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.
Corporate Contributions Follow the Party in Power
The Center for Working Families has issued a new report, The Big Switch, which details patterns of corporate contributions in New York State political campaigns. The Big Switch explains how corporate contributions flow to candidates who are in power, rather than candidates of a particular political party or ideology. When the Republicans controlled the New York State Senate in 2008, corporations gave $3.2 million to Republicans and $2.8 million to Democrats. When the Democrats gained control in 2009, however, money flowed to the newly appointed Democratic committee chairs, and the Democrats garnered $3.7 million in corporate contributions, compared to $2.5 million by Republicans. In 2011, as the Republicans regained control, the situation reversed again: Republicans received the majority, $3.2 million, from corporations while Democrats raised $1.4 million. According to Dave Palmer, executive director of the Center for Working Families, the analysis demonstrates that “corporate entities are giving not based on a particular candidate or a particular party, and … that [donors] are hoping to get a return on their investment.”
A Few New Yorkers Serve as an ATM for Politicians
As public concern grows over the unprecedented flow of outside money into politics, Common Cause has revealed that New York State is a rather popular source of funds for federal political campaigns. According to the report, New York State’s role as an ATM for politicians should be no source of pride; rather it illustrates the urgent need for campaign finance reform, both in Albany and Washington. A quarter of the nation’s donors that contributed over $1 million to Super PACs are New Yorkers. In addition 99 New Yorkers have given $25,000 or more to Super PACs for a sum of $30.7 million. And 74 of those 99 have also contributed at the state level for a total of $8.9 million to candidates and committees since 2009. “As long as politicians are accountable to the corporations, lobbyists, and wealthy individuals who finance their campaigns, they’re never going to be accountable to the people who elect them,” states Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.
Outside Money Floods New York State Senate Races
Advertisements funded by outside groups targeting candidates in New York State Senate races are becoming increasingly common. A handful of Senate races, particularly in Queens, Westchester County and Rochester, will be instrumental in determining the partisan leaning of the chamber. Outside groups are projected to funnel at least $2 million into just these three races by Election Day. The independent spending highlights New York State’s lax campaign finance and disclosure laws, which do not require all groups running ads to fully identify themselves. “The average voter would be hard-pressed to identify who is behind many of the advertisements and mailers financed by third-party groups,” reports The New York Times. The Times has investigated two entities engaged in these deceptive ads and mailers. First, it determined that VOTE/COPE Committee, which has attacked Republican Assemblyman Sean T. Hanna’s positions on hydraulic fracturing, women’s health and gun control, is actually the political arm of the teacher’s union, New York State United Teacher. VOTE/COPE Committee is targeting Hanna for his support of pension reform. The Times also reported that Common Sense, which has produced mailers critical of Democratic Assemblyman Goerge S. Latimer for his support of gay marriage, is based in Virginia, and is directed by Republican strategist Christopher LaCivita. LaCivita also advised the shadowy Swift Boat Veterans for Truth back in 2004. After the landmark ethics overhaul enacted last year, the State Board of Elections has developed rules for the disclosure of spending by outside groups, but those that don’t explicitly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate are exempt from this requirement. “You don’t need to hire a team of campaign-finance lawyers to figure out how to evade disclosure under the Board of Elections regulation,” said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “It’s as simple as pie. And all you do is leave out the ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against.’”