Friday, September 26, 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 Eric Petry.

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

NEW YORK

Small Donors Drove Teachout Campaign
Campaign finance disclosures filed with the New York Board of Elections this week show that Zephyr Teachout relied heavily on small donations – contributions of $100 or less – to finance her primary challenge against Governor Cuomo in the final weeks leading up to the election. Teachout also spent significantly less than Cuomo over the course of the campaign, but the money she did spend was relatively more effective. As The Washington Post reports, Teachout spent just $1.57 per vote, while Cuomo spent $42.64 for each vote he received. Although she did not win the primary election, Teachout’s surprisingly strong showing was noteworthy because it demonstrates that a candidate can reach voters while focusing on small donors.

Political Corruption Not Unique to Albany, FBI Director Says
On a recent visit to his agency’s Albany field office, FBI Director James Comey said he doesn’t believe that official misconduct is a bigger problem in New York than in other states. The fact that the FBI is doing “lots of public corruption work” in “lots of state capitals,” he continued, shows ethics issues are not unique to Albany. On the other hand, State Integrity Investigation’s corruption risk rankings place New York among the worst states in the country. Certain candidates, like Anndrea Starzak who is challenging Senator Thomas Libous for his seat in the 52nd Senate District, are making public corruption a centerpiece of their campaign platforms. Starzak has campaigned on ethics reform, noting that Albany has seen 26 State legislators leave office due to criminal or ethical misconduct since 1999.

TV Ad Spending Floods New York Airwaves
A study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Kantar Media/CMAG estimates that candidates running for statewide office have spent $14.5 million in political ads so far this year. The vast majority of that money has been spent on the race for governor, and most of it by Andrew Cuomo. Despite the high level of spending already recorded this cycle, Cuomo reportedly still has $26 million on hand for the general election against Rob Astorino, which is more than the total he spent during his entire 2010 campaign. If past elections are any indication of what is to come, ad spending will spike just before the election in November, meaning that New Yorkers can anticipate even more political ads than normal this fall on TV as well as radio.

Friday, September 12, 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 Eric Petry.

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

NEW YORK

Despite Federal Indictments, State Senators Win Primaries
Three New York Senators – Thomas Libous, John Sampson, and Malcolm Smith – entered the primary election on Tuesday facing federal criminal charges. Despite these legal troubles, both Libous and Sampson managed to win their races by safe margins – 28 points and 25 points respectively. Smith, on the other hand, lost by more than 50 percentage points in a landslide. While it remains to be seen whether Libous and Sampson will win in the general election this November, the primary this week showed that the presence of pending criminal charges can be is not necessarily a death knell for New York legislators seeking reelection. Gubernatorial hopeful Zephyr Teachout made Albany corruption a primary campaign issue and garnered 34 percent of the vote, the highest of any primary challenge to a sitting governor since primaries were instituted in 1970.

Consultants Avoid Regulation as Lobbyists
New York politics is starting to see the emergence of a new group of political actors: non-lobbyist strategic consultants. These consultants function like lobbyists in terms of access and ties to politicians, but they are able to avoid registering as official lobbyists. Their unofficial status allows them to avoid disclosure requirements, as long as they do not “attempt to influence politicians.” While this practice technically falls within the law, it raises suspicions because of the inherent influence strategic consultants can possess. Jennifer Cunningham, for example, worked closely with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Governor Andrew Cuomo throughout her political career, helping to get them both elected in 2010. After they were elected, Ms. Cunningham deregistered as a lobbyist to “avoid even the appearance of a conflict” of interest and resigned her job at a top lobbying firm. In the role as a strategic consultant, which she has kept since 2010, however, Cunningham has continued to represent clients before the state government, working closely with Schneiderman on a consistent basis. So close, in fact, that the Attorney General’s office initially refused an open records request to provide communications between Schneiderman and Cunningham, claiming that the conversations fell under an exception for “intra-agency records” between state employees.

JCOPE Holds First-Ever Hearings
For the first time in its 20-month history, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics held a hearing to discuss specific allegations of lobbying law violations. While JCOPE has engaged in enforcement actions previously, none had ever proceeded far enough to reach a hearing. The hearing officer, former federal Judge George Pratt, recommended that the three entities found in violation of disclosure requirements – Blackboard, Inc., Community Redemption Center, and YL Management, L.L.C. – each receive fines between $4,000 and $10,000. 

Friday, September 05, 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 Eric Petry.

