Money in Politics in New York: December 7 Edition


Every Friday, the Brennan Center 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.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag#moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.

Cuomo Outlines List of 10 Priorities: Campaign Finance Reform is No. 2

Governor Cuomo refused to endorse more than two candidates in New York State Assembly and Senate races this year. Now, with the Senate leadership undetermined, he is still unwilling to put his weight behind individual legislators, rather, the Governor is asserting that he will support Senators based on their positions on a list of ten issues he deems to be the most important over the coming year. In a victory for reformers, campaign finance reform is high on the list, along with other progressive initiatives such as raising the minimum wage and changing New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy. It remains to be seen whether the newly emerged Senate coalition composed of Republicans and a breakaway group of 5 Independent Democrats will be responsive to these requests from the Governor, or if they will simply continue the tradition of dysfunction that the New York State Legislature has become well-known for. It is up to the citizens of New York to keep the pressure on their elected officials in order to ensure that public matching for small in-district donations remains a crucial aspect of any campaign finance reform proposal.


New York Times Editorial Asks Governor Cuomo to Support Fair Elections

In an excellent editorial, the New York Times urged Governor Cuomo to make New York’s system of electing legislators the fairest and most transparent in the country. The editorial emphasized the need for a public financing mechanism modeled on New York City’s successful small donor matching program, where the first $175 of any donation is matched at a 6-to-1 ratio. According to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, a majority of contributors in City Council elections in recent cycles were giving for the first time, and of those first-time contributors, 83 percent gave $175 or less. Lower limits on individual and corporate contributions are also necessary, along with closing loopholes like unrestricted donations to political party “housekeeping” committees. And given that campaign treasuries can be used for almost anything, including veterinarian bills, pool parties and birthdays, clear rules regarding campaign funds are paramount. As the Times put it, “By setting a national standard for public financing, New York State could go from laggard to leader.”


NY Business, Civic and Philanthropic Leaders Insist Governor Cuomo Include Campaign Finance Reform in his State of the State

In addition to the editorial by the New York Times, other New Yorkers are also emphasizing the importance of Fair Elections in the upcoming legislative session. The New York Leadership for Accountable Government (NY LEAD), a bipartisan group of business, civic and philanthropic leaders, sent a letter to Governor Cuomo asking him to make citizen-funded elections a priority in his State of the State Address. “A Fair Elections campaign finance system would encourage voter participation, incentivize diversity among candidates and help curb the corrupting power of big money,” the letter stated.


Public Financing of Elections in NYS Would Cost Only $2 per Person

A new study from the Campaign Finance Institute by Professor Michael Malbin concludes that the cost of running a public financing system in New York State would be roughly $40 million, which works out to $2 per New Yorker— not a bad trade considering the millions more the state government wastes in handouts to special interests. Additional taxes are unnecessary; the current revenue stream can simply be redirected towards ensuring our elections are clean and fair. In 2012, 76 percent of the money raised by New York State legislative candidates was from large donors that contributed $1,000 or more. By contrast, only 8 percent came from donors who gave $250 or less. The research evaluated the consequences of implementing a public financing bill (A9885) introduced by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last session. Four alternative scenarios, involving changes in the number of donors and election contests yielded cost estimates from $25 million to $40 million.