Friday, May 16, 2014

Money in New York Politics

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.


Gov. Cuomo Discusses Passing Reform This Session with Activists
Under mounting pressure from good-government groups, unions and the Working Families Party, Governor Andrew Cuomo met with advocates of campaign finance reform to discuss passing publicly financed elections before the end of the state legislative session in June. Cuomo said he wants his eulogy to list three accomplishments: marriage equality, gun control and public financing. The Working Families Party in particular has made the subject a legislative priority, and progress on the issue is likely to be a consideration as the party decides whether to endorse Cuomo for his fall re-election campaign. The party will nominate its candidate for governor on May 31st.  Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said he was optimistic about prospects of passage. “Our discussions with the governor and Senator Klein have moved from the need to get campaign finance reform, to specifically how it can get done,” he stated. Assembly Democrats, and both wings of the Democrats in the state senate, already support the much-needed changes. State senate Republicans, who rule the chamber in a coalition with breakaway Democrats, have been the greatest obstacle to reform. However, Republican Senate Co-leader Dean Skelos has stated that he is open to certain mechanisms of publicly funding campaigns such as a voluntary tax check-off. The pilot public financing program for the state comptroller race, which legislative leaders—including Republicans—and Governor Cuomo authorized in the 2014-15 budget, is supported by the state’s abandoned property fund.

Republican State Comptroller Nominee to Accept Public Financing
At the New York State Republican Party convention on Wednesday, delegates unanimously nominated Robert Antonacci to run for state comptroller come November. Antonacci has been Onondaga County’s comptroller since 2007. He will face incumbent Democratic Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in the fall. Antonacci has enthusiastically indicated that he will be participating in New York’s trial public financing program, which allows comptroller candidates to receive money from the state’s abandoned property fund to match small donations. "My family can't self-finance a statewide elected race. But for the campaign finance pilot program, I would not be in the race," he stated. In what has amounted to an ironic situation, Antonacci, whose party has traditionally opposed public financing, will be opting into the system, while DiNapoli—citing problems with the program’s design—will not be participating. Last month, after criticizing public financing, New York GOP Party Chairman Ed Cox admitted that the pilot program would broaden “the field on the Republican side for potential comptroller candidates.”

U.S. Rep. Grimm’s Ex-Girlfriend Pleads Not Guilty to Violating Campaign Laws
U.S Representative Michael Grimm’s (R-NY 11) former girlfriend pleaded not guilty to charges of violating campaign finance laws last week. Federal prosecutors charge that Diana Durand reimbursed straw donors that gave money to Grimm’s 2010 Congressional campaign. Three donors were allegedly provided with a total of $10,600 for their contributions by Durand. She faces a maximum of eight years in prison if convicted on all charges. Durand’s attorney defended his client, stating that she has a poor understanding of campaign finance laws and did not intentionally commit the crime. An investigation into Grimm’s 2010 campaign is still ongoing. Unrelated to his campaign, Grimm has been recently indicted for tax evasion, perjury, and hiring undocumented workers, during his tenure as the co-owner of a health food restaurant in the Upper East Side. He has vowed to stay in Congress, and continue his 2014 reelection campaign. 

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