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.
Vandewalker: Public Financing “Pilot” Program Designed to Implode
Writing in Newsday, Ian Vandewalker, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, praised New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for opting out of the state’s poorly crafted public financing “pilot” program. Despite calls by the public and several good government groups to comprehensively reform New York’s campaign finance laws, Governor Cuomo and the legislative leadership failed to deliver a real public financing system, instead agreeing upon an experiment limited to the 2014 comptroller elections. The state’s notoriously dysfunctional Board of Elections was empowered to implement the law for this year’s upcoming comptroller race. “[T]he system was designed to implode,” said Vandewalker. Furthermore, the bill, which was passed in a state budget agreement in early April, fails to lower sky-high campaign contribution limits, close campaign funding loopholes, or mandate greater disclosure of independent expenditures by special interest groups.
Watertown Daily Times: Comptroller Right to Opt-out of Public Financing “Pilot” Program
The Watertown Daily Times praised Comptroller DiNapoli for not participating in New York’s public financing pilot program for election campaigns. Although DiNapoli has been a strong supporter of reform, he said the limited measure introduced during last-minute budget negotiations in early April, was “designed to fail, by lawmakers who either do not really believe in, or don’t understand, public campaign financing at all.” If implemented, the half-hearted effort at reform, would have allowed opponents to point to the poorly crafted model as an example of the failure of public financing. It has unfortunately already provided an excuse for Governor Cuomo to disband the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. Calling the reform an inadequate response to the corrosive epidemic of corruption in the New York legislature, the Watertown Daily Times said that “lawmakers should go back to the drawing board.”
Federal Court Overturns New York’s Aggregate Contribution Cap Following McCutcheon v. FEC
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty issued a five-page ruling in New York Progress and Protection PAC v. Walsh, overturning New York State’s aggregate campaign contribution cap on donations to independent political groups. New York State restricts the total amount one person may contribute to all candidates and political action committees to $150,000 per election cycle. The case, brought by the New York Progress and Protection PAC—a conservative super PAC that sought to prop up Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota last year—argued that Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon had the right to contribute more than $150,000 to independent groups that supported Joe Lhota. Judge Crotty indicated that although he was obliged to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which recently invalidated federal aggregate contribution limits, he disagreed with the court’s analysis and lamented that regular citizens “are too often drowned out by the few who have great resources.” Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said that “It's not just the American public that is unhappy with these decisions but a lot of the judiciary below the [U.S] Supreme Court.”