Showing posts with label public financing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label public financing. Show all posts

Thursday, June 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 and Syed Zaidi.

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

NEW YORK

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.

Thursday, June 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 Syed Zaidi.

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


NEW YORK

Public Financing Trial Could Show Power of Small Donors
In a guest column for the Post-Standard, David Rubin, a former dean at Syracuse University, wrote that the trial public financing program for the state comptroller race presents an opportunity to demonstrate the power of small donors. Although current New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has declined to participate in public financing—citing concerns over the inadequate structure of the pilot program—his Republican challenger Robert Antonacci has said that he will op-in. Donations up to $175 by New Yorkers to Antonacci’s campaign will be matched with public funds at a 6-to-1 ratio, if he first qualifies by raising $200,000 including at least 2,000 small contributions. In return he will have to abide by spending limits and a $6,000 per person contribution restriction. Non-participating candidates running statewide, meanwhile, can accept up to $41,000 from a single donor. “Public financing empowers local donors who can actually vote for the candidate. It forces candidates to court us, one small donation at a time,” Rubin explained. And until state legislators pass reforms that apply to all races in the state, “we will get elected officials purchased for us by others, with the awful results we see in Albany and Washington.”

Major Issues Unresolved for Final Week of NY Legislative Session
With just one week left in the New York State legislative session, press outlets are predicting that few big-ticket issues, such as public campaign financing, the women’s equality agenda, medical marijuana or the Dream Act, will be resolved. Although Governor Andrew Cuomo has publicly vowed to campaign against the ruling coalition in the senate unless headway is made on some key issues, Democrats in the chamber are not optimistic about legislative progress. “Whether they allow certain things to get done, it’s up to them,” said Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in reference to the senate ruling coalition of Republicans and five breakaway Democrats. However, Senator Jeffrey Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference and Majority Co-leader of the chamber, did not rule out the possibility of public financing reform passing before the session is over. “We still have two weeks to govern,” he stated, “[t]he political season has not started yet as far as I’m concerned.”

Albany Times-Union: Bruno Acquittal Demonstrates Need for Reform
Last month, former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was acquitted of corruption-related charges. Bruno allegedly accepted $20,000 per month in consulting fees from a businessman with a stake in Evident Technologies, according to prosecutors, and then subsequently approved a $250,000 state grant to the company. This did not qualify as corruption under federal law, the jury determined. The Times-Union said that the trial was a troubling demonstration that ethics and campaign finance laws need to be reformed in Albany. To “take money from somebody doing business with the state they can influence,” should be illegal, the newspaper wrote. And there should be more stringent restrictions on what campaign funds can be used for, along with significantly lower contribution limits.

Corruption Trial of New York Officials Brings New Revelations
The trial of New York State Senator Malcolm Smith has brought to light new evidence concerning his alleged scheme to become mayor of New York City. According to the FBI, Smith wanted to become the leader of the Senate Democrats, in an effort to raise his profile and subsequently run for the mayoral race in New York City. Smith asked Moses “Mark” Stern, a government informant posing as a businessman, to give him $27,000—money that was later to be dispersed to other senators to cement his influence. It “puts me in a better position to run for mayor than just being in the senate,” Smith told Stern. Following this, at a meeting between Stern, Smith and another FBI informant, Smith asked the men for their help in persuading three of the five Republican County Chairmen to authorize his mayoral candidacy on the Republican Party line. Smith sought to do this by bribing the officials, prosecutors allege, using former New York City Councilman Dan Halloran as his middle-man.

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.

NEW YORK

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.”

Friday, May 30, 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.

NEW YORK

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.

Thursday, May 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 Syed Zaidi and Emily Apple. 

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

NEW YORK

NY Times: Gov. Cuomo Must Put His Words into Action
Last week, the New York Times pressed Governor Cuomo to put his words on reform into action. Under the status quo, special interests reign supreme in Albany, the editorial stated. Incumbents face little competition because they can easily flood their war chests with sky-high contributions. A system of public financing that matches small donations with public funds offers the potential to both increase candidates’ reliance on small contributors and to diversify the pool of candidates that run for office. Recently, in the 2014-15 budget, the New York legislature and Governor Cuomo passed a pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race. Republican state comptroller candidate Robert Antonacci has already said that he will participate in the program. Although the Republicans in the state senate claim they are opposed to public financing, the fact that they were willing to agree to this trial demonstrates that there is hope for passing more comprehensive legislation. The Times said Cuomo should consider campaigning against lawmakers that refuse to pass reform.

