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 Syed Zaidi.
New York Times: Most Fundamental Reform Missing from State Budget
Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders passed New York’s 2014–15 budget last week without a comprehensive small donor public matching system—instead establishing a very limited pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race in 2014. Adding to this lapse in leadership, Governor Cuomo said he will disband the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, labeling the narrow ethics reforms in the budget a triumph. This was an especially disappointing development in light of the myriad of corruption scandals that engulfed several legislators in recent years, including three of the last five Senate Majority Leaders or Co-leaders. Newspapers throughout the state saw through the spin. The New York Times opined that the budget’s inadequate ethics reforms do not “come close to attacking the root of the corruption problem” in Albany. “The most fundamental reform,” the Times continued, namely public matching funds for small donations in all state races, “is missing.”
Syracuse Post-Standard: Public Financing “Pilot” Program a Cop-out
The Syracuse Post-Standard reiterated the shortfalls of the 2014–15 New York budget in an editorial last week. Calling restricting public financing to the comptroller’s office a “cop-out,” the upstate newspaper said that New York City’s successful model demonstrates that a “pilot” program is unnecessary. If such a system would have been implemented, it could have enabled candidates who can’t garner big checks from special interests to compete with small dollar donations from constituents. Unfortunately for now, the status quo, which allows incumbents to build up their war chest to scare off any potential competitors, remains intact.
Albany Times-Union: State Elected Officials Failed to Address NY’s “Most Glaring Failure”
On Tuesday, the Albany Times-Union termed Governor Cuomo’s failure to pass comprehensive ethics reform the state government’s “most glaring failure.” Last year, the Moreland Commission—which the governor appointed to examine New York’s corruption and campaign finance laws—issued a thorough report detailing the legal and ethical breaches that have become so commonplace in Albany over the past few years. In response to the inadequacy of the current system to address pay-to-play politics, the commission recommended several reforms including public funding to match small donations. Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders “concluded that reform is appropriate only on a very small scale, and only as long as it doesn’t apply to themselves.” The outcome is surprising considering that most legislators, as well as the governor, claimed to support full public financing for all races.
Crain’s New York Business: Ethics Deal Does Little to Deter Corruption
On April 4, Crain’s New York Business criticized New York lawmakers for their inability to deliver on ethics reform. “At least 30 [state legislators] have left office since 1999 because of transgressions ranging from inflating their expenses to sexual harassment to taking bribes,” the editorial stated. Yet the reform provision in the budget made only minor changes to state corruption laws and delegated slightly greater enforcement authority to the state Board of Elections. It did nothing to address the problem of legislators pushing bills or steering funds at the request of special interests and campaign contributors. The decision to eliminate the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was especially troubling, Crain’s said—just as the investigators “had dug their teeth into a plethora of questionable dealings.”
Upstate Newspapers: Ethics Reforms Insufficient to Address Corruption
The Rochester-based Democrat & Chronicle called Governor Cuomo’s inability to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform his administration’s “most notable first-term failure.” The alternative to public financing for all races—a limited measure for the state comptroller election in 2014—was too little and too late, given the election year. The Buffalo News concurred, saying the plan was a “laughingstock.” The dysfunctional state Board of Elections is inadequately prepared to implement a public financing program for the comptroller’s office this election cycle. Moreover, sky-high campaign contribution limits, and loopholes for special interests hoping to get noticed by politicians, are still the norm in Albany for the foreseeable future. Overall, the budget bill was not a compromise for anyone, it was a disappointment.