Money in Politics in New York: Jan 17 Edition

January 17, 2014

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.

Good Government Groups Ask Gov. Cuomo for Reform
Thirty good-government, trade and faith-based organizations penned a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday, urging him to include public financing of state campaigns in his annual executive budget proposal. “New Yorkers have waited long enough for action on curbing corruption and reducing the undue influence and role of campaign money in state government,” the letter stated. Governor Cuomo can add campaign finance reform in his executive budget proposal set to go out next Tuesday. This would force the state legislature to negotiate on anti-corruption measures. According to the groups, the “state budget process allows the best opportunity for making campaign reform a reality in 2014.” The Brennan Center, Common Cause NY, the New York Public Interest Research Group, the State Council of Churches, the Long Island Progressive Coalition, and the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce were just some of the signatories to the letter.

Common Cause: Pro-Fracking Interests Spent Millions on Politics
A new Common Cause/NY report released Monday highlights the role that money plays in the policy debate over allowing hydraulic fracturing in New York. Since 2007 and up until July of last year, pro-fracking businesses, trade organizations, and unions spent $15.4 million on campaign contributions to state lawmakers, who are set to determine the fate of the practice in New York. By comparison, anti-fracking environmental organizations, unions and advocacy groups spent merely $1.9 million on campaign contributions during that period. In addition to campaign contributions, both sides spent huge sums on lobbying lawmakers, according to state records. Pro-fracking interests have focused contributions on the parties in power. The Senate Republicans and the four-member Independent Democratic Conference—who jointly control the chamber—received $3.1 million and $194,000 respectively, whereas Senate Democrats garnered only $785,000 from pro-fracking groups. In the Democratically controlled Assembly, the Democrats obtained $1.3 million and Republicans acquired just $643,000. Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY,noted that “Hydraulic fracturing has been one of the most polarizing issues in recent history, with no shortage of political money invested by pro-fracking interests to achieve a favorable outcome… New York State needs comprehensive campaign finance and lobbying reform to assure New Yorkers that public policy is based on their interest, not the special interests.”

Norden: Public Financing Is More Effective than a Constitutional Amendment
Last week, Sam Fedele, coordinator of Move to Amend-Rochester, authored an op-ed in the Democrat & Chronicle criticizing the Moreland Commission’s recommendations to fix the perilous state of corruption in Albany. Fedele argued that in the face of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the only remedy is a constitutional amendment that allows all money spent on politics, including independent expenditures, to be restricted. Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, responded with an op-ed of his own. He reasoned that although passing a constitutional amendment is a worthy endeavor, it could take years, if not decades. On the other hand, comprehensive campaign finance reform, including public financing, can be enacted this year. The proposal came shy of passing the State Senate by just one vote last year. Furthermore, Fedele conflates state lawmakers from New York City with city lawmakers from New York City: “18 of the 19 corrupt Senators and Assembly members cited by the commission represented districts from within that very same New York City matching system,” he claims. However as Norden points out, those 18 lawmakers ran for state office under the state’s campaign finance system, not for city office under the city’s public financing system. In fact, corruption in New York City has decreased since public financing was instituted in 1989. In 2012-2013, individuals were responsible for 93 percent of all contributions in city elections, compared to only 31 percent of all contributions in state legislative elections—the remainder of the contributions were made by special interest groups.