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. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi and Emily Apple.
NY Times: Gov. Cuomo Must Put His Words into Action
Last week, the New York Times pressed Governor Cuomo to put his words on reform into action. Under the status quo, special interests reign supreme in Albany, the editorial stated. Incumbents face little competition because they can easily flood their war chests with sky-high contributions. A system of public financing that matches small donations with public funds offers the potential to both increase candidates’ reliance on small contributors and to diversify the pool of candidates that run for office. Recently, in the 2014–15 budget, the New York legislature and Governor Cuomo passed a pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race. Republican state comptroller candidate Robert Antonacci has already said that he will participate in the program. Although the Republicans in the state senate claim they are opposed to public financing, the fact that they were willing to agree to this trial demonstrates that there is hope for passing more comprehensive legislation. The Times said Cuomo should consider campaigning against lawmakers that refuse to pass reform.
Fmr. State Sen. Bruno Acquitted of Fraud Charges in Re-trial
Last Friday, former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was acquitted in federal court on fraud charges, ending a decade-long legal battle. In 2009, Bruno was convicted on two counts of mail fraud for allegedly receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from Jared Abbruzzese, an Albany businessman, and overpaying Abbruzzese for a horse prosecutors said was worthless. However, the conviction was later vacated on appeal based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that honest-services fraud convictions cannot be based solely on concealment of a conflict of interest. In 2012 federal prosecutors brought new charges against Bruno for allegedly accepting $440,000 in bribes and kickbacks from Abbruzzese, disguised as consulting fees while in office. Last week, the jury found Bruno not guilty of the charges. The ruling comes after the conviction of Assembly Member William Boyland Jr. and Assembly Member Eric Stevenson this year on bribery charges.
NYS Board of Elections Scrambling to Set up Public Financing Program
The New York State Board of Elections (BOE) released draft regulations governing the new pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race last week. According to Capital New York, the state BOE asked the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to administer the program—a request the city board refused because it is legally prohibited from doing so. However, the NYC CFB has provided other assistance to the state agency such as forms, language for regulations and other advice. State legislators and Governor Cuomo claimed that the trial program was launched to test the practicality of a statewide public financing system. Good-government groups, as well as incumbent state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, argued that the pilot was poorly constructed and deliberately designed to fail. Ian Vandewalker, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, stated that “it was a mistake to give [administration of public financing] to the Board of Elections. By their own account they don’t have the budget—to give them a new responsibility, it doesn’t really make sense.”
Support for Public Financing Increasing Among New Yorkers
In a new poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University, the majority of voters surveyed—55 percent—indicated that they believe New York State government is dysfunctional. Eighty-one percent, an overwhelming majority, replied that corruption in state government is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. Similarly, 78 percent thought that Governor Cuomo’s decision to shut down the Moreland Commission, which was investigating corruption in the state legislature, was a political deal struck with legislative leaders, rather than a “decision based on good government.” And a plurality, 46 percent, said that they approve of public financing of election campaigns for statewide and state legislative races. Typically, when this question is posed to voters with details regarding the comprehensive reform plan—including lower contribution limits and matching small donations—support jumps above 60 percent.