Monday, February 27, 2012

Machine Malfunctions in the Bronx

This Daily News Editorial may provide some insight as to what happened on Election Day in the Bronx’s P.S. 65 where the Brennan Center uncovered extremely high overvote ratesdetailed in Design Deficiencies and Lost Votes.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Money and Politics This Week

Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling 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 Matthew Ladd and Dan Rockoff.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics

New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. Proposed regulations by the State Board of Elections for disclosing independent expenditures will create a loophole that allows lobbying groups to continue publishing anonymous attack ads, according to advocates who have reviewed the proposal. The Board’s proposed regulations require disclosure for advertisements containing “express advocacy,” but this requirement can be dodged by avoiding the use of certain key words such as “oppose” or “elect.” Citizens Union points out that the NYC Campaign Finance Board’s proposed regulations call for disclosure of all “electioneering communications,” a requirement that considerably tightens the loophole in NYC. The full text of the proposed state regulations is available here.

2. Twenty-seven members of the City Council sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo this week expressing their strong support for voluntary public campaign financing in New York State, and urging the Governor to propose “comprehensive and effective reform” modeled on New York City’s small-donor matching program.

3. Over half of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee’s spending since last July was made to a consultant with strong ties to convicted felon and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Susan Ralston, the principal of SBR Enterprises, was forced to resign from her position as an aide to Karl Rove in 2006, after the House Government Reform panel issued a report detailing her role as a go-between for Rove and Abramoff.

4. A new report by the money in politics watchdog group Maplight reports that super PACs received more than two-thirds of their total contributions in 2011—roughly $100 million—from only a handful of states, with New Yorkers contributing $13.3 million. The only state with more contributions was Texas.

5. The New York Observer profiles the rise and fall of William Boyland, Jr., the Brooklyn Assemblyman currently under indictment on federal corruption charges—his second such indictment in twelve months. The profile notes that several candidates have emerged to challenge him for his seat, and that polls and petitions calling for Boyland’s resignation have begun circulating in Brownsville.

National Campaign Finance News

1. An editorial in the New York Times highlights the corrosive effect of super PAC influence in federal elections, pointing out that the vast majority of contributions to Republican super PACs are made by a handful of super-wealthy contributors such as Sheldon Adelson, Harold Simmons and Foster Friess, and concluding that “all but the most privileged Americans will pay the price if the nation’s wealthiest can buy elections.” The Times also reported earlier this week on Republican “superdonors,” the wealthy businessmen whose donations form the vast bulk of total contributions to right-leaning super PACs. The report singles out the Texas tycoon Harold Simmons, whose total Republican super PAC contributions total over $14 million, noting that more than $50 million given to Republican super PACs came from just two dozen individuals or corporations.

2. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, February 17 issued a stay of a decision by the Montana Supreme Court that had upheld the state's restrictions on corporate political spending. The Montana case will allow the Supreme Court to revisit Citizens United much sooner than expected. Justice Ginsburg, writing for herself and Justice Breyer, voted to grant the stay but suggested: “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in [Citizens United], make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’ A petition for certiorari will give the court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

3. Two weeks after stating that President Obama was “dancing with the devil” in accepting super PAC funds for his re-election campaign, former U.S. Senator and lead co-sponsor of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act Russ Feingold has joined the President’s campaign as a co-chair. When asked if his firm commitment to campaign finance reform made his an odd choice for the position, Feingold replied that he was accepting the position for “a president who I believe will help us appoint justices who will overturn Citizens United.”

4. A federal grand jury in Florida is hearing evidence in the FEC investigation of Florida Representative Vern Buchanan, a heavyweight fundraising organizer for GOP candidates nationwide, the New York Times reports. The House Ethics Committee is also examining Rep. Buchanan’s failure to disclose financial dealings in several business interests that could be linked to his fundraising activities.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Remembering Jerome Koenig (1933-2012)

The Brennan Center was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our friend Jerome Koenig last Friday. Jerry was an active member of the New York Voting Rights Coalition, where he will be remembered as the leading expert and most knowledgeable person on New York State election law. If there was a question about statutory interpretation, members inevitably turned to Jerry for help. This is not surprising; as former Chief of Staff for the State Assembly Elections Committee, Jerry was often the author of the statutes we sought to understand.

