Friday, June 06, 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. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

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


Working Families Party Nominates Cuomo for Governor
At the Working Families Party’s convention this weekend, the progressive third party nominated Governor Andrew Cuomo, giving him its ballot line in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Cuomo captured 58 percent of the state committee’s weighted vote, while Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout—who has challenged Cuomo for his failure to address legislative corruption—received 41 percent. In a video message, the governor informed WFP delegates that he is firmly committed to passing progressive priorities including public financing of elections, a higher minimum wage, the Dream Act, and women’s equality initiatives. “To make this agenda a reality, we must change the leadership of the Senate,” he stated. For the first time, Cuomo openly said that he would oppose the Senate Independent Democratic Conference: “Either they announce that they agree to come back to the Democratic Party, or they will face primaries this year from our unified Democratic coalition.” Teachout is still considering contesting Cuomo in the Democratic primary. She would need 15,000 signatures on nominating petitions by July 9th to get onto the ballot.  

Working Families Party Endorses Challengers to Independent Democratic Conference
In addition to Governor Cuomo, the Working Families Party (WFP) endorsed candidates challenging two members of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The IDC –composed of five breakaway Democrats—rules the state senate in a coalition with the Republicans. Former New York State Attorney General Oliver Koppell, running against IDC head and Senate Majority Co-leader Jeffrey Klein, garnered the endorsement of the WFP for the 34th district in the Bronx. However a number of unions in the party, including the Hotel Trades Council, the United Federation of Teachers and the Mason Tenders, backed Klein instead. Koppell has said that legislative priorities, such as public financing of elections and the Dream Act, would have passed if the Democrats controlled the chamber instead of the IDC. A spokeswoman for the IDC said that Senator Klein “is a lifelong Democrat who is not walking away from his strong record of core Democratic legislative accomplishments and looks forward to a healthy debate of ideas…in the coming election.” In the 11th district, located in Queens, the WFP endorsed former New York City Comptroller John Liu over the current incumbent, IDC Senator Tony Avella.

Buffalo News: Without Aggregate Contribution Limits, Reform Even More Critical
In an editorial on Monday, the Buffalo News criticized the New York State Board of Election’s decision to not enforce the state’s $150,000 aggregate contribution limit, saying it sends a clear message that the system is “broken.” The announcement from the state board came following two recent court decisions concerning aggregate contribution limits. The upstate newspaper argued that the continual erosion of campaign finance regulations would cede even more power to wealthy special interests that wish “to buy influence across the state.” The dominance of big money in state politics will generate greater opportunities for legislative malfeasance, exacerbating New York’s culture of corruption. The editorial concluded that reform is now critical, starting with lowering the sky-high individual contribution limits.  

New York Elected Officials Spent Campaign Funds on Legal Defense
According to the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), New York State elected officials have spent more than $7 million in legal fees using their campaign funds in the past 10 years. Unfortunately, many lawmakers in Albany have faced a plethora of legal problems related to corruption or other unethical or illegal conduct in recent years. Under state law, politicians are not prohibited from using their campaign funds for legal defense. Former state Senator Carl Kruger, for example, faced one of the costliest legal battles, and spent $1.7 million from his war chest on defense attorneys. In 2012, he was sentenced to prison for corruption related to bribes. Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG’s research coordinator, said that legislators and Governor Cuomo have “made promises they are going to fix the [campaign finance] system…and this is something we strongly encourage them to include.”

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