Fmr. State Sen. Bruno Acquitted of Fraud Charges in Re-trial
Last Friday, former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was acquitted in federal court on fraud charges, ending a decade-long legal battle. In 2009, Bruno was convicted on two counts of mail fraud for allegedly receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from Jared Abbruzzese, an Albany businessman, and overpaying Abbruzzese for a horse prosecutors said was worthless. However, the conviction was later vacated on appeal based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that honest-services fraud convictions cannot be based solely on concealment of a conflict of interest. In 2012 federal prosecutors brought new charges against Bruno for allegedly accepting $440,000 in bribes and kickbacks from Abbruzzese, disguised as consulting fees while in office. Last week, the jury found Bruno not guilty of the charges. The ruling comes after the conviction of Assembly Member William Boyland Jr. and Assembly Member Eric Stevenson this year on bribery charges. 

NYS Board of Elections Scrambling to Set up Public Financing Program
The New York State Board of Elections (BOE) released draft regulations governing the new pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race last week. According to Capital New York, the state BOE asked the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to administer the program—a request the city board refused because it is legally prohibited from doing so. However, the NYC CFB has provided other assistance to the state agency such as forms, language for regulations and other advice. State legislators and Governor Cuomo claimed that the trial program was launched to test the practicality of a statewide public financing system. Good-government groups, as well as incumbent state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, argued that the pilot was poorly constructed and deliberately designed to fail. Ian Vandewalker, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, stated that “it was a mistake to give [administration of public financing] to the Board of Elections. By their own account they don’t have the budget—to give them a new responsibility, it doesn’t really make sense.”

Support for Public Financing Increasing Among New Yorkers

In a new poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University, the majority of voters surveyed—55 percent—indicated that they believe New York State government is dysfunctional. Eighty-one percent, an overwhelming majority, replied that corruption in state government is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. Similarly, 78 percent thought that Governor Cuomo’s decision to shut down the Moreland Commission, which was investigating corruption in the state legislature, was a political deal struck with legislative leaders, rather than a “decision based on good government.” And a plurality, 46 percent, said that they approve of public financing of election campaigns for statewide and state legislative races. Typically, when this question is posed to voters with details regarding the comprehensive reform plan—including lower contribution limits and matching small donations—support jumps above 60 percent.   

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.

NEW YORK

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. 

Friday, May 09, 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.

NEW YORK

Gov. Cuomo Tells NY Senate to Pass Public Financing
In a Huffington Post op-ed, Governor Andrew Cuomo insisted that public campaign financing is the issue with the “best opportunity for the remainder of the session.” Alluding to President (and New York Governor) Theodore Roosevelt’s support for campaign finance reform, Cuomo said that New York should follow in his footsteps. After a series of corruption scandals last year, the governor empanelled a commission to investigate shortfalls in the state’s bribery and campaign finance laws. This week, he defended his decision to end the commission back in April, arguing that all investigations are now in the hands of state and federal prosecutors with legal authority to get to the bottom of any wrongdoing. Although the recently adopted budget restricted public financing only to the state comptroller’s race, Cuomo pointed out that by agreeing to a pilot program, opponents “conceded the crucial ideological point they had resisted for decades: that public funds can be used to finance elections.” Public financing has been shown to boost small donor participation as well as broaden the field of candidates that run for office. The governor put the onus on the ruling Senate coalition—composed of Republicans and a few breakaway Democrats—to pass reform before the end of this year’s session in June, saying anything less would be a “true failure and a lost opportunity.”

Moreland Commission Members: Pass Reform before End of Session
In the Daily News, former Moreland Commission members Peter Zimroth, Lance Liebman, and Gerald Mollen argued that there is still a chance for Albany to change its culture of corruption and dysfunction. During its short tenure, the commission exposed serious and systematic problems with New York State’s campaign finance laws. Although the commission has now been dismantled following a budget deal that passed an incomplete set of reforms, there are still two months left in the state legislative session. Lawmakers should use this time to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform, the three argued. In New York City, public financing has allowed constituents to take on powerful lobbyists and special interests. Donations from natural persons to city candidates are matched at a $6-to-$1 ratio with public funds, allowing elected officials to spend more time courting citizens rather than corporations or unions. “Initiating this system will cost some taxpayer money,” the commissioners stated, “But it will cost taxpayers substantially more over the long run if we continue to allow large contributors to exercise such outsized influence in choosing our elected leaders.”