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

NEW YORK

Small Donations Fueled ‘Wide-Open’ Elections Last Year
A report by the New York City Campaign Finance Board shows that the city’s 2013 elections were “the most wide-open” since the city’s small-donor matching system was put in place 25 years ago. The report, “By the People: The New York City Campaign Finance Program in the 2013 Elections,” shows, among other things, that: the number of candidates participating in the public-funding system in 2013 remained high; more than two-thirds of all New York City contributors gave $175 or less; and more than 90 percent of the total raised came from individual contributors, rather than from PACs or unions. While the level of outside expenditures in 2013 was also high, the CFB says that its disclosure requirements – which were recently tightened further – reduced the influence of dark money in the city elections. The CFB report demonstrates the benefits of a public matching system for small donors, supporting the view that the New York City system could be a valid model for the rest of the nation.

Roundup of Public Corruption Cases
  • State Senator Thomas Libous and his attorney appeared before a U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday to discuss which motions the defense is planning to file. Libous was indicted on July 1; he’s charged with lying to federal investigators regarding allegations that he had improperly helped his son obtain a position with a politically connected law firm in Westchester County. 
  • Diana Durand, the ex-girlfriend of Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm, pled guilty to making illegal contributions to Grimm’s campaign. Her lawyer insisted she is not cooperating with the federal investigation into the congressman, whose trial on fraud and tax charges is scheduled for December. 
  • U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been going after the pensions of politicians convicted of corruption-related offenses. He obtained forfeiture orders against former New York City Councilman Miguel Martinez and Assembly Member Eric Stevenson and is seeking to have the money paid out of pension benefits.

State Board of Elections Enforcement Unit Starts Work
The enforcement unit created by legislation passed through the budget is now open for business. The unit was part of a package of reforms that Governor Cuomo pushed in exchange for shutting down the anti-corruption Moreland Commission. The new unit is headed by former Cuomo aide Risa Sugarman and will be housed in the Board of Elections but physically walled off from the rest of the agency. Reformers agree that improved campaign finance enforcement is necessary at the state level, but many had called for more sweeping changes including public financing of elections.


Friday, August 22, 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 Eric Petry.

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

NEW YORK

The Real Moreland Takeaway
SUNY New Paltz dean and state government expert Gerald Benjamin and former New York City corporation counsel Fritz Schwarz wrote an op-ed in the Daily News this week to emphasize the need for public financing at the state level. The attention surrounding Governor Cuomo’s handling of the Moreland Commission is “an easy distraction,” they write, that “takes our attention off of where it should really be focused…the commission’s crucial recommendations for campaign finance.” When adopted, they argue, these reforms will curb the corrosive power of big money in Albany and strengthen the influence of average voters. Schwarz and Benjamin also wrote a letter, which is joined by more than 20 other prominent New Yorkers, urging candidates for the New York State legislature to make public financing a top priority next year. 

New City Law Requires More Disclosure for Campaign Spending
The New York City Council unanimously approved a new campaign spending disclosure law this week. Under the new law, any independent expenditure group that spends in excess of $5,000 will be required to list their top three donors on any literature or advertisements they distribute to voters. They would also have to provide additional disclosure information that would be available publicly on the New York Campaign Finance Board’s website. Councilman Brad Lander, the bill’s primary sponsor, has repeatedly called out groups that do not disclosure their donors and argues that this law will “enable voters to see who’s behind the ads they’re getting.” After the bill passed easily through the City Council, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio said he will not hesitate to sign it into law.

Appellate Court Denies Cuomo’s Teachout Challenge
In a unanimous vote, a New York state appellate court rejected the residency challenge against Zephyr Teachout’s campaign, affirming the lower court’s decision. The appellate court ruled that the burden fell on the challengers to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that Teachout does not to meet the residency requirements – a burden that they failed to meet. Following the decision, Teachout renewed her calls for a debate against Governor Cuomo, saying “we have very different visions for where we want to take the state…Democratic voters deserve a choice.” Time Warner Cable News has already agreed to host a debate between Cuomo and Teachout. When questioned whether he would agree to participate, however, the Governor said that he will “leave that to the campaigns to work out.” 

N.Y. poll: Government Corruption a Problem
Another poll was released this week showing that 83 percent New Yorkers view corruption as a serious problem in the state government. Although Cuomo is still the heavy favorite to win reelection this fall, 48 percent of New York voters now see him as part of the problem compared to 41 percent who see him as part of the solution. The latest poll by Quinnipiac University is the third such survey conducted since news of Governor Cuomo’s handling of the Moreland Commission emerged earlier this summer. The results indicate that New Yorkers have become increasingly aware of the Moreland Commission, and nearly half of the respondents in the new poll said that they were in favor of the ongoing federal prosecutions as a way to finish what the commission started. 

