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Money in New York Politics: Public Financing Trial Could Show Power of Small Donors

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.

  • Syed Zaidi
June 13, 2014

Crossposted at ReformNY

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.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtags #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.


Public Financing Trial Could Show Power of Small Donors

In a guest column for the Post-Standard, David Rubin, a former dean at Syracuse University, wrote that the trial public financing program for the state comptroller race presents an opportunity to demonstrate the power of small donors. Although current New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has declined to participate in public financing—citing concerns over the inadequate structure of the pilot program—his Republican challenger Robert Antonacci has said that he will op-in. Donations up to $175 by New Yorkers to Antonacci’s campaign will be matched with public funds at a 6-to-1 ratio, if he first qualifies by raising $200,000 including at least 2,000 small contributions. In return he will have to abide by spending limits and a $6,000 per person contribution restriction. Non-participating candidates running statewide, meanwhile, can accept up to $41,000 from a single donor. “Public financing empowers local donors who can actually vote for the candidate. It forces candidates to court us, one small donation at a time,” Rubin explained. And until state legislators pass reforms that apply to all races in the state, “we will get elected officials purchased for us by others, with the awful results we see in Albany and Washington.”

Major Issues Unresolved for Final Week of NY Legislative Session

With just one week left in the New York State legislative session, press outlets are predicting that few big-ticket issues, such as public campaign financing, the women’s equality agenda, medical marijuana or the Dream Act, will be resolved. Although Governor Andrew Cuomo has publicly vowed to campaign against the ruling coalition in the senate unless headway is made on some key issues, Democrats in the chamber are not optimistic about legislative progress. “Whether they allow certain things to get done, it’s up to them,” said Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in reference to the senate ruling coalition of Republicans and five breakaway Democrats. However, Senator Jeffrey Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference and Majority Co-leader of the chamber, did not rule out the possibility of public financing reform passing before the session is over. “We still have two weeks to govern,” he stated, “[t]he political season has not started yet as far as I’m concerned.”

Albany Times-Union: Bruno Acquittal Demonstrates Need for Reform

Last month, former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was acquitted of corruption-related charges. Bruno allegedly accepted $20,000 per month in consulting fees from a businessman with a stake in Evident Technologies, according to prosecutors, and then subsequently approved a $250,000 state grant to the company. This did not qualify as corruption under federal law, the jury determined. The Times-Union said that the trial was a troubling demonstration that ethics and campaign finance laws need to be reformed in Albany. To “take money from somebody doing business with the state they can influence,” should be illegal, the newspaper wrote. And there should be more stringent restrictions on what campaign funds can be used for, along with significantly lower contribution limits.

Corruption Trial of New York Officials Brings New Revelations

The trial of New York State Senator Malcolm Smith has brought to light new evidence concerning his alleged scheme to become mayor of New York City. According to the FBI, Smith wanted to become the leader of the Senate Democrats, in an effort to raise his profile and subsequently run for the mayoral race in New York City. Smith asked Moses “Mark” Stern, a government informant posing as a businessman, to give him $27,000—money that was later to be dispersed to other senators to cement his influence. It “puts me in a better position to run for mayor than just being in the senate,” Smith told Stern. Following this, at a meeting between Stern, Smith and another FBI informant, Smith asked the men for their help in persuading three of the five Republican County Chairmen to authorize his mayoral candidacy on the Republican Party line. Smith sought to do this by bribing the officials, prosecutors allege, using former New York City Councilman Dan Halloran as his middle-man.