Friday, March 21, 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 Syed Zaidi. 

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


New York Times: NY Elected Officials Must Pass Reform before April 1
A New York Times editorial last Thursday pressed Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to pass public financing reform in the 2014-15 state budget by April 1. Arguing that reform would increase the slate of candidates that run for office, the Times stated that this prospect is “the reason many in Albany have tried to stop public financing.” Although Republicans in the Senate have voiced their staunch opposition to reform and pushed an exaggerated cost estimate, it is important to note that millions are spent each year on tax breaks for special interests—the cost of public financing is minute by comparison. In the end, the editorial concluded that despite the plethora of issues in the budget, Governor Cuomo can “earn the most credit at home and nationally if he finally makes campaign finance reform and public financing a workable reality.”

Public Financing Is a Path to Greater Diversity in Politics
An op-ed in the Amsterdam News this week described the benefits of public financing in New York State. Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP, and DeNora Getachew, campaign manager and legislative counsel at the Brennan Center, explained how public financing would make our elected officials more accountable to the communities they represent. As the Brennan Center has shown, New York City’s public financing system has led to greater participation by a more diverse set of donors and helped bring in several “firsts”—the first African American mayor and the first Dominican-American, the first Asian-American, and the first Asian-American woman in the City Council. Dukes and Getachew called on the four men who control budget negotiations “to elevate the diverse voices of thousands of New Yorkers.”

Democrat & Chronicle: Final Push Needed on Campaign Finance Reform
On Friday, the Democrat & Chronicle argued that Governor Cuomo must fulfill his promise to overhaul New York State’s campaign finance laws. Calling New York City’s public financing system a “successful” model to replicate statewide, the newspaper argued that matching small donations from constituents with public funds would open “the door to more potential candidates (particularly those who aren’t wealthy).” The editorial sternly emphasized that Governor Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Silver should not allow campaign finance reform to be become a bargaining chip in the final budget negotiations as it would “bring long-sought fairness and oversight to Albany” once passed.

Brune and Weiss: Albany’s Pay-to-Play System Is Toxic for New York’s Natural Environment
In a Poughkeepsie Journal op-ed last Thursday, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Marc Weiss, board member of the Sierra Club Foundation and a member of New York Leadership for Accountable Government, wrote that Albany’s pay-to-play political culture has disastrous consequences on our state’s environment. Currently, contribution limits for individuals and corporations in New York State are among the highest out of all states that bother to restrict them. Unfortunately, this allows special interests to have undue influence over the policy process as elected officials are forced to spend their valuable time pleading mega-donors for contributions instead of fighting for their constituents. Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal could change this reality. It would lower contribution limits across the board and institute a system of matching small donations with public funds to amplify the voices of everyday New Yorkers. With reform, “We could prioritize the purity of our drinking water over campaign contributions from oil companies…We could cancel tax breaks for companies that pollute our waterways and offer them to environmentally responsible landowners,” Brune and Weiss stated.

Vendor for Dark Money Group Files Response to Anti-corruption Commission’s Subpoena
A vendor for a Common Sense Principles, a Virginia 501(c)(4) group that has reportedly spent millions on New York elections, filed documents in court last week arguing that the Moreland Commission does not have the authority to seek donor information from the ‘dark money’ group. Earlier, the Moreland Commission subpoenaed the vendor, Strategic Advantage International, after it was unable to find contact information for Common Sense Principles. The commission argued that analyzing the organization’s donors and activities would allow it to examine the state’s corruption and campaign finance laws. Common Sense Principles sent mailers in the 2012 elections attacking three Democratic state senate candidates. Its disclosure report showed only a single donor, which turned out to be a shell entity. In its response to the subpoena, Strategic Advantage International said that it has complied with the applicable laws. The group further claimed that “If the names of Common Sense’s donors were to be publicized, the media scrutiny of those donors would surely be intense – and the prevalent media view of the organization is not favorable.”

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