New Yorker’s Deep Dive into Campaign Finance and Corruption
This week, the New Yorker published an examination of the corrupting influence of money in politics. While the piece provides an interesting historical perspective of money in politics nationally, it focuses particular attention on the Empire State, which it calls “corruption’s proving ground.” The piece also highlights the anti-corruption research and advocacy conducted by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout, calling her campaign less of a campaign for office and more of a campaign for reform.

Friday, August 15, 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 Eric Petry.

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

NEW YORK

Despite Criticism, Cuomo Holds Wide Lead Over Challenger, Poll Finds
A recent poll conducted by Siena College shows that although a large majority of New York voters believe Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the Moreland Commission was inappropriate, they still view him favorably and would vote to re-elect him. The poll was conducted from August 4 to August 7 in the wake of renewed federal investigations and widespread criticisms of how the Moreland Commission was abruptly ended. Despite an overwhelming feeling among participants that corruption is still a major problem in the New York State government and general disagreement with Governor Cuomo’s claim that the Moreland Commission was successful, 58 percent of voters said they would vote to re-elect him. These results imply that the New York Times article detailing ways the governor’s office tried to control the commission and the ongoing federal investigation have not caused serious damage to the governor’s campaign heading into election season.

Cuomo Ignores Calls for Debates
So far this election cycle, Governor Andrew Cuomo has ignored repeated calls for a debate from GOP candidate Rob Astorino on the right and Democratic primary challenger Zephyr Teachout on the left. Cuomo campaign officials have responded only by pointing out that debate negotiations typically commence in September, thereby eliminating the chances of a Democratic primary debate. A debate between Cuomo and Astorino, on the other hand, remains possible, but Astorino insists they face each other one-on-one. While debates with many candidates allows for more voices to be heard, it also “works for the incumbent” says Lee Miringoff of the Marist Poll in Poughkeepsie. Some doubt that debates would have much effect on the election, given Cuomo’s huge campaign funds advantage over Astorino and the fact that Cuomo leads by more than 30 points in the polls. Still, good government groups, academics, and many others maintain that debates serve a vital role in elections, giving voters the opportunity to become better informed about the candidates. 

Judge Rules Teachout Can Stay on Ballot
On Monday, a New York judge threw out the residency challenge brought against Zephyr Teachout's candidacy for governor following a two-day trial in Brooklyn last week. During the trial, election lawyer Marty Connors argued that Teachout has not been a continuous resident of New York for the past five years – a minimum requirement to be governor – because she spent a significant portion of her time out of state and maintained a Vermont address on her driver’s license. Despite these claims, Justice Edgar G. Walker ruled that Teachout has demonstrated “sufficient intent” to reside in New York and dismissed the challenge. In a statement earlier this week, Connors made clear his intention to appeal the decision, saying that “Ms. Teachout admitted under oath that she misrepresented her address on official and tax documents.” The appeal will be heard on August 19. 

Friday, July 25, 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 Eric Petry and Syed Zaidi.

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

NEW YORK

New York Times Investigation Sheds Light on Moreland Commission’s Operations
According to an extensive investigation by the New York Times, the office of Governor Cuomo allegedly tried to control the operations of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, by steering its investigations away from groups that were politically connected to the governor. For example, when commission investigators sought to review political donations and communications by the Real Estate Board of New York—a trade group whose members include some of Cuomo’s biggest donors—in an effort to connect the dots on a valuable housing tax break, the governor’s secretary reportedly instructed commissioners not to subpoena the organization. Ultimately, the commission declined to do so, gaining information from a voluntary request instead. In addition, although the investigation of independent expenditure groups was part of the commission’s mandate, the governor’s staff allegedly told commissioners not to mention a pro-Cuomo organization, the Committee to Save New York—which spent more than $16 million on lobbying and elections without fully disclosing the source of its contributions—in their final report. Governor Cuomo’s office released a statement contesting the characterization of events by the Times, arguing that since the commission was created by and reported to Cuomo, he could not “interfere” with it. Federal prosecutors are investigating the governor’s decision to shut down with commission. Before it was shuttered, the Moreland Commission recommended public campaign financing and other campaign finance fixes to address Albany’s culture of corruption, but the legislative session ended without meaningful reform.

