Vandewalker: Public Financing “Pilot” Program Designed to Implode
Writing in Newsday, Ian Vandewalker, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, praised New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for opting out of the state’s poorly crafted public financing “pilot” program. Despite calls by the public and several good government groups to comprehensively reform New York’s campaign finance laws, Governor Cuomo and the legislative leadership failed to deliver a real public financing system, instead agreeing upon an experiment limited to the 2014 comptroller elections. The state’s notoriously dysfunctional Board of Elections was empowered to implement the law for this year’s upcoming comptroller race. “[T]he system was designed to implode,” said Vandewalker. Furthermore, the bill, which was passed in a state budget agreement in early April, fails to lower sky-high campaign contribution limits, close campaign funding loopholes, or mandate greater disclosure of independent expenditures by special interest groups. Read more…
One tech journalist calls the federal DATA Act “the most significant open government legislation enacted by Congress in generations, going back to the Freedom of Information Act in 1966.” He may be slightly excited, but the DATA Act, which passed the Senate and the House with overwhelming bi-partisan support, is on President Obama’s desk and is certainly a big deal for the federal government, and potentially as a model for states like New York.
The DATA Act standardizes how federal spending, budget, contract, and payment data is stored and reported. It also creates a universal corporate identifier, like an EIN or DUNs number for any entity receiving federal funds.
National transparency advocates are excited to see the legislation on the verge of becoming law. According to Daniel Schuman, policy counsel for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington:
“The effort to reform transparency around federal spending arose in large part because members of both political parties concluded that their ability to govern effectively depends on making sure federal spending data is comprehensive, accessible, reliable, and timely. Currently, it is not. … We welcome and applaud the House of Representative’s passage of the DATA Act. It is a remarkable bill that, if properly implemented, will empower elected officials and everyday citizens alike to follow how the federal government spends money.”
Matt Rumsey, a policy analyst at the Sunlight Foundation, adds:
“Sunlight has been advocating for the DATA Act for some time, and we are thrilled to see it emerge from Congress. ‘Congress has taken a big step by passing the DATA Act. The challenge now will be ensuring that it is implemented effectively.’ We hope that the President swiftly signs the bill and we look forward to working with his administration to shed more light on federal spending.
The DATA Act has four basic aims:
- Open federal agency expenditures by linking them to contracts, loans, and grants, as well as to their parent programs.
- Create standard formats for financial data to make it USASpending.gov more consistent and searchable.
- Simplify reporting for entities receiving federal funds.
- Increase accountability for agency-submitted data on USASpending.gov by forcing agencies to ensure completeness and accuracy of financial data.
Governor Could Have Responded to McCutcheon Decision with Reform
In a Journal News op-ed, Lawrence Norden and Frederick A.O Schwarz of the Brennan Center, wrote that Governor Cuomo’s refusal to pass meaningful reform in the state budget was especially disheartening in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Despite his promise to pass comprehensive public financing reform for all state elections, the governor approved a narrow and ineffective pilot program for the Comptroller’s office only. This “reform” package did nothing to reduce campaign contribution limits or close loopholes that disproportionately benefit incumbents. Last year, the Moreland Commission found New York’s campaign finance laws to be wholly inadequate. McCutcheon has the potential to exacerbate the problem if New York’s aggregate limits are struck down—which would allow a single individual to donate over $2.4 million to political candidates and committees in an election cycle. In this environment, another corruption scandal is inevitable. Read more…
New York Times: Most Fundamental Reform Missing from State Budget
Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders passed New York’s 2014-15 budget last week without a comprehensive small donor public matching system—instead establishing a very limited pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race in 2014. Adding to this lapse in leadership, Governor Cuomo said he will disband the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, labeling the narrow ethics reforms in the budget a triumph. This was an especially disappointing development in light of the myriad of corruption scandals that engulfed several legislators in recent years, including three of the last five Senate Majority Leaders or Co-leaders. Newspapers throughout the state saw through the spin. The New York Times opined that the budget’s inadequate ethics reforms do not “come close to attacking the root of the corruption problem” in Albany. “The most fundamental reform,” the Times continued, namely public matching funds for small donations in all state races, “is missing.” Read more…