Monday, February 10, 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.


New York Times Editorial: Pass Public Financing to Reform Albany
A New York Times editorial last week urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to press forward on campaign finance reform. Pointing to last year’s scandals as an illustration of the consequences of New York’s lax campaign finance laws, the Times insisted that this is the right time for the legislature to address the issue. While commending Governor Cuomo for including reform in his 2014-15 budget, the editorial argued that “he should be ready to campaign against any lawmaker, Democrat or Republican, who resists these crucial reforms.” The governor’s own fundraising practices demonstrate the problems inherent in the current system. Of the $33.3 million Cuomo has raised thus far, only 0.69 percent is from contributors donating less than $1,000 in total. This is in stark contrast to the pattern under New York City’s public funding system, which explains why the editorial referred to public funding of election campaigns as the “most important reform.”

New York City Elections Show Power of Small Donors
The last set of disclosure statements from the 2013 New York City election have been filed. A preliminary analysis of the data by the Campaign Finance Board demonstrates that public financing works well for New York City residents. The city provides a $6-to-$1 match for the first $175 of a contribution made by City residents. This turns a $100 donation into $700, ensuring that candidates focus on their constituents, not just special interests. In the 2013 election cycle, two-thirds of all contributions were from individual city residents. For City Council elections, 86.9 percent of contributions came from individuals donating $250 or less. And for city-wide offices, 64.2 percent of the contributions were from individuals donating $250 or less.  

Lane and Waldman in Newsday: New York Can Continue Theodore Roosevelt’s Reform Legacy
In a Newsday op-ed, Eric Lane, dean and professor at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, and Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, urged state legislators to pass Governor Cuomo’s campaign finance reform proposal. Back at the start of the 20th century, similar corruption scandals plagued Albany. Witnessing the culture of corruption in both Albany and Washington first hand, President and former New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt proposed bold reforms to the nation’s campaign finance laws. In a 1907 speech to Congress he called for public financing of elections to tame the power of special interests. Today Albany faces the same problem, and this time we have seen the solution work for decades. In New York City, matching small donations with public funds has increased competition and participation from small donors, as well as the socioeconomic diversity of campaign contributors. “In Roosevelt’s time, special interests fought hard to maintain the status quo, and the same is happening today. But Cuomo’s reforms could help permanently change how we finance campaigns. It’s an opportunity Cuomo and state lawmakers can’t afford to miss,” the op-ed stated.

Video Evidence Presented in Assemblyman Boyland’s Corruption Trail
Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. (D-Brooklyn) is currently being tried in federal court, and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted on the bribery charges. A video played at the trial shows his father acting as an intermediary in the bribery scandal that has engulfed the legislator. An undercover agent posing as a businessman seeking permits for a carnival testified that the assemblyman’s father, William Boyland Sr., accepted a $3,000 payoff in exchange for a promise of assistance with the permit approval process. Boyland Sr. can be heard in the video saying “Alright, just legally, you know, you know, this is against the law, right?" Later Boyland Sr. deposited the check in Assemblyman Boyland Jr.’s reelection campaign account. Assemblyman Boyland Jr.’s staff later submitted to state officials a letter seeking approval for the carnival. Boyland Jr. has said that he never provided any assistance to the undercover agents trying to bribe him.

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