Feds Probe Campaign Expenses of NY Sen. George Maziarz
A federal investigation, led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, is continuing the Moreland Commission's work to examine campaign expenditures made by 28 state senators, including Republican George Maziarz. According to public filings and bank records subpoenaed by the Moreland Commission, the Maziarz campaign failed to report more than $325,000 in expenditures since 2008, including more than 300 checks made out to "cash" with no indication of who ultimately received the money. In addition, sources close to the investigation say that the Maziarz campaign made significant expenditures directly to staff members and their families. The Senator's chief of staff, Alisa Colatarci, reportedly received $91,378 through 219 payments. Bharara's investigation became public following subpoenas issued to Colatarci and Maziarz's former office manager, Marcus Hall, both of whom resigned last week prior to the subpoenas being issued. Colatarci's attorney, Daniel French, issued a statement emphasizing that she is not a target of this investigation, and that she will continue to cooperate fully with prosecutors. In a statement made last week, Maziarz announced that he would not be seeking reelection this fall.

Democrats Challenge Petition Seeking Spot in Gubernatorial Primary
Represented by prominent election lawyer Martin Connor, two New York Democrats challenged the validity of Zephyr Teachout's petition to secure a place on the Democratic gubernatorial primary this week. The objections filed in court question the petition signatures Teachout collected as well as her status as a New York resident. Under New York election law, Teachout's petition to force a primary against incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo must include at least 15,000 signatures from registered Democrats, and she must have been a continuous resident of the state for at least the past five years leading up to the election. Although Teachout received more than three times the required number of signatures, Connor and his clients argue that there was high potential for error since signatures were collected at public rallies and street fairs by inexperienced volunteers. Regarding the residency challenge, Connor claims Teachout has maintained elements of her previous Vermont residency, including drivers licenses and an address listed on a 2012 donation to the Obama Campaign. Despite these challenges, Teachout maintains that she has more than the requisite number of signatures and that her residency in New York has been uninterrupted since she accepted a tenure-track position at Fordham University Law School in 2009.


Friday, July 11, 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 Eric Petry and Syed Zaidi.

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

NEW YORK

State Sen. Libous Facing Charges of Lying to Prosecutors
New York State Senator Thomas Libous, a 13-term incumbent representing Binghamton, was arraigned in federal court last Tuesday for allegedly making false statements to the FBI. Federal prosecutors claim that Libous lied about using his influence as a state senator to boost his son’s salary at a Westchester law firm. Libous and his son, Matthew, have pleaded not guilty to the charges. The indictment states that the elder Libous arranged for an Albany lobbying firm to pay $50,000 to the law firm where his son was employed, in order to inflate his son’s salary. He “took advantage of his position as senator and chairman of the Transportation Committee by corruptly causing lobbyists, who wanted Libous’ influence to benefit their clients, to funnel money through a law firm to his son,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara explained. When questioned by prosecutors regarding these charges, Libous denied involvement in any deal between the lobbying firm and the law firm, according to the indictment. Matthew Libous is being simultaneously accused of tax evasion. If the senator is convicted, it would increase the number of Albany legislators that have been forced out of office due to misconduct since 2000 to 27.

Real Estate Interests Seek to Boost Republicans in November Elections
Following the collapse of the power-sharing coalition in the New York State Senate last week, conservative interest groups are combining their efforts with New York real estate developers to win additional seats and maintain Republican influence in the state legislature. The Republican State Leadership Committee and its affiliated 501(c)(4), the State Government Leadership Foundation, have made significant donations to New York political groups, including $10,000 to the Balance New York super PAC, most of whose funds in turn come from the Rent Stabilization Association PAC and the Neighborhood Preservation Political Action Fund. The Rent Stabilization Association PAC, composed of owners of the city’s rent stabilized buildings, has been actively contributing to incumbent Republican Senators including Andrew Lanza in Staten Island and Jack Martins in Long Island, who are facing Democratic challengers this November. More information regarding contributions and expenditures in the state races will be available following the state Board of Election’s July 15th filing deadline.

Teachout Gathers Signatures to Challenge Gov. Cuomo in Primary
Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law professor hoping to challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary, informed the press this week that her campaign has the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot. Thus far Teachout says she has gathered more than 45,000 signatures from registered Democrats. Although only 15,000 signatures are required to be placed on the ballot, the campaign expects the governor to legally challenge the validity of some signatures. Teachout has been actively seeking support from local Democratic clubs in New York City. She has centered her campaign on concerns regarding rising income inequality and corruption in the state capital. “I would love to be the governor of New York” she told a crowd of likely primary voters. “But I would also like to get this governor of ours … [to] actually listen to the deep, very heartfelt concerns of the Democrats of this state.”