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Money in Politics: This Week in New York

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.

  • ReformNY
May 11, 2012

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

New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries reiterated his strong support for public campaign finance in an interview on MSNBC this week, urging fellow state lawmakers to pass the Fair Elections Act before the end of the legislative session. Jeffries noted that Gov. Cuomo’s backing will be crucial to the success of the Fair Elections Act: “We need his leadership on this issue, and I’m convinced if he decides to lead and move this forward, we can get meaningful campaign finance reform in New York State.”

2. A new report issued by the Center for Working Families examines how money in politics led taxpayers to foot the bill for the new Yankee Stadium. In 2006 Yankees ownership paid over $300,000 to a lobbying firm run by former Bronx Assemblyman Roberto Ramirez—the largest lobbying fee reported that year—as well as other influential lawmakers including former state senator Joseph Bruno, in an apparent effort to secure funding for the stadium. The report highlights the financing of Yankee Stadium as a case study in the high-stakes influence-peddling permitted by New York’s current campaign finance regime.

3. The Democrat and Chronicle strongly urged Gov. Cuomo to stand behind his promise to prioritize campaign finance reform, recalling a 2010 campaign publication in which Cuomo called on state legislators to “fundamentally alter our system to give voices to all New Yorkers” by creating a small-donor matching program for publicly funded campaigns. Bills that would create such a program have been introduced in the Assembly, but Cuomo’s support is widely seen as instrumental in moving campaign finance reform through the Senate.

National Campaign Finance News

1. A new poll jointly released on Thursday by Democracy Corps, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and the Public Campaign Action Fund finds that swing voters are likely to support candidates who make campaign finance reform a priority in their legislative agendas. Key findings from the poll suggest that ordinary voters see money in politics as a key economic issue, and that reform alternatives—including small-donor matching programs—have garnered wide support among the voting public. Over a third of the voters polled said that they considered candidates’ willingness to make campaign finance reform a legislative priority as a litmus test for their support. According to David Donnelly, Executive Director of PCAF, “Money and politics is increasingly becoming a ballot box issue. An overwhelming majority of Americans believe there should be common sense restrictions on the amount of money people can contribute to politics and voters—especially independents—will strongly support those who take the issue head-on.” The polling memo can be downloaded here, and individual slides from the poll can be downloaded as well.

2. The results of Thursday’s poll generated articles this week from The Hill, National Journal, and Mother Jones, among other media outlets, some of which noted the poll’s findings that campaign finance reform is supported by a broad swath of the American electorate. Nearly 75% of respondents, for instance, expressed support for limiting the amount of money in politics—a number that included 60% of voters who identify with the Tea Party movement. As Greenberg Quinlan Rosner CEO Stan Greenberg noted, “There aren’t many things we’ve tested that are viewed as negatively as super PACs.” Moreover, less than a quarter of those polled found that limits on campaign contributions interfere with free speech rights.

3. On Sunday, the New York Times editorial board called for the resuscitation of the flagging presidential public financing program. The editorial notes that this will be the first presidential election since the program’s inception in 1976 that neither major-party candidate draws on public funds. Public funding of elections is crucial to the legitimacy of the electoral process: “The era of “super PACs” and secret donors has made public financing more urgent. A system that greatly magnified small donations with high matches would give ordinary citizens a shot at competing with corporations, unions and wealthy donors. It would allow candidates to campaign more instead of constantly begging among the rich. And it would give a challenger a chance to be competitive without the help of a super PAC.

4. The Washington Times reports this week that presidential fundraising efforts this summer cannot afford to overlook the importance of the small donor. Mitt Romney in particular will have to do much more to court small voters, according to Prof. Michael Malbin, Executive Director of the Campaign Finance Institute. Malbin’s analysis of the Romney campaign filings indicates that 64% of the presumptive Republican candidate’s total funds came from donors giving the maximum legal amount of $2500.

5. The Sunlight Foundation reports that former Sen. Richard Lugar’s defeat earlier this week was influenced by outside PAC spending in favor of his challenger, conservative state treasurer Richard Mourdock—including over $2 million from the anti-tax Club for Growth. Although Lugar outspent Mourdock by a 3-to-1 margin, the state treasurer was backed by a “flood of outside money” from PACs and super PACs, as well as from 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups not subject to FEC disclosure requirements.

6. In a clear indication of the revolving-door nature of Super PACs, ABC News reports that now that Rick Santorum is no longer a candidate for public office, the “Red, White, and Blue Fund” super PAC that spent on his behalf during the race has become a “hybrid PAC” with which Santorum can freely coordinate. The hybrid PAC can also fund some of the costs of Santorum’s ongoing political activity—expenditures that are technically legal, since Santorum currently holds no office and is no longer running a campaign.

7. This week the disclosure website Open Secrets, a collaboration between the Center for Responsive Politics and Center for Public Integrity, published new information on presidential campaign bundlers for the both the Democratic and Republican campaigns.