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 Robert Friedman.
For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtags #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.
New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News
1. Though the legislative session drew to a close last week, the pressure on Albany to enact campaign finance reform has not let up. Editorials in both Newsday and The New York Times cite the failure to pass pending reform measures as one of the legislative session’s shortcomings. It is clear that support for enhanced disclosure rules and public financing will not fade before the start of the next session.
2. Advocates are using the break between legislative sessions to set the stage for campaign finance reform proposals to become law when New York’s legislators reconvene in Albany in January. Two NY LEAD members, Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge, have committed $250,000 to a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that will push for the passage of campaign finance reform, according to a report in The New York Times. The campaign, titled Protect Our Democracy, is modeled after the successful strategy that led to marriage equality for New Yorkers and will inject itself into the upcoming state elections to put pressure on state senators that failed to support reform this past legislative session. The Governor has already announced that he intends to work with the group.
3. As federal authorities have been slow to investigate tax-exempt advocacy groups for potential violations of tax and election laws, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman moved this week to take matters into his own hands. New York law confers broad subpoena authority on the Attorney General, and Schneiderman is employing it to investigate whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce illegally obtained $18 million from a supporting foundation. Whether or not these advocacy groups will continue to operate in the gray area of the law in other areas of the country, Attorney General Schneiderman took an important step to ensure they cannot do so in New York.
National Campaign Finance and Ethics News
1. Some learn from their mistakes; the Supreme Court doesn’t. This week, the nation’s highest court let a golden opportunity to reconsider, or at least narrow, Citizens United slip through its fingers. The Court summarily reversed the Montana Supreme Court’s decision upholding a state law that banned unlimited independent expenditures by corporations. Without hearing oral argument or considering full briefing, the Supreme Court briefly explained that the law is unconstitutional and that—the massive spending by single-candidate Super PACs and the feelings of everyday citizens notwithstanding—purportedly independent expenditures cannot give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.
2. Untold sums of money will be spent on the upcoming elections, with over $3 billion already raised. An important cause of this inevitably problematic situation is the inadequacy of current public financing schemes. For candidates to break out of the cycle of fundraising and spending, which some estimates now predict will reach $6 billion total before the elections is over, there must be a viable alternate mechanism in place.
3. We are one step closer to enhanced disclosure of TV political ads. The White House Office of Management and Budget approved a rule that would require television stations to post online information regarding the buyers of political ads. Though the rule must still go through a notice and comment period, the path to increased sunlight is a bit clearer now.