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Money in Politics This Week: NY Female Elected Officials Say Public Financing Will Benefit Women

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.

  • Syed Zaidi
March 25, 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 Syed Zaidi. 

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


James and Stew­art-Cous­ins: Public Finan­cing Will Bene­fit Women

In a Sunday op-ed in the Journal News, New York City Public Advoc­ate Leti­tia James and New York State Senator and Demo­cratic Confer­ence Leader Andrea Stew­art-Cous­ins described the bene­fits that public finan­cing of elec­tions would bring for women in New York. One observed effect is more women in elec­ted office. The national aver­age for the percent­age of elec­ted women lawmakers in state legis­lat­ive bodies is 24.2 percent. But in five states with public finan­cing, it is much higher: for instance, 35.6 percent in Arizona and 29.4 percent in Connecti­cut. In New York State, this figure is even lower than the national aver­age at 21.2 percent­—in spite of the fact that women make-up more than half of the state’s popu­la­tion. When legis­lat­ors reflect the popu­la­tion they serve, it strengthens our demo­cracy. And if more women are elec­ted to public office, they can push for atten­tion to issues that affect women and famil­ies. Senator Stew­art-Cous­ins took to the radio waves to share her message on WCNY’s The Capitol Press­room as well. The pres­id­ent of the think tank Demos, Heather McGhee, agreed in an op-ed in the Albany Times Union, outlining how public finan­cing can lead to greater diversity in our govern­ment. In the Journal News, James and Stew­art-Cous­ins concluded, “The governor and the Legis­lature must move this proposal past the finish line. New York deserve[s] noth­ing less.”

Schwarz and Soros in Times-Union: “Altern­at­ives” to Reform Are Likely to Main­tain Status Quo

In the Albany Times-Union this week­end, Fred­er­ick Schwarz, chief coun­sel at the Bren­nan Center, and Jonathan Soros, senior fellow at the Roosevelt Insti­tute, criti­cized altern­at­ives to real campaign finance reform float­ing around in Albany. Public finan­cing of elec­tions is suppor­ted by a major­ity of state legis­lat­ors, the governor, and resid­ents of New York. However, oppon­ents of reform have proposed differ­ent ‘rem­ed­ies’ that are likely to leave special interests as firmly entrenched as they are now. One idea is to over­haul our campaign finance laws through a consti­tu­tional amend­ment. The long and cumber­some process asso­ci­ated with this strategy is sure to delay reform beyond the 2018 elec­tion­s—which is precisely what some politi­cians want. New York­ers cannot afford to wait any longer in light of the epidemic of legis­lat­ive corrup­tion. “The legis­lature has all the author­ity it needs to enact this policy by simple stat­ute, and uses that power regu­larly on far more contro­ver­sial issues when it suits it,” Schwarz and Soros said. This week, as the final state budget is nego­ti­ated, the governor has a simple choice: to pass real reform and deliver on his prom­ise, or allow the corrupt status quo to continue under the guise of change.

Norden: Public Finan­cing Would Reduce Corrup­tion

Writ­ing in response to an op-ed by Brian Sampson, exec­ut­ive director of Unshackle Upstate, Bren­nan Center Deputy Director Lawrence Norden stated that imple­ment­ing publicly financed elec­tions in New York is well worth the cost. The reform proposal would allow candid­ates that can gather enough dona­tions from their constitu­ents the oppor­tun­ity to access public match­ing funds in exchange for adher­ing to stricter contri­bu­tion limits. Despite the obvi­ous advant­ages, it is no surprise that special interests that bene­fit from the status quo of purchas­ing polit­ical access, are opposed to the meas­ure. Sampson’s specious claims were that (1) public finan­cing in juris­dic­tions such as New York City has not deterred corrup­tion, and that (2) imple­ment­ing it will cost taxpay­ers a fortune. However, as the Bren­nan Center has noted before, New York City has not exper­i­enced anything like the corrup­tion scan­dal of the past since public finan­cing was first insti­tuted. In addi­tion, as Bill Fitzpatrick, the Repub­lican district attor­ney of Onond­aga County has poin­ted out—after study­ing the matter on the More­land Commis­sion—pub­lic finan­cing would lead to “astro­nom­ical” savings in the long run due to fewer sweet­heart deals for special interests. Governor Cuomo and legis­lat­ive lead­ers that support reform must now ensure these vital propos­als are not bargained away during budget nego­ti­ations this week.

Citizens Union Report: Public Finan­cing Gener­ates Greater Elect­oral Compet­i­tion

A new report by Citizens Union of the City of New York describes the start­ling differ­ences between New York City and New York State elec­tions when it comes to incum­bency and compet­i­tion. New York City has an oper­a­tional and highly success­ful public finan­cing system with low contri­bu­tion limits, while Albany has no such arrange­ment in place and sky-high contri­bu­tion limits. The results speak for them­selves. From 2006 to 2012, 21 percent of all state legis­lat­ive elec­tions in New York City were uncon­tested, whereas during roughly the same time period, only 8 percent of New York City coun­cil races were uncon­tested. In the 2012 state primary elec­tion, only 27 percent of state assembly­men and 18 percent of state senat­ors faced chal­lengers, compared to 57 percent of coun­cil members in the 2013 city coun­cil primar­ies. Dick Dadey, the group’s exec­ut­ive director, stated that the report “demon­strates the need for the state to enact compre­hens­ive campaign finance reforms with public fund­ing so that voters have greater choice and our demo­cracy becomes health­ier.”

Staten Island Advance: Public Finan­cing Would Make Elec­tions More Compet­it­ive

The Staten Island Advance edit­or­i­al­ized in favor of match­ing small dona­tions with state funds this week, in light of the Citizens Union report show­ing that elec­tions for the New York City coun­cil are more compet­it­ive than those for the New York State legis­lature. High contri­bu­tion limits for state campaigns contrib­ute to this uncom­pet­it­ive envir­on­ment by allow­ing incum­bents to build up their war chests to intim­id­ate any rising chal­lengers. The Advance called for compre­hens­ive reform includ­ing lower contri­bu­tion limits, pay-to-play restric­tions on lobby­ists, greater disclos­ure, and most import­antly a “public match­ing program that empowers small donors.” Arguing that reforms would be a step in the right direc­tion, the news­pa­per emphas­ized that they would go a long way towards redu­cing incum­bency, which breeds a “dysfunc­tional refuge of polit­ics behind closed doors.”