Money and Politics This Week

February 17, 2012

Crossposted at ReformNY.

Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling 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. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Matthew Ladd.

 

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

 

New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News

 

1. The New York Times renewed its call for Gov. Cuomo to make good on his promise to reform the state’s campaign finance regime, citing a public campaign financing program as a necessary component of any legitimate reform efforts. The editorial also called for lower contribution limits, reforms to housekeeping accounts, and a prohibition on using campaign funds for personal expenses.

 

2. The Times also reports that some of New York’s most prominent businessmen, political donors and former public officials have joined the New York Leadership for Accountable Government (NY LEAD) coalition, demonstrating to lawmakers that public campaign financing has garnered the support of New York’s business and donor communities. Allies of the coalition include notable names such as Barry Diller, David Rockefeller and former NY major Ed Koch, as well as William Donaldson, former chairman of the SEC, and several former members of Congress. The alliance also produced reports from the Albany Times Union, Politics on the Hudson, NCPR, and other media outlets.

3. The Center for Working Families released a study today finding that public financing can help candidates from poor and majority-minority districts raise funds in their own communities. The study was released in advance of the of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus’ annual conference weekend. The New York City system of public matching dollars has led to a more racially diverse city council, the study found.

4. Michael Grimm, the US Representative for Staten Island, has come under scrutiny for a “checkered business background” that includes joint dealings with a former F.B.I. colleague convicted on state racketeering and fraud charges. The new publicity regarding Mr. Grimm’s business history, combined with a recent New York Times report that the Republican freshman raised campaign funds with the help of a man currently under federal investigation for embezzlement, has led the Romney presidential campaign to drop him as a regional surrogate and campaigner.

5. Former state Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr., is back in the news after federal prosecutors accused him of intentionally disguising personal expenses—paid for with funds allegedly embezzled from his Soundview health care clinics—as tax-deductible business expenses. The prosecutors’ letter to the judge in Espada’s corruption trial finds that the disgraced state senator claimed the rental costs of a Puerto Rico villa as “legal fees” on a corporate tax return, and mislabeled funds used for spa treatments for himself and his family, as well as for improvements to his home in Westchester County.

6. “Albany’s Favorite Felon” is former state Sen. Nick Spano, according to an article describing Spano’s lucrative second career as a lobbyist for state gambling interests. Spano pleaded guilty last week to felony charges of state and federal tax evasion. In contrast to states that prohibit lobbying activity by felons, such as New Jersey, New York still allows such activity, leaving Spano free to continue lobbying on behalf of gambling clients such as Genting—owner of the Aqueduct Race Track in Yonkers—which reportedly pays him $25,000 a month for his services. That such lobbying is legal, the Times Union remarks, is “downright embarrassing.”

7. A federal jury heard arguments yesterday in the trial of former Yonkers City Council member Sandy Annabi, who allegedly took nearly $175,000 in bribes to secure her support for two local development projects.

 

Campaign Finance News Nationwide

1. This week the New York Times expressed its strong support for the Disclose 2012 Act, currently pending in Congress but unlikely to move forward without Republican support in the Senate. The bill would require, among other reforms, that the names behind donations of $10,000 or more be disclosed within 24 hours, making it more difficult for super PACs and other funding groups to abuse lax reporting deadlines. The lack of a Republican sponsor or supporter in the Senate, however, seems to belie Sen. Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s statement in 2000 that members of his party favored strong disclosure laws.