Money in Politics In New York: Week of April 23


1. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver formally introduced a bill this week that would create a statewide voluntary public matching funds program in New York, calling on fellow legislators to pass the bill and make New York state “the model for the rest of the nation in establishing and preserving fair elections.” In a press release accompanying the announcement, Silver noted, “In light of the devastating effects the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has had on federal elections, we in New York should be leading the way in reducing the influence of money in our own elections.” The full bill, which can be read here on the State Assembly website, in addition to providing new contribution limits and enforcement rules, also stipulates that the public campaign fund would be partially financed with money from Wall Street fraud settlements.

2. Media producer and NY LEAD coalition member Marc Weiss, writing for Newsday, called for New York senators and assembly members to support Gov. Cuomo and Speaker Silver in passing public campaign finance legislation, asking, “Do they want to continue business as usual, or do they want to be part of the solution?” Under the state’s current system, Weiss observed, “regular voters feel disconnected from the process and tune out altogether. He went on to cite a Siena poll conducted earlier this year that found 3 out of every 4 New Yorkers would support a statewide campaign finance reform that includes a voluntary small-donor public matching funds program.

3. Washington Post editorial writer E.J. Dionne offered unequivocal support this week for public campaign finance in New York state, pointing out that, like the New York City small-donor matching system on which it is modeled, the state public finance legislation “creates incentives for more people to participate… expands the number of people speaking through their contributions… [and] opens the way for candidates who might otherwise be driven from the competition by established politicians with access to traditional funding sources.” Simply put, Dionne concludes, “it makes our democracy democratic again.”

4. The Nation reminds us why this year presents such a unique opportunity for the passage of public campaign finance in New York, pointing out that the current legislative campaign has garnered the support of the pro-business Committee on Economic Development, Senator Russ Feingold, and an impressive roster of business leaders and philanthropists. But no bill will pass without the public support of Gov. Cuomo; the article finds that public campaign finance presents the governor with the opportunity “to step into the leadership vacuum and provide a rare glimpse of hope on a mission-critical progressive priority.”

5. Former state Senator Carl Kruger was sentenced to seven years in prison on Thursday for his leading role in a million-dollar bribery conspiracy that exemplified the pay-to-play reputation of the New York state legislature. In imposing the sentence, federal judge Jed S. Rakoff observed that Kruger had engaged in “extensive, long-lasting, substantial bribery schemes that frankly were like daggers in the heart of honest government.” This week also saw closing arguments in the corruption trial of Pedro Espada, Jr., the former state senate majority leader accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a publicly funded healthcare system in order to finance his lavish personal lifestyle.