC Disclosure Fines
On Monday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would expand the Federal Election Commission’s administrative fine program. The administrative fine program started in the 1999-2000 election year, and established a schedule to fine candidates and campaigns for failing to file disclosure reports on time. The schedule determines fines automatically based on the length of the delay, the amount of data missing, and any prior history of violations. The program will end December 31st of this year without Congressional reauthorization. All nine members of the House Administration Committee sponsored H.R. 3487, introduced last Thursday and passed days later in a voice vote.  The bill extends the FEC’s administrative fine authority through the end of 2018, and expands it to cover more types of organizations, including groups making independent expenditures or electioneering communications. A supporter, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich), called the bill’s recommendations “a consistent and transparent process” for assessing filing violation fees.

Mega Donor Sheldon Adelson Turns to Online Gambling Ban

In 2012, billionaire Sheldon Adelson set a new record in political donations, giving $70 million to GOP candidates.  Adelson’s fortune made him a major political player, and he is now harnessing his political clout to protect its source:  the U.S. casino industry.  Adelson claims that internet gambling, recently legalized in several states, will endanger the industry’s business model and draw minors and the socially-vulnerable into gambling. He is currently hiring lobbyists and forming an advocacy group, Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, to make his case in Washington. Other casinos and lotteries, which see internet gambling as a potential revenue source, are ready to push back with lobbying efforts of their own to legalize regulated internet gambling. With Adelson openly committed to spending “whatever it takes” to stop internet gambling, the fight promises to be an expensive one on both federal and state levels. 

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