Democrats in New York Senate Introduce Reform Bills
Democrats in the New York senate have introduced several pieces of legislation to expand public financing to all state legislative and statewide races, and enact stronger anti-corruption provisions. The package of bills would establish a $6-to-$1 match for political donations up to $250, cap donations from limited liability companies to $5,000, and restrict contributions to political party housekeeping accounts down to $25,000. Other bills would strip state and local officials from their pensions if they are convicted of a felony and outlaw the use of campaign funds for legal defense. The Democrats are a minority in the state senate, so the fate of the bills will ultimately be decided by the ruling coalition of Republicans and five independent Democrats. Independent Democratic Conference leader Senator Jeffrey Klein has also expressed that public financing reform will be a priority for the remainder of the session. “Certainly we need to have a public matching system,” he told reporters, “We need to do more than we did in the budget.”

Republican Candidate for Comptroller to Accept Public Financing
Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci said he plans on challenging Democratic State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for his position this coming fall. Despite the opposition of his party’s leadership to publicly financed campaigns, Antonacci informed the Associated Press that he will “whole heartedly and enthusiastically” participate in the pilot program which allows candidates to receive $6 in public funds for every $1 they raise up to $175 from New York residents. “We will show the taxpayers that we know how to spend every dollar we receive wisely,” Antonacci continued. DiNapoli, although a supporter of reform, decided to opt out of the matching funds program because he said the pilot was inadequate and poorly crafted. New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox stated that the public financing trial would broaden “the field on the Republican side for potential comptroller candidates.”

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

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.

NEW YORK

Vandewalker: Public Financing “Pilot” Program Designed to Implode
Writing in Newsday, Ian Vandewalker, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, praised New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for opting out of the state’s poorly crafted public financing “pilot” program. Despite calls by the public and several good government groups to comprehensively reform New York’s campaign finance laws, Governor Cuomo and the legislative leadership failed to deliver a real public financing system, instead agreeing upon an experiment limited to the 2014 comptroller elections. The state’s notoriously dysfunctional Board of Elections was empowered to implement the law for this year’s upcoming comptroller race. “[T]he system was designed to implode,” said Vandewalker. Furthermore, the bill, which was passed in a state budget agreement in early April, fails to lower sky-high campaign contribution limits, close campaign funding loopholes, or mandate greater disclosure of independent expenditures by special interest groups.  

Watertown Daily Times: Comptroller Right to Opt-out of Public Financing “Pilot” Program
The Watertown Daily Times praised Comptroller DiNapoli for not participating in New York’s public financing pilot program for election campaigns. Although DiNapoli has been a strong supporter of reform, he said the limited measure introduced during last-minute budget negotiations in early April, was “designed to fail, by lawmakers who either do not really believe in, or don’t understand, public campaign financing at all.” If implemented, the half-hearted effort at reform, would have allowed opponents to point to the poorly crafted model as an example of the failure of public financing. It has unfortunately already provided an excuse for Governor Cuomo to disband the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. Calling the reform an inadequate response to the corrosive epidemic of corruption in the New York legislature, the Watertown Daily Times said that “lawmakers should go back to the drawing board.”

Federal Court Overturns New York’s Aggregate Contribution Cap Following McCutcheon v. FEC
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty issued a five-page ruling in New York Progress and Protection PAC v. Walsh, overturning New York State’s aggregate campaign contribution cap on donations to independent political groups. New York State restricts the total amount one person may contribute to all candidates and political action committees to $150,000 per election cycle. The case, brought by the New York Progress and Protection PAC—a conservative super PAC that sought to prop up Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota last year—argued that Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon had the right to contribute more than $150,000 to independent groups that supported Joe Lhota. Judge Crotty indicated that although he was obliged to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which recently invalidated federal aggregate contribution limits, he disagreed with the court’s analysis and lamented that regular citizens “are too often drowned out by the few who have great resources.” Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said that “It's not just the American public that is unhappy with these decisions but a lot of the judiciary below the [U.S] Supreme Court.”

Monday, April 07, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

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.

NEW YORK

New York Times: Most Fundamental Reform Missing from State Budget
Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders passed New York’s 2014-15 budget last week without a comprehensive small donor public matching system—instead establishing a very limited pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race in 2014. Adding to this lapse in leadership, Governor Cuomo said he will disband the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, labeling the narrow ethics reforms in the budget a triumph. This was an especially disappointing development in light of the myriad of corruption scandals that engulfed several legislators in recent years, including three of the last five Senate Majority Leaders or Co-leaders. Newspapers throughout the state saw through the spin. The New York Times opined that the budget’s inadequate ethics reforms do not “come close to attacking the root of the corruption problem” in Albany. “The most fundamental reform,” the Times continued, namely public matching funds for small donations in all state races, “is missing.” 

