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Money and Politics: This Week in New York

A roundup with the latest news highlighting the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics — and the need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform.

  • ReformNY
May 4, 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 and #fairelex.

New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. In a radio interview this week, Gov. Cuomo renewed the call for statewide campaign finance reform, decrying the corrosive effect that super PACs and high contribution limits continue to have on electoral politics in Albany. “The power of money in the Capitol is unbelievable,” Gov. Cuomo said. Cuomo has pledged to implement a public financing system similar to New York City’s small donor matching program, as well as to improve enforcement of state campaign finance laws, close campaign finance loopholes and lower contribution limits.

2. The debate over public financing has begun in the state Senate, with the introduction of new legislation by Senator Eric Adams, which would establish a public financing program, create an independent enforcement counsel in the State Board of Elections, lower contribution limits and improve disclosure of independent political spending.  At a press conference called by Senate Democrats, Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson told reporters that public campaign finance would dilute the influence of moneyed interests and enhance the power of small donors. Sen. Tom Duane added that Gov. Cuomo’s support is crucial for a bill’s passage, observing that the governor’s track record on marriage reform and pension benefits is clear evidence that “when he puts his mind to something, he can win.”

3. Reform groups including Citizen Action New York gathered in Albany on Monday to protest the outsized influence of the natural gas industry on the state legislature’s approach to hydrofracking, noting that the industry has contributed more than $1.3 million to state legislators in an effort to buy support for the controversial practice. Sierra Club representative Robert Ciesielski cited a study by Common Cause that the governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, had received over $1.6 million in political donations from the industry—a figure that, given the current state of New York’s campaign finance laws, lobbyists in Albany could well surpass.

4. On Wednesday, Fair Elections for New York held a screening in Albany of “Pricele$$,” a new documentary on the influence of money in politics that includes interviews with former Gov. Mario Cuomo and former U.S. Representative Dan Maffei (D—NY), who is currently running for the seat he lost in 2010. Filmmaker Steve Cowan posted full transcripts of his interviews with Cuomo and Maffei on the film’s website, which include Maffei’s observation he supports public campaign finance “because it means the only people we’ll have to worry about in our day are the taxpayers and constituents in our district, and that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

National Campaign Finance News

1. President Obama’s two most recent fundraising efforts have added at least $2 million to his campaign’s war chest, adding fuel to predictions that 2012 will be the costliest presidential race in U.S. history. The two fundraisers, in which contributors paid $40,000 a plate, are the latest in over 100 campaign fundraisers the president has held since early last year.

2. Nate Silver writes in the New York Times, however, that small contributions ($200 or less) still make up over half of the president’s total contributions during the current election cycle, in contrast to a mere 13% of Mitt Romney’s campaign contributions. Silver notes that in the current era of super PACs and big-ticket fundraisers, the dearth of small contributions does not indicate a weak campaign budget so much as it suggests a lack of support among grassroots Republican voters.

3. In an effort to draw attention to the coercive effects of Super PAC spending on the political process, two leading reform advocates have chosen an unusual strategy: creating a “hybrid” PAC and super PAC whose aim is to remind voters “that money and politics remains an issue in the campaign, and that we have the option of creating political accountability around it.” The announcement came just days before a new report by the Annenberg Center revealed that “Restore Our Future,” the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney’s election campaign, has spend $20 million in deceptive advertisements in early primary and caucus states.

4. Ciara Torres-Spelliscy notes in the Huffington Post that, in a victory for campaign finance disclosure, the FCC has decided to make public broadcasters’ records of how much they charge political candidates or committees for advertisements. The disclosure of these so-called “political files” allows voters to see whether broadcasters in TV or other media are charging some candidates more than others—a potential violation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The FCC’s rule, Torres-Spelliscy notes, is in stark contrast to the SEC’s foot-dragging over a recent call for disclosure of the political contributions of publicly traded companies.

5. Redistricting in California’s 53 congressional districts has set off a wave of hyper-partisan fundraising by super PACs, as both parties see California races as crucial to winning a majority in the U.S. House this fall. Super PACs such as American Crossroads, partly managed by Karl Rove, and the GOP Congressional Leadership Fund, to which billionaire Sheldon Adelson has contributed $5 million, are expected to play a leading role. Bill Allison, editorial director of the nonpartisan watchdog organization Sunlight Foundation, predicted that “After the election, it is these donors who will have access and entree to Congress at a level that will be unbelievable compared to what we’ve seen before.”