Most recently, Jerry played an instrumental role in the coalition’s efforts to secure that the State Board of Elections count affidavit ballots as registration forms and ensuring that the New York City Board of Elections continue its practice of distributing postage paid voter registration applications. His wealth of knowledge and commitment to improving elections in New York so that every eligible New Yorker could vote, and be confident their vote was counted, was an inspiration to us all. He will greatly be missed.

Our deepest condolences go out to Jerry’s friends and family.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Money and Politics This Week

Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling 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 Matthew Ladd.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics

New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. The New York Times renewed its call for Gov. Cuomo to make good on his promise to reform the state’s campaign finance regime, citing a public campaign financing program as a necessary component of any legitimate reform efforts. The editorial also called for lower contribution limits, reforms to housekeeping accounts, and a prohibition on using campaign funds for personal expenses.

2. The Times also reports that some of New York’s most prominent businessmen, political donors and former public officials have joined the New York Leadership for Accountable Government (NY LEAD) coalition, demonstrating to lawmakers that public campaign financing has garnered the support of New York’s business and donor communities. Allies of the coalition include notable names such as Barry Diller, David Rockefeller and former NY major Ed Koch, as well as William Donaldson, former chairman of the SEC, and several former members of Congress. The alliance also produced reports from the Albany Times Union, Politics on the Hudson, NCPR, and other media outlets.

3. The Center for Working Families released a study today finding that public financing can help candidates from poor and majority-minority districts raise funds in their own communities. The study was released in advance of the of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus’ annual conference weekend. The New York City system of public matching dollars has led to a more racially diverse city council, the study found.

4. Michael Grimm, the US Representative for Staten Island, has come under scrutiny for a “checkered business background” that includes joint dealings with a former F.B.I. colleague convicted on state racketeering and fraud charges. The new publicity regarding Mr. Grimm’s business history, combined with a recent New York Times report that the Republican freshman raised campaign funds with the help of a man currently under federal investigation for embezzlement, has led the Romney presidential campaign to drop him as a regional surrogate and campaigner.

5. Former state Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr., is back in the news after federal prosecutors accused him of intentionally disguising personal expenses—paid for with funds allegedly embezzled from his Soundview health care clinics—as tax-deductible business expenses. The prosecutors’ letter to the judge in Espada’s corruption trial finds that the disgraced state senator claimed the rental costs of a Puerto Rico villa as “legal fees” on a corporate tax return, and mislabeled funds used for spa treatments for himself and his family, as well as for improvements to his home in Westchester County.

6. “Albany’s Favorite Felon” is former state Sen. Nick Spano, according to an article describing Spano’s lucrative second career as a lobbyist for state gambling interests. Spano pleaded guilty last week to felony charges of state and federal tax evasion. In contrast to states that prohibit lobbying activity by felons, such as New Jersey, New York still allows such activity, leaving Spano free to continue lobbying on behalf of gambling clients such as Genting—owner of the Aqueduct Race Track in Yonkers—which reportedly pays him $25,000 a month for his services. That such lobbying is legal, the Times Union remarks, is “downright embarrassing.”

7. A federal jury heard arguments yesterday in the trial of former Yonkers City Council member Sandy Annabi, who allegedly took nearly $175,000 in bribes to secure her support for two local development projects.

Campaign Finance News Nationwide

1. This week the New York Times expressed its strong support for the Disclose 2012 Act, currently pending in Congress but unlikely to move forward without Republican support in the Senate. The bill would require, among other reforms, that the names behind donations of $10,000 or more be disclosed within 24 hours, making it more difficult for super PACs and other funding groups to abuse lax reporting deadlines. The lack of a Republican sponsor or supporter in the Senate, however, seems to belie Sen. Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s statement in 2000 that members of his party favored strong disclosure laws.