Syracuse Post-Standard: Public Financing “Pilot” Program a Cop-out
The Syracuse Post-Standard reiterated the shortfalls of the 2014-15 New York budget in an editorial last week. Calling restricting public financing to the comptroller’s office a “cop-out,” the upstate newspaper said that New York City’s successful model demonstrates that a “pilot” program is unnecessary. If such a system would have been implemented, it could have enabled candidates who can’t garner big checks from special interests to compete with small dollar donations from constituents. Unfortunately for now, the status quo, which allows incumbents to build up their war chest to scare off any potential competitors, remains intact.

Albany Times-Union: State Elected Officials Failed to Address NY’s “Most Glaring Failure”
On Tuesday, the Albany Times-Union termed Governor Cuomo’s failure to pass comprehensive ethics reform the state government’s “most glaring failure.” Last year, the Moreland Commission—which the governor appointed to examine New York’s corruption and campaign finance laws—issued a thorough report detailing the legal and ethical breaches that have become so commonplace in Albany over the past few years. In response to the inadequacy of the current system to address pay-to-play politics, the commission recommended several reforms including public funding to match small donations. Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders “concluded that reform is appropriate only on a very small scale, and only as long as it doesn’t apply to themselves.” The outcome is surprising considering that most legislators, as well as the governor, claimed to support full public financing for all races.

Crain’s New York Business: Ethics Deal Does Little to Deter Corruption
On April 4, Crain’s New York Business criticized New York lawmakers for their inability to deliver on ethics reform. “At least 30 [state legislators] have left office since 1999 because of transgressions ranging from inflating their expenses to sexual harassment to taking bribes,” the editorial stated. Yet the reform provision in the budget made only minor changes to state corruption laws and delegated slightly greater enforcement authority to the state Board of Elections. It did nothing to address the problem of legislators pushing bills or steering funds at the request of special interests and campaign contributors. The decision to eliminate the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was especially troubling, Crain’s said—just as the investigators “had dug their teeth into a plethora of questionable dealings.”

Upstate Newspapers: Ethics Reforms Insufficient to Address Corruption
The Rochester-based Democrat & Chronicle called Governor Cuomo’s inability to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform his administration’s “most notable first-term failure.” The alternative to public financing for all races—a limited measure for the state comptroller election in 2014—was too little and too late, given the election year. The Buffalo News concurred, saying the plan was a “laughingstock.” The dysfunctional state Board of Elections is inadequately prepared to implement a public financing program for the comptroller’s office this election cycle. Moreover, sky-high campaign contribution limits, and loopholes for special interests hoping to get noticed by politicians, are still the norm in Albany for the foreseeable future. Overall, the budget bill was not a compromise for anyone, it was a disappointment.

Letter to Governor Cuomo from New York LEAD Member

Letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo from Daniel A. Simon, a member of the New York Leadership for Accountable Government
_______________________________________________

Governor Cuomo:

I am a member of NY-LEAD, New York Leadership for Accountable Government (I express only my own opinions here). I attended the luncheon in New York City a little over a year ago when you spoke to our group so convincingly about the need for public campaign financing and its importance to restoring trust in government. That expression of such strong, unqualified support makes the near-complete capitulation on this issue in this year’s budget all the more galling, immensely frustrating, and devastatingly disappointing.

You talked about the need for reform supporters to put pressure on public officials to move this issue forward. I believe that such organizations have more than held up their part of the bargain. They have done their best to convince our legislators through persuasion on policy and demonstration of constituent support, and raised the possibilities of primary and general election challenges. Poll after poll shows the public strongly supporting reform, with public campaign financing popular across the political spectrum. There is no inherent reason why this should be a partisan issue; a vote on this subject should be an easy one for any public-minded official, not a tough one.

And I find it inexplicable that the Moreland Commission, which was tasked with investigating corruption in the political process, has been terminated. If the suspected influence of money in politics justified the commission in the first place, it is hard to fathom a non-political reason to suspend its operations now, before its mission has been completed.

With the public squarely on the side of reform, there comes a time when our elected officials must stop talking and lead. In my opinion, the time for action has long passed. There is no good reason not to get comprehensive campaign finance reform done, and there are no excuses for further delays. It is increasingly difficult for people like me who care deeply about our democracy to support those whose actions fail to demonstrate a serious commitment to reform, regardless of what they say on the matter.

