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 Syed Zaidi.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM AND ETHICS NEWS
New York State Board of Elections Late to Approve Disclosure Regulations
The New York State Board of Elections has failed to approve final regulations regarding Super PAC disclosure. The draft regulations, which were due January 1, 2012, were not completed until this spring. Once they are approved, the regulations will entail a 30-day waiting period before enforcement to allow Super PACs sufficient time to prepare. Realistically this date will be well past the state primary elections and too close to the general elections in November—hindering voters from accessing important information. Although disclosure by Super PACs is already required under current law, the regulations were designed to ensure more specific disclosure on Super PAC fundraising, donations and ad expenditures.
Citizens Protest Outside Amedore Fundraiser
A variety of good government groups held a protest this Thursday outside a fundraiser for George Amedore, a Republican Assemblyman now running for a Senate seat in the 46th district. The cost of entry tickets was $250, with a lavish $1,000 opening reception. The protestors gathered near the Mohawk Golf Club in Schenectady to criticize Amedore’s disproportionate take from out-of-district special interests. Sean Collins, of Citizen Action, stated that 24 contributors that donated over $5,000 each to the campaign accounted for “over 50 percent of the cash he’s raised, totaling $152,247.” A pamphlet distributed to the media further indicated that 17 of these 24 contributions, totaling 37 percent of Amedore’s campaign funds from this year, hailed from real estate, developers, and construction corporations, firms and organizations.
Democratic Party Platform Endorses Campaign Finance Reform
Unlike the Republican Party Platform, which praises Citizens United and opposes the DISCLOSE Act, the newly unveiled 2012Democratic Party Platform declares support for campaign finance reform—but with less vigor and detail that one would wish. The Platform applauds President Obama for establishing unprecedented ethics rules during his administration—banning gifts from lobbyists and preventing former executive branch officials from lobbying the administration via executive order. It also commends the Democratic National Committee for declining contributions from corporations and federal lobbyists. Without mentioning specific reforms to curb unrestrained campaign donations, the Platform advocates for “campaign finance reform, by constitutional amendment if necessary.” It also upholds disclosure; “We support requiring groups trying to influence elections to reveal their donors so the public will know who’s funding the political ads it sees.” Unfortunately, the Democratic Party Platform is too quick to praise and insufficiently detailed. A New York Times editorial lauds the Democratic Party for taking “a stand against the rising influence of money in politics,” but asserts that campaign finance reform “has been relegated to a document that few will ever read” as “no convention speaker on Tuesday made it a priority.”
Exclusive Events for Donors at DNC
At the Democratic National Convention, donors are receiving exclusive access to events with Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. Convention organizers have divided the donors into different strata, each with its corresponding set of events, based on their level of contribution to the Obama campaign. All donors to the Obama Victory Fund are entitled to attend an exclusive campaign briefing with campaign manager Jim Messina, a “toast to the South” with President Bill Clinton, and a rally at the NASCAR Hall of Fame with Vice President Joe Biden. A National Finance Committee breakfast with Michelle Obama, however, is reserved for bigger donors that qualify for “NAB” and “Presidential Partners” status—those that donated the maximum $75,800 to the Obama Victory Fund.
Super PACs and Lobbyists Active at DNC After-Parties
Super PACs made their presence known at the Republican convention in Tampa, and they [are not far behind in Charlotte. Donors that gave $100,000 to Super PACs backing Obama and Congressional Democrats received fifty tickets to a party featuring Hollywood celebrity Jessica Alba, rapper Pitbull, and the pop band Scissor Sisters. These donors are also entitled to six tickets for the Political Leaders Brunch, where they will have the opportunity to interact with Senators Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, and Chuck Schumer, as well as Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Steve Israel. Along with these courtesy events to thank donors, there are a number of closed-door fundraising dinners, such as the Super-O-Rama for Priorities USA Action, House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC. A comprehensive set of after-party events by corporate lobbyists and Super PACs are mapped out by the Sunlight Foundation and the Huffington Post.
West Virginia Supreme Court Issues Decision
This Tuesday, the West Virginia Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding a case involving public financing for state judicial elections. Republican Supreme Court candidate, Allen Loughry, is the only candidate participating in a public matching program designed to reduce the influence of money on the bench. Loughry sued the State Election Commission for refusing to disperse public “rescue” funds to his campaign—provided in the event that his privately financed opponents outspend him. Adam Skaggs—senior counsel at the Brennan Center and one of Loughry’s attorneys—argued that judicial elections are different than legislative or executive elections in that the branch should be impartial, not responsive to particular constituencies or interest groups. The Court delivered its decision on Friday. Although the Court appropriately recognized that the public funding program’s goals of “protecting the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary and strengthening public confidence” in the institution are compelling state interests, it unfortunately did not find the use of rescue funds to be narrowly tailored, and struck down those provisions.
Super PACs Spend Millions Against Obama, Romney
Swing-state voters should prepare for another onslaught of political attack ads. Federal candidates and outside groups will be unleashing an estimated $3 billion in advertising expenditures over the next nine weeks, making the 2012 election the most expensive in American history. Particularly concerning is the undue influence of outside Super PACs and non-profits in producing these ads. These organizations have pumped $26 million into ads opposing Mitt Romney. That figure is dwarfed by the amount that outside groups have spent against Obama—$68 million. Specific numbers on the outside groups as well as a sampling of their ads are available via an interactive tool on the Los Angeles Times website.