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Money in Politics This Week: Gov. Cuomo Proposes Public Financing of Elections in State of the State Address

A roundup with the latest news highlighting the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics and across the nation — and the need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform.

  • Syed Zaidi
  • Katherine Munyan
January 10, 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. 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 Katherine Munyan and Syed Zaidi.

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


Gov. Cuomo Proposes Public Financing of Elections in State of the State Address

In his annual State of the State address on Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined his vision for New York, including a bold proposal for comprehensive ethics reform. With the stated goal of restoring trust in state government, Cuomo recommended public financing, a new anti-bribery statute, independent enforcement at the Board of Elections and disclosure of outside clients doing business with the state. In the 2014 State of State handbook which accompanied the speech, the governor detailed these as well as other reform initiatives, emphasizing that matching small donations with public funds would give “voice to small donors” and “help enable a diverse pool of candidates with substantial grassroots support, but little access to large donors, to run competitive campaigns.” Good-government groups commended Governor Cuomo’s reforms package and remain optimistic that it will pass. “This kind of reform is never easy, it’s the Legislature imposing new restrictions on itself, but we’re as close as we’ve ever been in New York,” Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, said.

Albany Times-Union Editorial Tells Cuomo to Back Rhetoric With Action

On Thursday, the editorial board of the Albany Times-Union praised Governor Andrew Cuomo for his endorsement of campaign finance reform in the State of the State address, but cautioned that the rhetoric must be backed up by action. If last year’s bribery scandals were any indication, corruption has become rampant in the Albany. State elections remain uncompetitive, with the current rules favoring incumbents with big campaign chests over new challengers. Combined with inadequate enforcement of even the paltry campaign finance laws already on the books, it is not surprising that so many politicians thought they were above the law last year. New York needs comprehensive reform: lower contribution limits, an independent enforcement agency, no more loopholes, and most importantly a system of matching small contributions with public funds. “Mr. Cuomo has shown that he can push contentious measures through the Legislature — like gun control and marriage equality,” the editorial noted. It remains to be seen whether the Governor and the Legislature have to will to pass reforms to address the epidemic of corruption.

Scharff in Buffalo News: Reduce Influence of Special Interests by Matching Small Donations With Public Funds

Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, penned an op-ed in the Buffalo News over the Holidays, encouraging New Yorkers to combat the pay-to-play culture prevalent in Albany. As a reformer with 30 years of experience in Albany, Scharff criticized the outsized influence that moneyed interests have over the legislative process on nearly every single issue. In return for large donations, special interests frequently expect favorable legislation such as tax credits and deductions. However, this year, with the start of the new legislative session, New Yorkers have the opportunity to mend this broken system. The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption has outlined proposals to help reshape state corruption and campaign finance laws. If reform legislation can be passed that allows small donations to be matched with public funds, then candidates would become less dependent on big donors and more so on their constituents. “Whatever it is you think state government should or shouldn’t be doing, with public financing you have a much better chance of having your voice and your neighbors’ voices heard and not drowned out by big money,” Scharff said.



Colorado Hearings: Can a Political Party Set Up a Super PAC?

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office is holding hearings this week on a Colorado Republican Party (CRP) petition for a formal determination on whether a political party’s super PAC can accept unlimited contributions. The Colorado Republican Party (CRP) first set up its own super PAC, the Colorado Republican Party Independent Expenditure Committee, in August 2012. Under current practice, a political party’s independent expenditure committee must abide by campaign contribution limits. In an attempt to evade these limits in the 2014 election, the CRP petition argues that its PAC will be independent from the party, with no CRP members having “any degree of management or control over the development of any of the plans, projects, activities, or expenditures” of the super PAC. The Colorado Ethics Watch has filed a petition opposing the CRP’s request. The Ethics Watch petition argues that any rules on political party independent expenditures must conform to Colorado’s limitations and source prohibitions on general contributions to political parties.

Congressional Committee Leaders Receiving More Donations from Regulated Industries

A Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington report found an increase in campaign contributions to Congressional committee leaders from the industries that they regulate. The report examined industry’s campaign contributions to the chairmen and ranking members of ten House committees in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Of the chairmen and ranking members examined, 80% receive an increasing portion of their campaign contributions from industries that they regulate. The lawmakers concerned saw a 10% total growth in campaign contributions between the two cycles, but a 24% growth in contributions from relevant industries. These industry contribution trends are true across party lines, and are extremely responsive to changes in a member’s committee standing. For example, when Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) replaced Rep. George Miller (D-Cal.) as head of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in 2011, the education industry’s contributions to Kline tripled while dropping contributions to Miller by over 50 percent.

2014 Brings New Legislative Plans to Defund Public Financing in Arizona

Last month, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that higher campaign contribution limits passed by the state legislature do not violate state law protecting voter-approved laws. Supporters of the Citizens Clean Elections Act, a public financing system passed by statewide referendum in 1998, believe that the higher campaign limits violate voters’ intents to limit campaign donations. Opponents to the Citizens Clean Elections system believe that the new limits do not go far enough in dismantling public financing. Two Arizona legislators have announced plans to pursue a rollback or repeal of the Citizens Clean Elections system in 2014.  Rep. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) is proposing an outright repeal of the public financing system. Rep. Paul Boyer (R-Phoenix) wants to put a measure on the 2014 ballot asking voters to redirect the money funding the public financing system, largely from surcharges on criminal, civil, and traffic fines, to the education system. Boyer introduced a similar proposal last year, but it did not have enough support to come up for a vote in the Senate.