Money in Politics in New York: June 14 Edition

June 14, 2013

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.

Governor Cuomo Introduces Campaign Finance Reform Legislation with a Public Financing Option

Governor Andrew Cuomo has introduced legislation that seeks to enact a system of small donor matching funds for state elections, along with a number of other provisions designed to reduce corruption and special interest influence. The Governor embraced campaign finance reform as a priority in his State of the State Address back in January, but had not introduced his own bill on the issue until Tuesday of this week. Thelegislation is part of a broader package of laws designed to improve enforcement of election laws, ease voter registration, strengthen anti-bribery laws, and provide district attorneys with greater power to prosecute public corruption cases. The Governor’s bill lowers contribution limits, requires disclosure of independent expenditures, prohibits using campaign money for personal expenses, and matches small donations from constituents with public funds. “I think on the merits, this is a powerful proposal. It’s long overdue. It’s needed,” the Governor said at a news conference. If Legislators fail to pass the anti-corruption measures, Governor Cuomo has threatened to appoint a special panel, a Moreland Commission, to investigate corruption in the body.

NY LEAD Sends Letter to IDC Urging Reform

On Monday, members of the New York Leadership for Accountable Government – a bipartisan coalition of business, civic, and philanthropic leaders dedicated to reforming elections laws in the state – delivered an open letter to the Senate Independent Democratic Conference. The letter asks Senate Co-President Jeffrey D. Klein and Senators David Carlucci, Diane Savino and David Valesky to ensure that campaign finance reform is brought to the floor for a vote. “We understand that you introduced a comprehensive campaign finance reform bill…However introducing a bill without working to get it passed is worth little to the people of New York,” the letter states. Prominent signatories include Chris Hughes (Facebook Co-Founder), former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley (Co-Chair of Americans for Campaign Reform and two-time NBA Champion), Cynthia DiBartolo (Chairperson of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce), and Philip D. Radford (Greenpeace US Executive Director), among many others. The signatories reminded the Senators of their pledge earlier in the session to make Albany functional and institute major reforms. The letter was printed in the Journal News and the Staten Island Advance and was covered by the Wall Street Journal and City & State.

Journal News Editorial: IDC Should Not Hinder Reform

The Journal News put forth an excellent editorial this week in favor of comprehensive campaign finance reform, including small donor matching funds. Reform has already cleared through the New York State Assembly. However it has failed to move in the State Senate. The Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Republicans share control over the NYS Senate’s daily agenda. Although the IDC has introduced wide-ranging reform legislation – which includes public matching funds for small donations – and held public hearings on the matter, they’ve refused to bring the bill to a vote without approval from the Senate Republicans. “That is a kind of power sharing that favors political leaders but not people,” the Journal News stated. Federal Prosecutor Preet Bharara has decried the “casualness and cockiness” of corruption in Albany. The IDC members Senator Klein and Carlucci have echoed this sentiment, stating that the “people of New York deserve nothing less” than major change. As the Journal News puts it plainly, “There’s no doubt about that. It is past time to put such rhetoric into concerted action.”

Celebrities Tell Albany Representatives, “Don’t Come Home Without it”

Several notable celebrities have joined the movement to reform electionsin New York. Alec Baldwin told Legislators in a YouTube video that “It’s time to stop talking about cleaning up Albany, and start doing it.” There are videos from Liev SchreiberJason AlexanderKathleen Turner, andCynthia Nixon, and others. The actors have endorsed the Fair Elections reform package which includes a system of matching small donations with public funds, as well as lower contribution limits, restrictions on contractors and lobbyists doing business with the state, and greater enforcement and transparency. Turner put it rather bluntly: “State Legislators, patting each other down for wires, isn’t that embarrassing. It’s time Albany got cleaned up.” All of the actors had an important closing message for Legislators: “Don’t come home without it.”

Governor Cuomo Holds Events Upstate to Boost Support for Public Financing Legislation

After introducing his campaign finance reform legislation in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo held events in Syracuse and Buffalo to push for his public financing proposal and other anti-corruption measures. New York Leadership for Accountable Government members former U.S. Representative Mike Arcuri and Diane Cihak, Founder of WomenElect, also spoke at the events. Speaking before community members at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, the Governor informed the audience that he can “receive $50,000 in contributions.” Such a high amount, he insisted, can disenfranchise those who can’t afford $1,000-per-plate fundraisers. Under Cuomo’s proposal, donations to statewide candidates would be capped at $25,000 for those not receiving public money and $12,000 for those participating in the new publicly financed system.

Congressional Candidate Explains Why we Cannot Outsource Elections to Wealthy Special Interests

In an op-ed in the Poughkeepsie Journal, 2012 Congressional candidate Julian Schreibman explained why adopting Fair Elections is so important for New York. Schreibman, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Senior Assistant District Attorney for Ulster County, said he discovered shortly after campaigning that the need for multimillion-dollar fundraisers turned him away from voters. “The influx of big corporate money has turned campaigning into an arms race for cash, and it forced me to spend far too much time shaking hands with donors instead of speaking with voters.” It is no surprise then that our elected officials spend extraordinary amounts of time fundraising in office for their next election, rather than serving their constituents. With the continual gridlock in D.C., it is essential that states take the lead on passing reform legislation. Much of the stated opposition against publicly financed elections stems from the cost of such a program, which opponents of reform have falsely exaggerated. As Schreibman explains, “Public funds are already used to pay for lawmaker salaries, staffing and other expenses, including direct mail from elected officials. Our campaign finance system is the only aspect of our democracy that is not publicly funded, and it has allowed our campaigns to be captured by wealthy interests. Publicly financed elections will put our campaigns back in the hands of the people, where they belong.”

Buffalo News Editorial: Make Campaign Finance Reform a Priority before End of Session

The Buffalo News has editorialized about its priorities for what the legislature needs to accomplish before adjourning next week. Campaign finance and ethics reform were ranked as number one. As the paper put it bluntly: “Albany remains a cesspool of corruption.” This year several of our assembly members and senators were embroiled in corruption scandals. Publicly matching small donations will allow candidates without deep pockets or entrenched connections to run against financially flush and corrupt incumbents. Research from the good-government group Citizens Union confirms that the New York City elections, where public funding is already in place, allow for greater voter choice and more electoral competition, when compared with New York State races.