Activists rallying inside Albany’s New York State Capitol.
Last Wednesday, a few hundred people rallied at the capitol and met with lawmakers, telling them not to leave Albany before the legislative session ends June 20 without enacting public campaign financing. A recent NY Friends of Democracy poll shows that 74 percent of New York voters, including strong bipartisan majorities, support a comprehensive reform package with public financing at its core. All over the state, New Yorkers are showing that they demand reform. But Senate Republicans aren’t listening.
The New York State Senate is the epicenter of Albany’s corruption calamity. The corruption convictions and indictments have sullied senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties and from both upstate and downstate, including Senate Majority Leaders from both parties.
And yet the Senate is also the home of the main obstacle to reform. Governor Cuomo, the Assembly majority, Senate Democrats, and the Senate Independent Democratic Caucus all support comprehensive campaign finance reform centered around public financing. But Senate Republicans oppose these changes, and although they comprise a minority of the Senate, Republicans control the chamber through a power-sharing agreement with the Independent Democratic Caucus. Senate Republicans are using that power to stand in the way of reform, insisting that New York preserve a corrupting system that has worked well for those in power.
As the scandals have unfolded, Senate Republicans’ response has been to trot out tired and disproven arguments against comprehensive reform. They haven’t offered any solutions that would truly transform the “show-me-the-money” culture of Albany.
It seems that the best Senate Republicans have to offer is a bill introduced the week before last by Sen. Joseph Robach that would place limits on how much candidates can spend on their campaigns. Whether they’re a good idea or not, spending limits have been held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court for decades. Robach doesn’t seem concerned about whether his bill violates the Constitution. But he should know that passing a blatantly unconstitutional bill would spur a potentially costly lawsuit, and the law would immediately be struck down by the courts. This is not a viable solution to the corruption crisis.
Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for Republicans to offer a solution. We already know what will change Albany’s culture of corruption: public campaign financing, combined with independent enforcement of campaign finance laws, lower contribution limits, and meaningful disclosure requirements.
The current system allows the moneyed interests to buy influence and sweetheart deals from Albany as long as there are elected officials with a need for campaign cash and a willingness to protect their friends. Regular New Yorkers are shut out. But public financing will allow candidates to run competitive campaigns without bending over backwards to please the richest donors. This powerful reform can give control of our state’s government back to the people, and in the process restore faith in government.
The New York State Senate has been the cradle of far too many corruption scandals over the years. If the Republicans who control the chamber don’t want to be a part of the movement for real reform that will make Albany work for all of us, they should at least get out of the way.
Photo credit: Fair Elections NY