Now is the time to back up words with action. Beyond the need to restore confidence in our state government, the nation desperately needs a model for a campaign finance system that reduces the dependence of our elected officials on big money which currently permeates and warps our government. The public is with us on this, but it requires leaders in Albany who will move beyond talk and take the necessary measures to get the job done.

I still hope you will do so.

Sincerely,


Daniel A. Simon

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

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.

NEW YORK

James and Stewart-Cousins: Public Financing Will Benefit Women
In a Sunday op-ed in the Journal News, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and New York State Senator and Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins described the benefits that public financing of elections would bring for women in New York. One observed effect is more women in elected office. The national average for the percentage of elected women lawmakers in state legislative bodies is 24.2 percent. But in five states with public financing, it is much higher: for instance, 35.6 percent in Arizona and 29.4 percent in Connecticut. In New York State, this figure is even lower than the national average at 21.2 percent—in spite of the fact that women make-up more than half of the state’s population. When legislators reflect the population they serve, it strengthens our democracy. And if more women are elected to public office, they can push for attention to issues that affect women and families. Senator Stewart-Cousins took to the radio waves to share her message on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom as well. The president of the think tank Demos, Heather McGhee, agreed in an op-ed in the Albany Times Union, outlining how public financing can lead to greater diversity in our government. In the Journal News, James and Stewart-Cousins concluded, “The governor and the Legislature must move this proposal past the finish line. New York deserve[s] nothing less.”

Schwarz and Soros in Times-Union: “Alternatives” to Reform Are Likely to Maintain Status Quo
In the Albany Times-Union this weekend, Frederick Schwarz, chief counsel at the Brennan Center, and Jonathan Soros, senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, criticized alternatives to real campaign finance reform floating around in Albany. Public financing of elections is supported by a majority of state legislators, the governor, and residents of New York. However, opponents of reform have proposed different ‘remedies’ that are likely to leave special interests as firmly entrenched as they are now. One idea is to overhaul our campaign finance laws through a constitutional amendment. The long and cumbersome process associated with this strategy is sure to delay reform beyond the 2018 elections—which is precisely what some politicians want. New Yorkers cannot afford to wait any longer in light of the epidemic of legislative corruption. “The legislature has all the authority it needs to enact this policy by simple statute, and uses that power regularly on far more controversial issues when it suits it,” Schwarz and Soros said. This week, as the final state budget is negotiated, the governor has a simple choice: to pass real reform and deliver on his promise, or allow the corrupt status quo to continue under the guise of change.

Norden: Public Financing Would Reduce Corruption
Writing in response to an op-ed by Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, Brennan Center Deputy Director Lawrence Norden stated that implementing publicly financed elections in New York is well worth the cost. The reform proposal would allow candidates that can gather enough donations from their constituents the opportunity to access public matching funds in exchange for adhering to stricter contribution limits. Despite the obvious advantages, it is no surprise that special interests that benefit from the status quo of purchasing political access, are opposed to the measure. Sampson’s specious claims were that (1) public financing in jurisdictions such as New York City has not deterred corruption, and that (2) implementing it will cost taxpayers a fortune. However, as the Brennan Center has noted before, New York City has not experienced anything like the corruption scandal of the past since public financing was first instituted. In addition, as Bill Fitzpatrick, the Republican district attorney of Onondaga County has pointed out—after studying the matter on the Moreland Commission—public financing would lead to “astronomical” savings in the long run due to fewer sweetheart deals for special interests. Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders that support reform must now ensure these vital proposals are not bargained away during budget negotiations this week.

Citizens Union Report: Public Financing Generates Greater Electoral Competition
new report by Citizens Union of the City of New York describes the startling differences between New York City and New York State elections when it comes to incumbency and competition. New York City has an operational and highly successful public financing system with low contribution limits, while Albany has no such arrangement in place and sky-high contribution limits. The results speak for themselves. From 2006 to 2012, 21 percent of all state legislative elections in New York City were uncontested, whereas during roughly the same time period, only 8 percent of New York City council races were uncontested. In the 2012 state primary election, only 27 percent of state assemblymen and 18 percent of state senators faced challengers, compared to 57 percent of council members in the 2013 city council primaries. Dick Dadey, the group’s executive director, stated that the report “demonstrates the need for the state to enact comprehensive campaign finance reforms with public funding so that voters have greater choice and our democracy becomes healthier.”

