Money in Politics in NY: July 27th Edition

July 27, 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. Even with the legislature out of session, lobbyists and politicians are swinging clubs together at golf fundraisers. The Albany Times-Union reports that the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee recently held its annual fundraiser at the Wiltwyck Golf Club. The Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee each have similar fundraisers planned over the next month. “The golf events aren’t about golf. Like any political fundraiser, it’s a chance to spend easy time with lawmakers and their closest aides, building relationships that will make more serious talk in the Capitol hallways go easier.” Sean Coffey, writing in The Buffalo News, notes that this shocking degree of camaraderie is due to the lax campaign finance laws in New York state. The simple truth is that in such an environment “voters can’t compete. Less than one-half of 1 percent of voters donate to political campaigns, making New York dead last among the states in citizen participation (and 48th in voter turnout).” That is why—as the Brennan Center and Sean Coffey have argued–New York State needs a public financing system modeled on New York City’s. This would encourage participation by everyday New Yorkers in the political process and reduce overreliance on donations from a few wealthy individuals and corporations.

2. This summer, politicians in Albany are busy amassing funds for their war chest. In the Senate the GOP campaigns have acquired a total of $ 20. 3 million while the Democrats have pulled together $ 3. 8 million. Many lawmakers have also begun bolstering their campaign accounts through investments. Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has earned $ 41, 571 in dividends and interest by investing a portion of his $ 2. 8 million campaign funds. Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has invested $ 717, 319 out of his $ 2.1 million war chest.  An examination of Silver’s campaign finance records displays that his investments include companies with state contracts, lobbying relationships with legislators, and regulatory interests. The list also contains several firms that contributed handsomely to Silver’s campaign such as Verizon, JP Morgan Chase and GE. Skelos’s investments reveal bonds in local government, school district, hospital, library and public works projects. Although the investments are legal–they are operated by separate mutual funds–they nonetheless raise questions about conflicts of interests. Elected officials are required to disclose the purchase of investments, but they do not need to provide details about interest and dividends gains or losses.