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 Eric Petry and Syed Zaidi.
Senate Coalition Disintegrates
As the legislative session came to a close last week, comprehensive campaign finance reform remained stalled. Opposition to reform was led by Republicans in the state Senate. This week, the breakaway Democrats who had formed a coalition with Republicans to control the Senate announced plans to abandon the arrangement. The leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Sen. Jeffrey Klein, said the IDC would form a coalition with Democrats next year. The change is expected to have implications for public campaign financing and other reforms left on the table at the end of this year’s session. Governor Cuomo has renewed his pledge to “work to elect people who support” the progressive agenda this election season. Whether the planned Democrat-IDC coalition has a majority in the chamber next year will depend on the outcome of the November elections.
Governor Cuomo Has Raised Millions through the LLC Loophole
In the three and a half years since his election in 2010, Governor Andrew Cuomo has collected more than $6.2 million in campaign funds—more any other New York politician—through a loophole that he previously pledged to close. Under state regulations, limited liability companies are considered individuals and permitted to contribute up to $150,000 per year to candidates and political parties. However, since there is no limit on the number of LLCs a corporation or an individual may create, it effectively allows unlimited campaign contributions. In its preliminary report released last December, the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption recommended closing the loophole due to “the appearance of a relationship between large donations and legislation that specifically benefits large donors.”
Outside Money Plays Big Role in New York Congressional Primaries
Federal Election Commission filings compiled by the Sunlight Foundation demonstrate that outside groups were actively spending money in New York’s Congressional primary races. In the 21st Congressional District in upstate New York, outside groups came to the rescue of former Bush administration aide Elise Stefanik, in her primary battle against investment fund manager Matt Doheny. American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-linked super PAC, spent almost $800,000 on the race criticizing Doheny as irresponsible and a “perennial loser.” Another group, New York 2014, was formed just last month and, despite its nondescript name, all of its $370,000 in expenditures were in support of Stefanik. New York 2014 is funded by five rich out-of-district contributors, all with key roles at financial firms. The biggest donor to New York 2014 is Kenneth Griffin, founder and CEO of hedge fund Citadel LLC, who also recently made the largest single contribution in the history of the state of Illinois. Stefanik emerged as the victor in this week’s primary, and will go on to face Democrat Aaron Woolf in November. Outside groups were also active in the 1st Congressional district Republican primary race between Lee Zeldin and George Demos, where independent expenditures hit $1.8 million. Such groups are likely to be a factor in the upcoming general election races as well.
Green Party Candidate to Challenge Cuomo, Astorino
Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s gubernatorial nominee, will compete against Gov. Cuomo and Republican nominee Rob Astorino in the general election. Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, meanwhile, is collecting signatures to run against Cuomo in the Democratic primary. She has criticized the governor over his failure to pass campaign finance reform to address public corruption. An April Siena poll showed that a left-leaning challenger to Cuomo from the Working Families Party would garner 24 percent of the vote and cut Cuomo’s lead by 19 percent. Although the WFP has already endorsed Cuomo, Hawkins said that he is the “ticket that 24 % is looking for.” The most recent Siena poll however illustrated that Hawkins would capture only 4 percent of the vote in a race with Cuomo and Astorino. Nonetheless, Hawkins remains optimistic: “People have gone through some different things and they’ve basically seen they’ve got to be independent and speak for themselves, instead of attach themselves to the latest liberal Democratic hope,” he stated.