Staten Island Advance: Public Financing Would Make Elections More Competitive
The Staten Island Advance editorialized in favor of matching small donations with state funds this week, in light of the Citizens Union report showing that elections for the New York City council are more competitive than those for the New York State legislature. High contribution limits for state campaigns contribute to this uncompetitive environment by allowing incumbents to build up their war chests to intimidate any rising challengers. The Advance called for comprehensive reform including lower contribution limits, pay-to-play restrictions on lobbyists, greater disclosure, and most importantly a “public matching program that empowers small donors.” Arguing that reforms would be a step in the right direction, the newspaper emphasized that they would go a long way towards reducing incumbency, which breeds a “dysfunctional refuge of politics behind closed doors.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Money in Politics This Week

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.


NEW YORK

New York Times: NY Elected Officials Must Pass Reform before April 1
A New York Times editorial last Thursday pressed Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to pass public financing reform in the 2014-15 state budget by April 1. Arguing that reform would increase the slate of candidates that run for office, the Times stated that this prospect is “the reason many in Albany have tried to stop public financing.” Although Republicans in the Senate have voiced their staunch opposition to reform and pushed an exaggerated cost estimate, it is important to note that millions are spent each year on tax breaks for special interests—the cost of public financing is minute by comparison. In the end, the editorial concluded that despite the plethora of issues in the budget, Governor Cuomo can “earn the most credit at home and nationally if he finally makes campaign finance reform and public financing a workable reality.”

Public Financing Is a Path to Greater Diversity in Politics
An op-ed in the Amsterdam News this week described the benefits of public financing in New York State. Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP, and DeNora Getachew, campaign manager and legislative counsel at the Brennan Center, explained how public financing would make our elected officials more accountable to the communities they represent. As the Brennan Center has shown, New York City’s public financing system has led to greater participation by a more diverse set of donors and helped bring in several “firsts”—the first African American mayor and the first Dominican-American, the first Asian-American, and the first Asian-American woman in the City Council. Dukes and Getachew called on the four men who control budget negotiations “to elevate the diverse voices of thousands of New Yorkers.”

Democrat & Chronicle: Final Push Needed on Campaign Finance Reform
On Friday, the Democrat & Chronicle argued that Governor Cuomo must fulfill his promise to overhaul New York State’s campaign finance laws. Calling New York City’s public financing system a “successful” model to replicate statewide, the newspaper argued that matching small donations from constituents with public funds would open “the door to more potential candidates (particularly those who aren’t wealthy).” The editorial sternly emphasized that Governor Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Silver should not allow campaign finance reform to be become a bargaining chip in the final budget negotiations as it would “bring long-sought fairness and oversight to Albany” once passed.

Brune and Weiss: Albany’s Pay-to-Play System Is Toxic for New York’s Natural Environment
In a Poughkeepsie Journal op-ed last Thursday, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Marc Weiss, board member of the Sierra Club Foundation and a member of New York Leadership for Accountable Government, wrote that Albany’s pay-to-play political culture has disastrous consequences on our state’s environment. Currently, contribution limits for individuals and corporations in New York State are among the highest out of all states that bother to restrict them. Unfortunately, this allows special interests to have undue influence over the policy process as elected officials are forced to spend their valuable time pleading mega-donors for contributions instead of fighting for their constituents. Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal could change this reality. It would lower contribution limits across the board and institute a system of matching small donations with public funds to amplify the voices of everyday New Yorkers. With reform, “We could prioritize the purity of our drinking water over campaign contributions from oil companies…We could cancel tax breaks for companies that pollute our waterways and offer them to environmentally responsible landowners,” Brune and Weiss stated.

Vendor for Dark Money Group Files Response to Anti-corruption Commission’s Subpoena
A vendor for a Common Sense Principles, a Virginia 501(c)(4) group that has reportedly spent millions on New York elections, filed documents in court last week arguing that the Moreland Commission does not have the authority to seek donor information from the ‘dark money’ group. Earlier, the Moreland Commission subpoenaed the vendor, Strategic Advantage International, after it was unable to find contact information for Common Sense Principles. The commission argued that analyzing the organization’s donors and activities would allow it to examine the state’s corruption and campaign finance laws. Common Sense Principles sent mailers in the 2012 elections attacking three Democratic state senate candidates. Its disclosure report showed only a single donor, which turned out to be a shell entity. In its response to the subpoena, Strategic Advantage International said that it has complied with the applicable laws. The group further claimed that “If the names of Common Sense’s donors were to be publicized, the media scrutiny of those donors would surely be intense – and the prevalent media view of the organization is not favorable.”