Friday, April 11, 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.


Governor Could Have Responded to McCutcheon Decision with Reform
In a Journal News op-ed, Lawrence Norden and Frederick A.O Schwarz of the Brennan Center, wrote that Governor Cuomo’s refusal to pass meaningful reform in the state budget was especially disheartening in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Despite his promise to pass comprehensive public financing reform for all state elections, the governor approved a narrow and ineffective pilot program for the Comptroller’s office only. This “reform” package did nothing to reduce campaign contribution limits or close loopholes that disproportionately benefit incumbents. Last year, the Moreland Commission found New York’s campaign finance laws to be wholly inadequate. McCutcheon has the potential to exacerbate the problem if New York’s aggregate limits are struck down—which would allow a single individual to donate over $2.4 million to political candidates and committees in an election cycle. In this environment, another corruption scandal is inevitable.

Campaign Finance Laws Empower Donor Class Over Middle Class
In conjunction with the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down aggregate contribution limits, the lack of real reform in the New York State budget empowers the 1 percent, wrote Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post. The donor class now has greater opportunities to buy access to our elected officials. “We live in a world where…public policy is auctioned off to the highest bidder,” vanden Heuvel said. The systematic dismantling of campaign finance laws explains why we’ve failed to make progress on other issues—everything “from lower taxes to deregulation.” Nevertheless, there are ways that citizens can fight back against the avalanche of big money in politics, ranging from federal legislation to a constitutional amendment, all outlined in the article.  

Poughkeepsie Journal: Moreland Commission Should Not Be Shutdown
Last week, the Poughkeepsie Journal criticized Governor Cuomo’s decision to dismantle the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, stating that its “job is far from done.” With more than 30 state lawmakers who have been embroiled in legal or ethical dilemmas since 2000, the state needs an independent watchdog with subpoena powers to not only examine individual instances of wrongdoing, but also to propose solutions to systemic problems of corruption that plague New York. In its 2013 report, the commission outlined examples of illegal and unethical behavior by campaign contributors and lawmakers looking for big checks. However, it did not identify the perpetrators by name. It was expecting to deliver another report by the end of this year and refer the names to law enforcement. “At bare minimum, the state must let the panel complete these tasks.” The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, has taken possession of the commission’s files and indicated that his office will investigate any evidence of corruption.

“Reform” Deliberately Designed to Fail
In City & State, Morgan Pehme called out New York State political leaders—the “four men in the room”—for creating a façade of good government reform, while perpetuating a status quo which greatly benefits incumbents. The budget adopted last week constructed a new pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race. The only problem; it was “concocted deliberately” so that it would fail. The notoriously dysfunctional state board of elections was allocated the responsibility for managing this program. It had to be prepared to implement the law in time for the approaching 2014 elections. Pehme explained that the failure of public financing would allow incumbents to claim that “this experiment should never” be attempted again. It is no surprise that Comptroller DiNapoli, a stern supporter of public financing, choose to opt-out of the ill-crafted proposal. Legislators now need to go back to the drawing board to create a comprehensive reform proposal that includes public financing for all state races and adequate funds for enforcement.

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