Money in Politics in NY: Jan 24 Edition

January 24, 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.

Gov. Cuomo Proposes Public Financing of Elections in Budget

In his executive budget proposal to the legislature this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo included legislation advancing reforms to the state’s campaign finance, disclosure and election laws. Under the proposal, contributions up to $175 to state legislative candidates would be matched with public financing at a 6-to-1 ratio, starting in 2016. Then in 2018, candidates for state-wide office would also be eligible for the voluntary public financing program. Participating candidates would have to abide by strict contribution and spending limits in exchange for the public funds. “I think it is inarguable that the amount of money in politics has created a number of difficult issues,” Cuomo stated in his executive budget presentation. Other proposals in the budget were lower corporate contribution limits, down to $1,000 per year, new limits on donations to party “housekeeping accounts” at $25,000 per year, detailed prohibitions on using campaign contributions for the personal benefit of a candidate, and disclosure of major donors supporting organizations engaged in independent expenditures. The law would also create an Independent Division of Election Law Enforcement in the State Board of Elections, with a budget of $5.3 million and additional staff to support enforcement of campaign and election rules.

Sixty-four Percent of New Yorkers Support Public Financing of Campaigns

Once again, a majority of New Yorkers across various demographics have come out in support of public financing of election campaigns according to a Siena College Research Institute Poll released this week. The survey asked registered voters in the state whether they favor creating a “system of public campaign financing” that limits “the size of political contributions to candidates,” and uses “state money to match smaller contributions to candidates.” Overall, 64 percent replied in the affirmative. A majority of Democrats and Independents, 71 percent and 66 percent respectively, and a plurality of Republicans, 49 percent, stand behind the measure. More than 60 percent of New Yorkers from Upstate, suburbia and New York City support the public financing initiative. As page 7 of the report illustrates, this is the fifth time since January of last year that public financing has garnered the approval of a majority of New Yorkers.

Buffalo News Commends Gov. Cuomo for Campaign Finance Reform in Budget Proposal

This week, the Buffalo News editorialized in favor of the comprehensive campaign finance reform proposal outlined by Governor Cuomo in his budget address. Although politicians may claim otherwise, the unfortunate reality of the status quo is that special interests expect results from—not just access to—Albany lawmakers, the editorial argues. The lack of effective campaign finance laws and enforcement drives corruption and bad behavior in Albany by keeping incumbents in power. “Would [Assembleymember Dennis] Gabryszak have been so wanton in his behavior if he knew he faced a strong opponent?,” the editorial asks. A system of public financing would transform Albany. Due to the incentive of matching small donations collected by candidates, officeholders would be encouraged to focus on their constituents, not just wealthy donors. Fewer fundraisers and more interaction with constituents could help foster the trust necessary for effective government. “New York has a lot of work to do over the coming months and in years beyond. It can’t do that work as well as New Yorkers need if voters don’t trust officeholders.”

Utica Observer-Dispatch Praises Cuomo’s Campaign Finance Budget Proposals

Utica Observer-Dispatch editorial this week praised Governor Cuomo for including public campaign financing in his executive budget proposal. Noting the expense of running a campaign in New York and the high reelection rate of incumbents, the editorial reasoned that opportunities for potential challengers are slim. “[I]f your political ambition is bigger than your bank account, forget it. New York’s pay-to-play election system will keep you on the sidelines,” the editorial said. In Maine, where voters approved a Clean Elections Law in 1996, 70 percent of Maine legislators participate in the public financing program, skipping the big fundraisers and mega-donations for small donations. “Let’s hope Cuomo and the Legislature — where Republicans have stated opposition to the initiatives — can make this happen,” the article concluded.