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Money in New York Politics: Small Donations Fueled ‘Wide-Open’ Elections Last Year

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.

  • Eric Petry
September 5, 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 Eric Petry.

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


Small Donations Fueled ‘Most Wide-Open’ Elections Last Year

A report by the New York City Campaign Finance Board shows that the city’s 2013 elections were “the most wide-open” since the city’s small-donor matching system was put in place 25 years ago. The report, “By the People: The New York City Campaign Finance Program in the 2013 Elections,” shows, among other things, that: the number of candidates participating in the public-funding system in 2013 remained high; more than two-thirds of all New York City contributors gave $175 or less; and more than 90 percent of the total raised came from individual contributors, rather than from PACs or unions. While the level of outside expenditures in 2013 was also high, the CFB says that its disclosure requirements – which were recently tightened further – reduced the influence of dark money in the city elections. The CFB report demonstrates the benefits of a public matching system for small donors, supporting the view that the New York City system could be a valid model for the rest of the nation.

Roundup of Public Corruption Cases

  • State Senator Thomas Libous and his attorney appeared before a U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday to discuss which motions the defense is planning to file. Libous was indicted on July 1; he’s charged with lying to federal investigators regarding allegations that he had improperly helped his son obtain a position with a politically connected law firm in Westchester County.
  • Diana Durand, the ex-girlfriend of Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm, pled guilty to making illegal contributions to Grimm’s campaign. Her lawyer insisted she is not cooperating with the federal investigation into the congressman, whose trial on fraud and tax charges is scheduled for December.
  • U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been going after the pensions of politicians convicted of corruption-related offenses. He obtained forfeiture orders against former New York City Councilman Miguel Martinez and Assembly Member Eric Stevenson and is seeking to have the money paid out of pension benefits.

State Board of Elections Enforcement Unit Starts Work

The enforcement unit created by legislation passed through the budget is now open for business. The unit was part of a package of reforms that Governor Cuomo pushed in exchange for shutting down the anti-corruption Moreland Commission. The new unit is headed by former Cuomo aide Risa Sugarman and will be housed in the Board of Elections but physically walled off from the rest of the agency. Reformers agree that improved campaign finance enforcement is necessary at the state level, but many had called for more sweeping changes including public financing of elections.