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Brennan Center Report Finds New York’s Campaign Finance Limits Virtually Non-Existent

July 20, 2006

For Immediate Release
Thursday, July 20, 2006

Contact Information:
Susan Lehman, 212.998.6318

Brennan Center Report Finds New Yorks Campaign Finance Limits Virtually Non-Existent
Report Finds High Limits, Loopholes and Poor Enforcement Allow Unlimited Contributions

New York, NY – Today the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released, Paper Thin: The Flimsy Facade of Campaign Finance Laws in New York. The report documents flaws in New Yorks campaign finance law and enforcement regime that render New Yorks already high contribution limits functionally meaningless.

Some states admit they dont have reasonable campaign finance reform laws. New York pretends to address the influence of money in politics, but in reality its regulatory system is among the worst in the nation, stated Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center.

The report finds that New Yorks contribution limits, which climb as high as $84,400, are the highest in the country for many categories of contributions. In fact, in some categories, New Yorks contribution limits would still rank among the nations highest even if they were cut in half. The consequences of such laws can be seen in practice. According to Common Cause/NY[1], fifty-five percent of New York State campaign funds received by candidates during the 2002, 2004 and 2006 election cycles have come via checks written for more than $2,100.

To make matters worse, loopholes in New Yorks campaign finance laws render even our extraordinarily high contribution limits meaningless, stated Suzanne Novak, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center and the lead author of the report.

For example, since 1999, political parties in New York have raised over $47 million in soft money, or unregulated donations to party housekeeping accounts for what is supposed to be ordinary party activity that does not support a specific candidate. And over 72% of that $47 million was raised in checks written in amounts exceeding $10,000. Corporations, which are limited to giving $5,000 per year, often take advantage of a loophole that allows all subsidiaries of a company to also give $5,000 per year. As a result, almost 19 percent of contributions to all campaigns in the 2002, 2004 and 2006 election cycles came from corporations and partnerships.

The report also finds that enforcement of New Yorks campaign finance laws is virtually nonexistent. Minimal resources are devoted to civil enforcement, and in fact, no civil penalties even exist for violations of contribution limits. In a 2003 report authored by Common Cause/NY and the New York Public Interest Research Group, 96 corporations were found to have violated the contribution limits in 2002, revealing the consequences of the Board of Elections lack of resources and power to investigate or punish contribution limit violations.

The Brennan Center report makes a number of recommendations to help close loopholes and prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption in New Yorks campaign finance system including: dramatically lowering contribution limits, severely curtailing or banning currently unlimited contributions to party housekeeping accounts and implementing a full or partial public financing system with a generous match. A full listing of recommendations is available by clicking here.

This is a crucial reform moment in New York state; but true reform wont happen unless we have sound, and enforced campaign finance reforms laws, stated Waldman.

New Yorks laws are consistently among the worst in the nation in their effectiveness in promoting the goals of campaign finance reform and a strong democracy. The Brennan Center will continue to prioritize reform, and we hope that all of the candidates for Governor and the State Legislature will as well, concluded Waldman.