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. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.
Gov. Cuomo May Oppose Senate Coalition if Public Financing Isn’t Passed
Governor Andrew Cuomo implied this week that he may oppose the ruling Senate coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats this coming fall if the chamber does not pass public campaign financing. “If public finance is not passed by the end of session, I will consider the [Senate] coalition a failure,” Cuomo said. “I would give my opinion to the people of the state,” he continued. The governor is facing pressure from the progressive Working Families Party, which might not endorse him on the party’s ballot line if he doesn’t achieve public financing reform. The party’s nominating convention is this Saturday. Independent Democratic Conference Senator Jeffrey Klein, who leads the chamber in a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans, has also insisted that reform must be enacted before the end of the session. He did not rule out aligning with the mainstream Democrats if it fails. Former state Attorney General Oliver Koppell will be challenging Klein in the June Democratic primary. Although negotiations were well underway with Republicans regarding public funding, the discussions were derailed following a warning from the Conservative Party. Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long told Skelos that his party would not endorse Senate Republican candidates if they vote for public financing reform.
NYS Board of Elections Will No Longer Enforce Aggregate Contribution Limit
Commissioners at the New York State Board of Elections decided last week that the board will no longer enforce the state’s $150,000 aggregate contribution limit. Under the state’s aggregate limit, a single individual could not contribute more than $150,000 combined per calendar year to all political campaigns, parties, and independent committees in New York. The board’s announcement came after recent court rulings concerning aggregate contribution limits. In early April, the U.S. Supreme Court declared federal aggregate contribution limits unconstitutional in McCutcheon v. FEC. Soon thereafter, a judgment by a federal district court nullified New York’s aggregate contribution limit of $150,000 as applied to independent expenditure groups, such as super PACs. The recent Board of Elections decision nullifies the aggregate contribution cap regarding donations to all candidates, parties, and political action committees, in addition to independent expenditure groups.
Albany Times-Union: Public Financing Reform More Urgent Without Aggregate Contribution Limits
Yesterday, the Albany Times-Union criticized the Board of Elections’ decision to not enforce the state’s aggregate contribution limit, saying it would allow a single wealthy donor to “pour millions of dollars into an election like this fall’s, when every state office will be up for grabs.” As it stands, New York’s individual contribution limits are already sky-high: $41,000 for statewide offices, $8,400 for the Senate and $4,100 for the Assembly—just for the general election. The decimation of aggregate contribution limits only exacerbates the problem. To make matters even worse, since Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) are subject to individual rather than corporate contribution limits under New York campaign finance regulations, one person could set up several different subsidiaries to funnel millions more into state campaigns. The editorial called on the legislature and Governor Cuomo to immediately take action by reducing the individual contribution limits for state offices, closing the LLC loophole, and instituting a system of public campaign financing so that elected officials can “pay attention to small donors,” rather than just courting millionaire contributors.
Buffalo Common Council Passes Resolution to Explore Small Donor Public Financing
The Buffalo Common Council passed a resolution this week to explore the possibility of adopting a public campaign financing system for local offices. Council Member Joseph Golombek, who is pushing the measure, commended his colleagues for being open to reform, especially considering that it would allow challengers to “actually…raise money,” when running against incumbents. According to the resolution, in 2011, incumbents in the Buffalo Common Council outraised opponents by a margin of 24-to-1. The resolution charged a committee, composed of citizens from local labor unions and advocacy organizations, with examining the possibilities of a municipal public financing system. Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York, praised the resolution, calling it an opportunity to “bring more small donors into elections,” and to broaden the “range of candidates” running for office.