Money in Politics in NY: June 29th Edition

1. Though the legislative session drew to a close last week, the pressure on Albany to enact campaign finance reform has not let up.  Editorials in both Newsday and The New York Times cite the failure to pass pending reform measures as one of the legislative session’s shortcomings.  It is clear that support for enhanced disclosure rules and public financing will not fade before the start of the next session.

2. Advocates are using the break between legislative sessions to set the stage for campaign finance reform proposals to become law when New York’s legislators reconvene in Albany in January.  Two NY LEAD members, Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge, have committed $250,000 to a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that will push for the passage of campaign finance reform, according to a report in The New York Times.  The campaign, titled Protect Our Democracy, is modeled after the successful strategy that led to marriage equality for New Yorkers and will inject itself into the upcoming state elections to put pressure on state senators that failed to support reform this past legislative session.  The Governor has already announced that he intends to work with the group.

3. As federal authorities have been slow to investigate tax-exempt advocacy groups for potential violations of tax and election laws, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman moved this week to take matters into his own hands.  New York law confers broad subpoena authority on the Attorney General, and Schneiderman is employing it to investigate whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce illegally obtained $18 million from a supporting foundation.  Whether or not these advocacy groups will continue to operate in the gray area of the law in other areas of the country, Attorney General Schneiderman took an important step to ensure they cannot do so in New York.

Money in Politics in New York: June 15th Edition

1. As the legislative session winds down, the chorus advocating for campaign finance reform in New York State keeps growing louder.  An editorial in the Huffington Post draws on examples from other states to argue that public matching funds will increase constituent involvement and help dull the effect of a few wealthy donors and special interests.  The editorial also recommends adopting a rule that would provide free and equal advertising for candidates, noting that the idea has gained support from both liberal and conservative groups.

2. Environmental groups in the midst of an ongoing fight against fracking have fully recognized that campaign finance reform for New York would provide a boost to their movement.  Gas companies and their trade associations donated over $1.3 million to New York state officials and campaign committees between 2007 and 2011, and an editorial in Newsday argues that it’s no coincidence that the state budget failed to include funds for a study of the dangers of fracking.  “[T]he greatest threat to our environment here in New York may be an unlikely suspect: big money.”  A coalition of environmental groups have penned a letter to Governor Cuomo expressing support for the pending Fair Elections Act.

3. Lobbyists contributed over $1.8 million in campaign contributions and bundled contributions to New York legislators in 2011, reports the Times Union.  The pernicious effect of these contributions is exacerbated by New York’s lack of disclosure rules.  While the New York Public Interest Research Group managed to piece together scattered pieces of information to report the issue, the public should not have to wait until an annual survey is released to learn the sources of political contributions.  Rather, continuous disclosure should be the norm.

Money in Politics in New York: June 8th Edition

1. Although the clock on this legislative session is winding down, reform advocates remain confident that New York’s legislators will enact new campaign finance rules in the near future. “The question about campaign finance reform and public funding of elections is whether it will be adopted soon or sooner,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause. While government officials are hesitant to say that anything will pass before the end of the current session, multiple reform bills have been introduced.  Grassroots activists continue to pressure reluctant legislators to support reform, and civic leaders such as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch are pushing for change.
2. The campaign finance reform movement heard from some important labor allies this week. Numerous unions voiced their support for bringing reform to New York and urged Albany to enact the proposed public financing bill, which will match small donations at a six-to-one ratio. “It is imperative that we address this issue during the 2012 legislative session,” wrote New York State United Teachers in its memorandum of support.
3. New York has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to enhancing its disclosure rules. A new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition gives the Empire State a score of 10 out of 100. This makes New York second to last among the fifty states, just ahead of North Dakota. The Coalition recommends both stronger enforcement of current state disclosure rules and adoption of important reforms, including mandating the disclosure of “electioneering communications” (spending that is intended to influence an election but that steers clear of so-called “magic words” such as “vote for” or “vote against”) and requiring political advertising to include information about the ad’s sponsor.
4. The New York Times reports that the Committee to Save New York, an advocacy group that has supported a number of Governor Cuomo’s policies, received significant donations from groups seeking to bring casinos to New York. The article questions the timing of the donations and Governor Cuomo’s public support for growing the gambling industry, while the Cuomo camp denies that the contributions in any way affected his policies. An editorial in The New York Times urges Governor Cuomo to ask his supporters to voluntarily disclose their contributions to the Committee, even though the state ethics board has yet to issue rules that would mandate such disclosure.

Money in Politics in New York This Week: June 1st Edition

Federal as well as state representatives are mired in ethics issues. Representative Michael Grimm of Staten Island has been cited for violating the House of Representatives’ rules on permissible fundraising emails, Staten Island Live reports. Representative Grimm sent a video of one of his speeches on the House floor in a solicitation for donations, a direct violation of the House rules for which Representative Grimm took responsibility.