Money in Politics This Week

February 1, 2013

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 Syed Zaidi.

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

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM AND ETHICS NEWS

NEW YORK

Eldridge: Why Businesses Should Support Campaign Finance Reform
In a Times-Union op-ed, Sean Eldridge, president of Hudson River Ventures, calls on politicians to get serious about reform. Eldridge notes that New York’s antiquated campaign finance system is built for big donors, not average voters. Wealthy contributors can donate $60,800 to some state candidates—ten times more than what they can give to presidential candidates. Numerous loopholes such as political party “housekeeping” accounts and separate limits for affiliated corporations can eviscerate even New York’s extremely high limits. It is no surprise then that “elected officials are encouraged to spend their time with the wealthy and the well-connected, and cater to the special interests of very few, instead of the constituents who put them in office.” Furthermore, these excessive contributions skew the market in favor of select businesses with political ties. Tax loopholes, pay-to-play antics, and special interest projects tremendously benefit a few key groups but waste our taxpayer dollars. In order to generate long-term economic growth, New York needs to eliminate special treatment for the well-connected and foster an open marketplace free from corruption.

Tkaczyk Wins State Senate Race against Incumbent Assemblyman Amedore
The last undecided New York State Senate race has finally been resolved. Last Friday, George Amedore conceded to his opponent, Cecilia Tkaczyk. Tkaczyk won by a mere 19 votes, making this race the second-closest in Senate history. The contest was prolonged by legal battles over 887 ballots out of nearly 126,000 that were cast. As The Nation notes “Tkaczyk faced daunting odds. A poll one month out showed her down by twelve points. She was running with a cash disadvantage, in a GOP-gerrymandered district, with little name recognition and a hard-to-pronounce name. With little left to lose, Tkaczyk and the key groups supporting her made the race a referendum on democracy itself. In the mail and at the doors, they let the voters know that a vote for Tkaczyk was a vote for publicly financed elections.” While the furious recount was underway, Tkacyzk publicly affirmed in a Times-Union op-ed that campaign finance reform was her campaign’s core issue. “If I do get sworn in, I’ll know my support for public financing is a central reason I won the job.” Now that the job is hers, the prospects for Fair Elections legislation have picked up some steam.

68 Percent of New Yorkers Rate Campaign Finance Reform as a High Priority
Two weeks ago, the Sienna Research Institute found that59 percent of New Yorkers support a public financing and 79 percent support improved public disclosure of political contributions. This week, a Quinnipiac Poll reaffirmed these findings. When voters were asked if Governor Cuomo and the legislature should give campaign finance reform the highest priority, a high priority but not the highest, or a lower priority; 31 percent rated it as the highest priority and 37 percent as a high priority. Support for reform appears consistently strong across partisan lines. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Democrats, and 73 percent of Independents ranked campaign finance reform as a high or the highest priority.

NATIONAL

Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds WV Disclosure Law
In West Virginia, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld large portions of the state’s disclosure law. The case, Center for Individual Freedom v. Tennant, involved a provision in the law requiring the disclosure of the donors to organizations that sponsor “electioneering communications”—political ads which mention candidates by name and are released within a certain number of days before an election. The Fourth Circuit reversed an earlier district court decision, by insisting that the state may require organizations engaged in political spending (“electioneering communications” or otherwise) to disclose their donors, unless the donor expressly prohibits his or her funds from being used for political purposes. The Brennan Center filed a brief in the case, urging the Court of Appeals to uphold West Virginia’s broad definition of electioneering communications, which includes newspaper and print ads, as subject to disclosure. The Fourth Circuit affirmed that the state can constitutionally require the disclosure of both broadcast and non-broadcast media, observing that “there is no reason why the public would not have [the same] interest in knowing the source of campaign-related spending . . . [in] print” as it does in broadcast ads. 

Obama Launches 501(c)(4) non-profit to Push his Agenda
President Obama is launching a non-profit 501(c)(4) organization called Organizing for Action in support of his policy agenda. The Obama campaign will lease some valuable assets to the new group, allowing Organizing for America to employ large swaths of sophisticated databases and software, as well as trusted staff that helped propel him to two consecutive Presidential terms. The proposed structure of the organization, which includes a network of local chapters, closely resembles Americans for Prosperity—the conservative group attacked by liberals throughout the 2012 election cycle for launching hard-hitting advertisements and not disclosing its donors. Although OFA officials have stated that the group’s donors will be made public, the organization can choose what to reveal since disclosure is not mandated by law. Despite the President’s enthusiasm for campaign finance reform on reddit, this instance appears to be another in a series of flip-flops on the topic.

Proposal to Gut Maine Clean Elections Fund Draws Protests
In response to Governor Paul LePage’s budget proposal to cut $4 million from the Maine Clean Elections Fund, Mainers converged at the State House in protest. Members of the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections gathered over 11,000 postcards in support of the program from residents around the state. The demonstration also marked the three year anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC.  The advocates used the opportunity to push the state legislature to adopt a resolution in support of the proposed 28th Amendment that would remove legal personhood status from corporations. "More than 25 towns have passed resolutions in Maine calling for a U.S. constitutional amendment on campaign finance and already we have 11 state legislatures that have urged Congress to pass a constitutional amendment, and we're hoping to make Maine the 12th state," stated Andrew Bossie, executive director of the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

Great Deal for Special Interests in Fiscal Cliff Deal
The passage of the fiscal cliff deal demonstrates how campaign contributions can be connected to policies that benefit special interests at the expense of taxpayers and the public. A recent investigation by the New York Times reveals that Amgen, the world’s largest biotech company, garnered an exemption on a provision requiring Medicare to pay a single, bundled rate for dialysis treatment and related medications. Consequently Amgen’s drug, Sensipar, will not be subject to the new Medicare cost-cutting price restraints on dialysis medications. The exemption will cost Medicare $500 million over two years. Not surprisingly Amgen’s employees and its political action committee have contributed almost $68,000 to Senator Max Baucus (D-MN) and $59,000 to Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), both of whom have prominent positions on the Senate Finance Committee, which considered the fiscal cliff legislation. The company also has 74 lobbyists in D.C., many of whom have served on staff for Senator Baucus and Hatch in the past.