Money in Politics in New York This Week

April 14, 2012

Reposted with permission from The Brennan Center. Money in Politics is a series which 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.

1. “An unusual and well-heeled coalition, trying to tap public anger over the flood of money into politics, is pushing to enact a public financing system for elections in New York State,” reported the New York Times in a front-page article on the New York Leadership for Accountable Government (NY LEAD) coalition.  The Times listed prominent business leaders who support NY LEAD, including Barry Diller, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, restaurateur Danny Meyer and philanthropist Davis Rockefeller Sr. The Times reported that these leaders believe “New York, which they call a symbol of institutionalized corruption, could become a national model for the effort to free elections from the grip of big money.”

2. In preparation for the launch of the Fair Elections for New York campaign, a series of events in Albany and across the state are being held to call attention to state legislators’ reliance on out-of-district campaign contributions—further evidence of the need for a state public campaign finance system that relies on small donors and local money. A partial list of upcoming public events can be found here.

3. The Utica Observer-Dispatch is the latest paper to add its voice to the chorus calling for public financing of elections, noting in an editorial this week that lobbying interests and super-wealthy contributors have skewed the electoral process against the small donor. The paper cited recent reports by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) as evidence of the outsized influence that Albany lobbyists currently enjoy.

4. Speaking of lobbying, the Daily News reports that the NRA has given New York state legislators over $200,000 since 2003: more than the pro-gun group has spent on campaign contributions in any other state. Almost half of these donations came in 2010, when the New York legislature defeated a bill that would have required bullet casings to carry unique markings. Democrats, including Jose Peralta (D-Queens), who sponsored the “microstamping” bill in the Senate, argue that the gun lobby’s donations to the GOP are a key reason for the demise of the bill. On Friday, the Daily News editorial board expressed its strong support for the microstamping law, arguing that senate Republicans should “stop kowtowing to the NRA.”

5. Former governor George Pataki announced this week that he has formed a super PAC, “Tipping Point,” intended to raise money to protect incumbent Republicans in the state legislature and unseat vulnerable Democrats. Pataki declared in an interview that he hopes the super PAC will raise an amount “in the high seven figures. If things go well, in the low eight.”

6. The Times Union editorial board writes this week that the three seats left open by retiring Assembly members will create new opportunities for more competitive races during the next election cycle. Although the decisions by assemblymen Ronald Canestrari (D-Cohies), Jack McEneny (D-Albany) and Bob Reilly (D-Colonie) means the loss of lawmakers who voiced strong support for campaign finance reform and other reform measures, the empty seats will ensure that no candidate in the next election arrives with the advantages of incumbency. “As for reform,” the Times Union writes, “we’ll be looking to those new, would-be incumbents to talk about what it might look like.”

7. The New York Post finds that NYC Comptroller John Liu has spent more in legal defense this year than he has raised in campaign contributions. The past year has seen Liu’s campaign weather a number of legal problems related to the Comptroller’s campaign finance reports, including an ongoing federal investigation, as well as the arrest of both his former treasurer Jenny Hou and a campaign fundraiser, Oliver Pan, who was indicted for his role in a straw bundling scheme.