Friday, January 31, 2014

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.


Senator Warren Prods New York to Pass Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform
Last week, at St. Peter’s Church in New York City, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave rousing speeches touching on campaign finance reform. Senator Warren explained the connection between the country’s broken campaign finance laws and growing income inequality. “We’ve got a government that works all too well for the rich and the powerful, and all too little for everyone else,” Warren said. She insisted that campaign finance reform should be a top priority for New York State. “Your governor has said, ‘Let’s attack money in politics head-on. Let’s go for campaign finance reform,’” Warren stated. “All I can say is go, go, go, GO!” Attorney General Schneiderman praised Governor Andrew Cuomo for including a public financing proposal in the budget. “The fact that the [public campaign finance] coalition was powerful enough to get the language included in the budget was a huge breakthrough,” Schneiderman said. However, he emphasized that constituents must keep the pressure on the governor and the legislature in the coming months in order to get it passed.

Public Financing Can Restore Public’s Trust in Elected Officials
In the Times-Union last Thursday, NY LEAD member and chairwoman of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, Cynthia DiBartolo, and executive director of Citizen Action, Karen Scharff, authored an op-ed urging New Yorkers to help make campaign finance reform a reality in the state. Now that Governor Andrew Cuomo has included comprehensive election reform in his executive budget, the only obstacle that remains is the leadership in the Senate. Senate Co-leader Dean Skelos has voiced his opposition to the reform because it would allow candidates to qualify for public matching funds if they meet certain qualifying criteria. However, another prominent Republican, Onondaga county district attorney Bill Fitzpatrick—who is investigating public corruption in the state as the co-chair of the Moreland Commission—thinks public financing would be an excellent use of public money, leading to long-term savings for taxpayers. Despite representing very different organizations, both authors agreed that public financing can help “restore the public’s trust that our elected officials are really listening to New Yorkers.”

Democrat and Chronicle: Cuomo Must Continue Reform’s Momentum
A Democrat and Chronicle editorial on Monday pressed Governor Cuomo to continue the push for campaign finance reform through the remainder of the session. While praising Cuomo for including the proposal in his executive budget, the editorial insisted that the effort requires “far more attention.” Recent polls demonstrate that the vast majority of New Yorkers favor the proposal. A December report by the state’s anti-corruption commission highlighted the problems with the current system: poor oversight, high contribution limits, and extensive loopholes for major donors. It is no surprise that more than half a dozen state lawmakers were engulfed in scandals last legislative session. “Ultimately, if he’s serious on this front, the governor will need to prove it by making additional ethics reforms a priority this year,” the editorial concluded.

Rep. Grimm’s Actions Call Attention to Campaign Finance Scandal
U.S. Representative Michael Grimm’s (R-NY) recent on-camera altercation with a reporter has brought questions regarding his campaign finances to the forefront of public scrutiny. In an interview following President Obama’s State of the Union address, Grimm threatened to throw a reporter off the Capitol balcony for asking questions about a campaign finance scandal. The reporter was referring to the arrest of Grimm’s fundraiser Diana Durand by the FBI for allegedly contributing more than $10,000 to Grimm’s 2010 campaign via straw donors. In an earlier scandal in 2012, the New York Times reported that Grimm asked for campaign donations from undocumented immigrants. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has requested that the Office of Congressional Ethics investigate whether Grimm’s behavior with the reporter violates House Rules. In 2012, CREW singled out Grimm as one of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress.


Republican Governors Association Raises Record Funds for 2014
The Republican Governors Association (RGA) announced this week that it raised $50 million in 2013 in preparation for the 2014 election cycle. Thirty-six states have gubernatorial races coming up this fall, the most in any one year since 2009 – and last year’s fundraising total was 66 percent higher than 2009’s.  The RGA spent $35 million on television ads and PAC donations in 2012, making it the top outside spender at the state level, and, in 2010, it spent more than the five largest conservative super PACs and 501(c) groups combined. A Mother Jones analysis of the RGA’s election spending strategies shows the RGA using a network of state level PACs to shuffle money through different states, which has the potential to obscure the identity of its donors and circumvent local campaign finance laws.    

Conservative Author, Director Indicted for Alleged Illegal Campaign Contributions
Dinesh D’Souza, an author and documentary director known for his criticisms of President Obama, was indicted last Thursday on charges of making illegal campaign contributions.  The indictment alleges that D’Souza directed $20,000 in campaign contributions to a 2012 Senate candidate, violating the Fair Election Campaign Act’s limitations on an individual’s contribution to any one candidate to $2,500 during the primary and general campaign.  D’Souza allegedly funneled the contributions through “straw donors,” telling associates to make campaign contributions that he later reimbursed. Sen. Ted Cruz (R – Tex.) and others have claimed that the indictment is political retribution for D’Souza’s criticism of Obama.

More Montana Candidates Accused of Campaign Violations in 2010 Elections
The Montana state commissioner of political practices, Jonathan Motl, has ruled that two 2010 legislative candidates, Joel Boniek and Terry Bannon, illegally coordinated attack ads with an outside spending group and took unreported in-kind donations of costs associated with producing and distributing mailings. Motl previously issued findings against three other candidates for campaign violations in 2010, and says that additional candidates will be implicated in forthcoming rulings. All rulings involve illegal contributions from and candidate coordination with a non-profit corporation, Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) and its affiliated direct mail services.  WTP claimed to be an educational group, but a state judge ruled last year that it acted as a political committee and must therefore disclose its donors and spending. A former attorney for the group claims that the group is no longer active, and WTP has not responded to any of Motl’s rulings. According to Motl, “It’s the candidates who are going to bear the primary social debt for these actions. I’m not certain the non-candidate actors are going to be around.”

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