Money in Politics in New York: August 10th Edition

August 10, 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. New York State’s campaign finance rules allow lawmakers wide latitude to use campaign funds for covering legal fees, restaurant tabs, season tickets to professional sporting events, or in the infamous case of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a $1,300 pool clean-up. Unfortunately the State Board of Elections only exacerbates the problem with lax enforcement of the law. The New York Public Interest Research Group examined the board’s rulings over the past five years and found that “they never take action on anything.” New York needs an overhaul of its campaign finance system, and an independent and robust enforcement body to oversee it.

2. New York City’s exemplary small-donor matching fund system should serve as a model for reform in New York State. But, while matching funds are an important feature of the City’s system, any reform being considered in Albany that hopes to replicate the City’s success should include lower contribution limits and an overhaul of administration and enforcement, writes Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group. Among other reforms, New York State’s sky-high contribution limits need to be lowered across the board for both participating and non-participating candidates, and loopholes that allow Limited Liability Companies to be treated as “individuals” and corporate affiliates to be treated as separate entities subject to their own limits must be eliminated. Comprehensive reform should also incorporate lower limits on party fundraising and deal with “housekeeping committee” accounts. Finally, Mahoney writes, administration and enforcement of a new campaign finance regime should not remain in the hands of the State Board of Elections, which has been mired in partisanship and has proven itself to be an ineffective enforcement body. Several individuals that donated above the legal threshold annually faced no consequences from the Board. In addition, the Board failed to draft rules for the disclosure of independent expenditures by Super PACs, which it was supposed to finish by January of 2012. The citizens of New York State deserve better.

3. In New York City executives that are engaged in business with the city government have discovered roundabout methods to avoid strict campaign contribution limits. Bundlers, the intermediaries that deliver donations from multiple donors to a candidate, can skirt campaign finance rules which restrict city contractors and lobbyists to just $ 400 in contributions per candidate. Jay Kriegel of Related Companies is an active bundler and a registered lobbyist. In March of this year, Kriegel contributed $ 400 to each of Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson, and Scott Stringer’s campaigns for mayor. Although as a lobbyist Kriegel isn’t eligible to receive matching funds for his own contributions, the contributions he bundles are matchable. Data from the New York City Campaign Finance Board shows that between October 2007 and July 2012 Kriegel bundled a combined total of $100,000 for the same four candidates. Nearly half of his funds went to Quinn who, as City Council Speaker, voted to allow Related Companies to proceed with the western phase of its 12 million-square-foot Hudson Yards complex in Quinn’s district. The New York World analyzed the financial disclosures of six prospective mayoral candidates—Quinn, Stringer, de Blasio, Thompson, John Liu, and Anthony Weiner—and found that 60 bundlers, who were engaged in business with the city, bundled almost $1 million for the prospective 2013 mayoral candidates. If these candidates choose to opt into the city’s public financing program, the contributions from bundlers will be matched 6-to-1 for the first $175 of each donation. Advocacy organizations such as Citizens Union and New York Public Interest Research Group have recommended that contributions bundled by lobbyists should not be eligible for matching funds.