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.
For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE AND ETHICS NEWS
Qualcomm Discloses Political Spending
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, manager and trustee of the state retirement fund, has dropped a lawsuit against wireless tech giant Qualcomm following the company’s decision to disclose its political expenditures. Under a new policy released by Qualcomm, it will post its contributions to political candidates, parties, trade organizations and 501(c)(4) organizations for each fiscal year online. “Qualcomm’s disclosure policy sets a high standard for transparency in corporate political spending disclosure and the company deserves praise for its actions,” DiNapoli stated. The Albany Times-Union editorialized in favor of DiNapoli, praising his initiative. “We encourage Mr. DiNapoli to continue to use the $152.9 billion state pension fund’s ample clout to make more companies come clean. And let’s hope that other public pension trustees and other public officials are following this instructive tale.” Qualcomm’s voluntary disclosures will benefit its shareholders, but investors need the protection of a uniform, nationwide rule requiring disclosure of corporate political expenditures.
NY State Senator Brad Holyman: End Albany’s Pay-to-Play Culture
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman has an excellent op-ed in The Villager this week. Hoylman states that despite incremental improvements in ethics reforms following landmark legislation last year, Albany’s pay-to-play culture will not end until campaign finance laws are changed as well. New York’s contribution limits are 12 times higher than the national median for states and 10 times greater than the limit for presidential candidates. Corporate contributions, banned in almost half of all states, are the norm in New York. Political party housekeeping accounts, which can accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations, serve as a loophole that creates the possibility of giving in excess of New York’s sky-high limits. “Fortunately, we have a widely celebrated model of a fair and functional campaign finance law right here in New York City.” Candidates for any elective office in New York City can qualify for public funding if they raise enough money from small donors. Contribution limits are low and only living, breathing individuals can donate to a candidate. Two of the State Senate’s three conference leaders have pledged their support for campaign finance reform. Let’s push to make sure “Albany has the best politicians money can’t buy.”
Poll: Majority of Americans Agree with Aggregate Contribution Limits
The U.S. Supreme Court announced last week that it will hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case which challenges the cap on the aggregate amount that individuals can donate to federal candidates. The case does not question general contribution limits established for individual candidates, but rather the total amount of money that one person can donate to various campaigns per election cycle. According to a new poll by the Huffington Post and YouGov, Americans are in broad agreement regarding restrictions on the total amount of money that one person can donate to federal candidates. Only 12 percent of Americans think that there should be no limits on aggregate contributions. Fourty-four percent that the 2012 aggregate limit of $46,200 is too high. Eighteen percent think the current limit is “about right,” and 23 percent remain unsure. A majority of respondents across partisan lines, including 56 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Independents, regard the current aggregate limit as either too high or “about right.”
Democratic Congressional Primary Candidate in Florida Charged with Campaign Violations
Justin Sternad, a Democratic primary candidate in Florida’s 26th Congressional district, was charged in federal court last Friday with conspiracy to violate federal campaign laws, making false statements and accepting illegal campaign contributions. Sternad was competing against Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary. The Miami Herald published stories last year claiming that Sternad had received money from Republican David Rivera, who was also running for the 26th district slot. Garcia eventually went on to win the primary against Sternad and the general election against Rivera. Meanwhile irregular financial filings from Sternad’s campaign caught the eye of federal officials and prosecutors. Sternad claimed he made $64,000 in loans to his congressional campaign on FEC filings, but in reality the total was less than $300. Rivera may have been the source of nearly $81,486 in unreported checks and cash to Sternad, although Rivera denies these allegations.
Lobbyists Entice Lawmakers Ahead of Sequester Deadline
Today is the deadline for the budget sequester, which will trim a significant amount of money from various government agencies. Numerous lobbyists are hoping to maintain their piece of pie from the federal government by enticing legislators with lavish receptions and events. According to the Sunlight Foundation, at least 40 House and Senate members hosted or attended fundraisers this week. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) was feted at the office a lobbying firm Patton Boggs, which represents high end clients like General Electric and Goldman Sachs. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) will host a fundraiser this weekend for her leadership PAC, Democrats Win Seats, behind the home plate of the Yankees and Phillies game at the annual Spring Training Weekend in Florida. The weekend getaway also includes a welcome reception at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa. A comprehensive list of events is available on the Public Campaign website. As Public Campaign explains, “It’s another reason Congress should pass legislation like the Fair Elections Now Act that would encourage candidates to run for office by relying on a mix of small donations and matching public funds.”