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.
NY Assembly Passes One-House Budget with Public Financing Reforms
On Tuesday in Albany, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spoke to a large group of Fair Elections supporters gathered for a rally. Silver assured the activists that public financing and comprehensive campaign finance reform would be in the one-house budget to be released by the Assembly the following day. “You all have until April 1st to convince the Senate to do the right thing and pass campaign finance reform,” he added. On Wednesday, the Assembly approved its one-house budget plan with the aforementioned reforms included. Specifically, the Assembly budget proposed a fund to match donations up to $250 from constituents at a 6-to-1 ratio; similar to Governor Cuomo’s budget, which was introduced last month. Under the Assembly proposal, a 10 percent surcharge on penalties for securities fraud and a $5 check-off on tax return forms would fund the system. On the Senate side, the Independent Democratic Conference and the Republicans are still negotiating the details of the chamber’s one-house budget. A Senate resolution released Thursday said that the Senate budget would modify Governor Cuomo’s public financing program, but did not specify how.
Fmr. NJ Governor Whitman: NY Can Serve as Shining Example of Reform
In a recent interview, the first female governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, explained why she supports Fair Elections reform in New York. Whitman stated that public financing presents a grand opportunity for New York to showcase itself as a leader in reform. Although she was not an early supporter of public financing, she soon realized that it would allow “those who don’t have access to great wads of money the opportunity to compete.” In addition, she said, public financing could help control the extraordinary costs of running an election campaign—as it did when she was running for governor in New Jersey. When asked why there is so much opposition to public financing among Republicans (her political party), she replied that the “Koch brothers aren’t the only people who give a lot of money. There’s a MoveOn.org and there are the unions, so it should play to [the Republicans’] advantage too to see some of this [reform] and get some of their nontraditional candidates more attention.”
McCutcheon Presents Opportunity for New York to Address Money in Politics
This year, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in the Washington Post that although the decision is difficult to predict at this stage, one possibility is that the Roberts Court could invalidate aggregate contribution limits—restrictions on the total amount that one individual can donate to all political campaigns within an election cycle. Regardless of the outcome, the decision presents an excellent opportunity for New York State to address the torrent of unlimited spending on elections by special interests. Governor Cuomo has proposed a series of reforms including matching small donations with public funds, in order to give constituents the same clout that mega-bundlers and PACs have in Albany. The measure would also reduce sky-high contribution limits and beef up enforcement of campaign laws. In addition, the system also presents distinct advantages for women. “All five states that have public financing rank in the top 12 for the proportion of women legislators, with two in the top five.”
Norden: Public Financing Can Make Elected Officials Dependent on Their Constituents Rather than Special Interests
In a Buffalo News op-ed last week, Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, stated that comprehensive campaign finance reform, with a public funding option, is the most practical remedy to the influx of big money in state politics. Although some reformers have pinned their hopes exclusively on a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United, such a feat would entail a long and arduous process including the cooperation of 37 states and two-thirds of Congress. Alternatively, public financing can mitigate many of the problems—such as the disproportionate influence of special interests and mega-donors—of the current system, and has a real shot of passing this year. It has already garnered the support of a majority of assembly members, senators and the governor. The objective of any reform, Norden explained, should be to make politicians dependent on their constituents rather than those writing the biggest checks. “The experiences of Connecticut and New York City,” he noted, “show that comprehensive campaign finance reform, with public financing at its core, can be a valuable step toward cleaning up our state government.”