Money in Politics in New York: Sept. 20 edition

September 20, 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.

U.S. and NY Attorneys Testify at Moreland Commission’s First Hearing
The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption held its first hearing in New York City on Tuesday. The Commission, composed of district attorneys, law professors and private sector lawyers, was appointed by Governor Cuomo to investigate corruption in the state legislature. Federal prosecutors, state district attorneys, reform organizations, and members of the general public testified at the hearing. Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who is leading the corruption cases against lawmakers caught taking bribes earlier this year, was the first speaker. He decried the “unacceptable level” of corruption in Albany. Under new policies,his office will use civil forfeiture to prevent convicted public officials from collecting a tax-payer funded pension. Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, called for greater financial disclosure by legislators to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. recommended changes to state laws that would ease the burden for prosecutors trying corruption cases.

Good Government Groups, NYC City Councilman Ask Moreland Commission to Consider Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform
Good-government groups and a New York City Councilman were also present at the Moreland Commission hearing on Tuesday. Republican Eric Ulrich (CD-32) testified about the benefits of the city’s public matching system, which reform organizations have been pushing as a model for the state. The small donor matching system, which provides $6 for every $1 raised by a candidate up to $175, allowed Ulrich to effectively compete against an incumbent by building a broad base of grassroots support, he said. In a State Senate race however, his prospects were diminished due to the influence of large contributors. Following Ulrich, Larry Norden and Ian Vandewalker at the Brennan Center for Justice informed the Commission that comprehensive campaign finance reform was necessary to address the scale of corruption in Albany. They singled out 14 tax credits in their analysisthat are reauthorized every few years to the benefit of industries that make significant campaign contributions. Bill Samuels, co-founder of Effective NY, urged the Commission to examine campaign contributionsby groups using limited liability corporations to evade donation limits. Samuels also requested further investigation into political party “housekeeping accounts,” which have become a means for transferring contributions to party-favored candidates.

NYC Public Financing System Kept Focus on Constituents
Although outside spending played a role in New York City’s first citywide election since the Citizens United decision, Mark Schmitt argues in the New Republic that public financing helped keep the focus on small donors. Public financing allowed candidates like Scott Stringer and Joe Lhota to compete against well-known, self-financed millionaires. Unlike many jurisdictions throughout the country, the city requires outside groups to make detailed disclosures of their donations and expenditures, with data available online. In total dollar terms, the ratio of candidate spending to outside dollars in New York City was $105 million to $12.7 million—over eight to one. By contrast, in the 2012 U.S. Senate races, this ratio was only two to one. Even with the ever-increasing threat of independent expenditures, almost all candidates participated in the public financing program, likely because the amplification of grassroots support through public matching funds is an effective way to defend against independent spending.

Primary Winners, Common Cause Praise Public Financing Model
Around 10 victors from the City Council primary election held a press conference outside City Hall with Common Cause/NY on Monday. Susan Lerner, executive director at Common Cause/NY, said that the races demonstrated that New York City’s public campaign financing model works well and should be adopted by the state. The attendees pointed out that the influence of  independent spenders like Jobs for New York, a group backed by real estate developers, was blunted by the public funding system. City Council nominees including Ben Kallos (CD-05), Margaret Chin (CD-01), Laurie Cumbo (CD-35), Mark Levine (CD-07) and Carlos Menchaca (CD-38) were present to show their support for the City’s campaign finance system. Kallos emphasized thatpublic campaign financing allows “idealist candidates who are reformers to get elected without being in debt to the very special interest we are running against.”

Post-Star Commends Moreland Commission’s Investigation
The Post-Star in Glens Falls, New York, commended the work of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption in an editorial last week. Legislators in Albany perform public service part-time from January to June each year and are allowed the hold employment positions at law firms, companies and government agencies. In early September, the commission requested state lawmakers provide information regarding outside employment if they were compensated more than $20,000 in 2012, as well as a description of the work performed. “It is a level of transparency that is long overdue and would immediately expose any patronage going on in Albany,” the Post-Star stated.