Friday, December 20, 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.


Moreland Commission Investigations Should Continue
In a City and State opinion piece, Morgan Pehme, editor-in-chief of the publication, praised the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption for a thorough assessment of Albany’s troublesome campaign finance culture. He cautioned that the investigations should not pause during the new legislative session starting in January, arguing that this is the best time to examine some of the questionable practices and ensure transparency for citizens while legislation is being introduced. “Serious investigations take time. The Commission’s charge is not just to expose activity that is illegal but also to bring to light that which is currently permissible but probably shouldn’t be,” Pehme wrote.

Journal News Compares Commissions’ Recommendations, Decades Apart
Recent Journal News articles and blogs have compared the recommendations of former and present state commissions examining campaign finance laws in New York. The present Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this July following a series of legislative corruption scandals. The Feerick Commission, also a Moreland Act panel, was initiated by Gov. Mario Cuomo in the late 1980s. The findings and recommendations of the two commissions are strikingly similar: both encourage the adoption of public financing to foster greater civic participation, and both critique high campaign contribution limits and loopholes and the lackadaisical enforcement of state campaign finance laws by the Board of Elections. Up to 90 percent of the complaints the board has received since 2008 have not been investigated. This echoes the Feerick Commission’s finding from 1990, when it stated that the Board of Elections is under-resourced and its “makeup of two members from each major political party inevitably results in either logrolling or frequent deadlocks.” Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission, this December, recommended that election law enforcers “be insulated from partisan control, and should be given the autonomy and authority to aggressively pursue violations and enforce our laws."


Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Higher Contribution Limits
This week, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that higher campaign contribution limits passed by the legislature this year do not violate the state’s constitution. The Citizens Clean Election Commission, one of the groups challenging the higher contributions in court, argued that the new limits amended the public funding system approved by voters in 1998.  Arizona’s Voter Protection Act requires changes to voter-backed initiatives to be approved by a statewide vote or with three-quarters of the legislature’s support. The higher limits did not pass with either.  The Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling overturns the October Court of Appeals decision that the increased limits violated the Voter Protection Act, and lifts the injunction barring the law’s enactment. The court announced it will release a formal opinion explaining its reasoning later.

Appellate Court Bars New Mexico from Limiting PAC Contributions
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that New Mexico cannot limit contributions to political action committees (PACs) to be used for independent expenditures. New Mexico’s legislature passed the contribution caps concerned in 2009, to take effect after the 2010 election. The caps barred political parties and PACs from accepting or making contributions greater than $5,000 in a primary or general election. The legal challenge, filed by the state Republican party and several GOP state lawmakers, objected to the limits that applied to parties and PACs making independent expenditures as a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.  The lawsuit did not challenge limits on direct contributions to candidates.  This week’s appellate court decision upholds the lower court’s injunction prohibiting the limits from taking effect. The court reasoned that the result was required by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

New Obama Senior Advisor Brings Strong Corporate Connections
John D. Podesta is joining the White House as a senior advisor to President Obama. Podesta has strong Democratic Party credentials, serving as President Clinton’s chief of staff through the impeachment proceedings as well as on the Clinton cabinet. However, public attention is focusing on the corporate, as well as the political, associations Podesta will bring to the White House. Podesta founded the Center for American Progress, a think tank with major corporate donors including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Google, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and drug maker Eli Lilly. Separate from his work at the Center, Podesta has also served on the boards of two clean energy companies and Gryphon Technologies, a contractor that has worked for the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security.  Because of concerns over his clean energy company associations, the White House has announced that Podesta will not work directly on the Keystone Pipeline XL issue, which he has previously publically opposed.

Outside Spending Surges in Senate Re-election Races
With the 2014 Senate midterm elections a little less than a year away, outside spending has already passed the $2 million mark in four Senate races.  North Carolina currently leads in outside spending on early campaign ads. Democratic Senator Kay Hagan does not yet have a Republican challenger to her bid for re-election, but Republican outside groups have already spent $5.7 million on ads criticizing her support for President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Democratic-leaning outside groups have spent $2.6 million on early ads. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is facing re-election, and with outside spending is surging in support of McConnell and both Republican and Democratic challengers. The re-election races of Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) have also passed the $2 million mark in outside spending. The relatively inexpensive media markets in these states make it more financially possible for outside groups to launch extended ad campaigns.

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