Friday, November 08, 2013

Moreland Update: Reflections on Election Day

Reflections on Election Day

Tuesday’s elections marked another successful run for New York City’s public financing system. Of the 312 candidates reviewed so far by the Campaign Finance Board more than three-quarters participated in the system, in which candidates accept expenditure limits in order to receive public matching of small donations. All of the major-party candidates for citywide office took part. Participation rates were likely higher in the more competitive primary elections, as has been the pattern in the past. This year, the public financing system was widely credited with reducing the influence of potentially corrupting levels of outside spending.

Nevertheless, independent spending continues to increase, and moneyed interests use outside spending or the threat of it to try to change policy in their favor. This year, a new Super PAC challenged New York’s aggregate contribution limits in court, in an attempt to increase the influence of the richest individuals over our elections. The group, which supported Joe Lhota’s bid for mayor, won a preliminary injunction that freed its donors from New York State’s limit of $150,000 per individual per year. Billionaire industrialist David Koch took the opportunity to give $200,000 to the group in late October. Koch and his wife had already each given $145,000 to a different pro-Lhota outside group.

Among the winners on Election Day were the supporters of the constitutional amendment legalizing gambling in the Empire State. As the New York Times put it, “The push to expand gambling was a textbook case of how well-financed interests can push Albany to embrace an industry, hiring an army of lobbyists and wooing Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers with millions of dollars in campaign contributions.” Since the casino licenses have yet to be awarded, political spending by the companies that want them is sure to continue.

These and other examples of Albany’s corrupt culture show the need for comprehensive campaign finance reform. A public financing system with a small-donor multiple match can empower candidates whose support depends on many average constituents. It can provide them the resources they need to respond to attacks by outside groups supported by a few wealthy interests. And it can free candidates from chasing the biggest donors, making it harder for certain industries to buy policies that suit them.

Latest News

Fixing the System
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera includes a system of small-donor matching funds like New York City’s as one of five reforms that “could both invigorate the electorate and encourage more responsive, and less extreme, political candidates.”

Cuomo and Skelos Meet; Is Peace Coming?
The Buffalo News reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos had a face-to-face meeting this week. Speculation about meeting topics included a deal on campaign finance reform, and whether that would mean the end of the Moreland Commission.
Over the next several weeks, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law will send regular updates to this list of Friends of Reform in New York State on efforts to secure comprehensive campaign finance reform centered on public financing of elections. These updates will be sent to good government advocates, allies of the Fair Elections New York campaign, legislative and opinion leaders, scholars and engaged students, reporters, and other advocates for reform. They will also be posted on the Brennan Center’s New York blog at

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