The Brennan Center regularly compiles 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.
Gov. Cuomo Tells NY Senate to Pass Public Financing
In a Huffington Post op-ed, Governor Andrew Cuomo insisted that public campaign financing is the issue with the “best opportunity for the remainder of the session.” Alluding to President (and New York Governor) Theodore Roosevelt’s support for campaign finance reform, Cuomo said that New York should follow in his footsteps. After a series of corruption scandals last year, the governor empanelled a commission to investigate shortfalls in the state’s bribery and campaign finance laws. This week, he defended his decision to end the commission back in April, arguing that all investigations are now in the hands of state and federal prosecutors with legal authority to get to the bottom of any wrongdoing. Although the recently adopted budget restricted public financing only to the state comptroller’s race, Cuomo pointed out that by agreeing to a pilot program, opponents “conceded the crucial ideological point they had resisted for decades: that public funds can be used to finance elections.” Public financing has been shown to boost small donor participation as well as broaden the field of candidates that run for office. The governor put the onus on the ruling Senate coalition—composed of Republicans and a few breakaway Democrats—to pass reform before the end of this year’s session in June, saying anything less would be a “true failure and a lost opportunity.”
Moreland Commission Members: Pass Reform before End of Session
In the Daily News, former Moreland Commission members Peter Zimroth, Lance Liebman, and Gerald Mollen argued that there is still a chance for Albany to change its culture of corruption and dysfunction. During its short tenure, the commission exposed serious and systematic problems with New York State’s campaign finance laws. Although the commission has now been dismantled following a budget deal that passed an incomplete set of reforms, there are still two months left in the state legislative session. Lawmakers should use this time to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform, the three argued. In New York City, public financing has allowed constituents to take on powerful lobbyists and special interests. Donations from natural persons to city candidates are matched at a $6-to-$1 ratio with public funds, allowing elected officials to spend more time courting citizens rather than corporations or unions. “Initiating this system will cost some taxpayer money,” the commissioners stated, “But it will cost taxpayers substantially more over the long run if we continue to allow large contributors to exercise such outsized influence in choosing our elected leaders.”
Democrats in New York Senate Introduce Reform Bills
Democrats in the New York senate have introduced several pieces of legislation to expand public financing to all state legislative and statewide races, and enact stronger anti-corruption provisions. The package of bills would establish a $6-to-$1 match for political donations up to $250, cap donations from limited liability companies to $5,000, and restrict contributions to political party housekeeping accounts down to $25,000. Other bills would strip state and local officials from their pensions if they are convicted of a felony and outlaw the use of campaign funds for legal defense. The Democrats are a minority in the state senate, so the fate of the bills will ultimately be decided by the ruling coalition of Republicans and five independent Democrats. Independent Democratic Conference leader Senator Jeffrey Klein has also expressed that public financing reform will be a priority for the remainder of the session. “Certainly we need to have a public matching system,” he told reporters, “We need to do more than we did in the budget.”
Republican Candidate for Comptroller to Accept Public Financing
Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci said he plans on challenging Democratic State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for his position this coming fall. Despite the opposition of his party’s leadership to publicly financed campaigns, Antonacci informed the Associated Press that he will “whole heartedly and enthusiastically” participate in the pilot program which allows candidates to receive $6 in public funds for every $1 they raise up to $175 from New York residents. “We will show the taxpayers that we know how to spend every dollar we receive wisely,” Antonacci continued. DiNapoli, although a supporter of reform, decided to opt out of the matching funds program because he said the pilot was inadequate and poorly crafted. New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox stated that the public financing trial would broaden “the field on the Republican side for potential comptroller candidates.”