Money in Politics in NY: April 8th Edition

Six Arrested in Corruption Scandal Involving Senator Smith (IDC-Hollis) and NYC Republican Party Chairmen
Six individuals have been arrested for their role in a corruption scandal uncovered this week. At the center of the controversy,is Senator Malcolm Smith (IDC-Hollis). Smith, a Democrat, wanted to gain access to the Republican ballot in November for a shot at mayor of New York City. Getting on the ballot required signatures from a majority of New York City’s five Republican Party Chairmen. To persuade the Republican leaders in New York City, Smith promised to secure state funds for real estate developers, who in turn would funnel money to Joseph J. Savino, Bronx Republican Party Chairman, and Vincent Tabone, Queens Republican Party Chairman. New York City Councilman Dan Halloran III arranged meetings between the real estate developers and the Republican Party Chairmen and offered to divert City Council discretionary funds to the real estate company. In exchange, he received $18,300 in cash and $6,500 in campaign contributions from the real estate developers. The real estate developers were actually an undercover FBI agent and a cooperating witness. Over the past seven years, 29 state officeholders in Albany have been convicted of a crime, censured or accused of wrongdoing. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who unsealed federal corruption charges against Senator Smith and the parties involved, stated that “political corruption in New York is indeed rampant and that a show-me-the- money culture in Albany is alive and well.” Both the overhaul and enforcement of our state campaign finance laws is well overdue to change the culture of Albany and restore the public’s faith in our representatives.
Albany Times-Union: Smith Scandal Sheds Light on Need for Historic Reform
An Albany Times-Union editorial this week asks New Yorkers to demand reforms in light of the recent scandal involving Senator Malcolm Smith (IDC-Hollis). Although good government groups have been gathering momentum for the reform effort throughout the state, they have been upstaged by Senator Smith. “Exhibit A for tougher campaign finance laws, suddenly, is Malcolm Smith — now not just a state senator, but a criminal defendant.” The quid pro quo deals and mega donations in this corruption scandal are emblematic of the lax enforcement and high contribution limits that characterize the landscape in New York. New Yorkers deserve fundamental reform that will give them ownership of the political process. “Don’t let the Legislature get away with anything less than historic reform.”
At Press Conference, Fair Elections NY Coalition Calls for Immediate Reforms
At a press conference on Wednesday, advocates from the Brennan Center, the New York Leadership for Accountable Government, and the Fair Elections New York Coalition insisted that the latest string of political scandals shows the desperate need to remove big moneyfrom politics in Albany. The corruption scheme is indicative of the pay-to-play culture in Albany where big donors are awarded with plush state contracts, funds and tax breaks. “Corruption scandals in New York are, unfortunately, nothing new. The number of state office holders who have been arrested in the last decade is itself a scandal,” said Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. According to a press release from the Fair Elections New York Coalition, the latest arrests and resignations deepen the “crisis of confidence and widen the gulf between the people and their government.” NY LEAD member Peter Zimroth, who served as a partner at Arnold & Porter reminded New Yorkers not to forget the lessons of history. “We have an opportunity today to harness this anger and make important change. It happened in 1988 after a series of political scandals in the city. The mayor and the City Council passed landmark laws to give a voice to citizens without access to large sums of money. Now it must happen in Albany.” Video clips are available here.
Former Congressman Mike Arcuri in Post-Standard: Slow the Money Chase
Mike Arcuri, former Congressman from Syracuse and a member of the New York Leadership for Accountable Government, wrote an op-ed this week in the SyracusePost-Standard encouraging the New York Legislature to adopt campaign finance reform. Arcuri states he is deeply concerned about the corrosive role that large private donations play in political campaigns and the legislative process in both Washington, D.C. and Albany. “As a former member of Congress who witnessed firsthand the outsized influence that big donors and connected special interests have in Washington, D.C., I applaud the efforts of my fellow New Yorkers to create a more positive future for our politics.” Currently legislators spend an inordinate amount of time and energy courting special interests and wealthy donors. Matching small donations with public funds can flip this reality. Several states have already adopted some measure of public financing for their political races, and citizens in these states have already witnessed the enormous benefits. “Qualified people from all walks of life are able to serve, and the relationship between money and politics is greatly reduced. Voters have the opportunity to be in control of their government, not the connected few.”