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Money in Politics This Week: Two Former Congressmen Support Fair Elections

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 29, 2013

Crossposted at ReformNY

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.



Utica Observer-Dispatch Editorial on Matching Small Donations
The Utica Observer-Dispatch editorialized in favor of campaign finance reform on Sunday. Governor Cuomo and Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk have both championed the call for reform. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stands behind the initiative as well. “It’s an issue that politicians love to talk about, and it’s time they put that money where their mouth is and reform campaign financing once and for all.” The current system allows incumbents to raise large sums of campaign cash in a myriad of ways, including from lobbyists looking for political favors. Campaign war chests can be multiplied through investments in bonds and mutual funds. This discourages rising challengers. Matching small donations with public funds, and reducing the size of big donations for candidates willing to participate in such a system offers an alternative to campaigns dominated by wealthy special interests. Opponents afraid of the cost to taxpayers would do well to know that the relatively miniscule monetary expense is “well worth the trade off to drive out special interests whose big bucks influence decisions that ultimately cost the public in many ways.”

Former U.S. Representative Mike Arcuri: Congress Too Reliant on Big Contributions
On Thursday, former U.S. Representative Mike Arcuri (D-NY) made the case for public campaign financing by matching small donations to The Syracuse Post-Standard. Representative Arcuri explained the negative ramifications that big campaign contributions have on public policy. “There’s something inherently difficult about voting on a bill that you know the stakeholders … have threatened to support your opponent if you don’t,” Arcuri stated. The former Congressman said that based on his tenure, this was a common predicament on nearly every issue. “I had to think about how will this affect my contributor, really, I should not have been considering that.” Matching small donations by adopting a comprehensive fair elections system can reverse this scenario, so that Representatives are dependent upon their constituents rather than a few wealthy individuals, corporations, and PACs.

Former U.S. Representative Tom Perillo: It’s Time for Campaign Finance Reform
In an Albany Times-Union op-ed, Tom Perriello, former Congressional Representative from Virginia, makes a strong case for campaign finance reform in New York State. Perriello argues that despite the flood of money in the 2012 election, New Yorkers can still reclaim their government. By matching small donations with public funds and reducing New York’s sky high contribution limits, ordinary New Yorkers can regain control over their representatives in Albany. New York City, which has operated under this clean elections system for 20 years, has certainly reaped the benefits. “City Council candidates now hustle to gather contributions from scores of small donors,” and new donors “are more economically, racially and geographically diverse.” Although some are concerned about the tax costs of implementing public financing, ordinary taxpayers would be the big winners because it would drastically diminish government giveaways to wealthy interests. “Closing just a few tax loopholes currently protected by the influence of major donors could more than cover the cost of citizen-funded elections.”

New York Lobbying Reports Reveal the Biggest Spenders of 2012
Disclosure records from the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics reveal the biggest lobbying spenders in the state. New York enacted the nation’s first system of disclosure of funding sources for entities spending more than $50,000 per year on lobbying expenditures after the passage of the Public Integrity Act of 2011. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, there was a seven percent drop in lobbying, from $220 million in 2011 to $205 million last year. The biggest spender was the Committee to Save New York, a business group that supports Governor Cuomo’s fiscal agenda. The group spent $4.2 million in 2012. Exxon Mobil Corporation was the second largest spender of the year, dolling out $2.1 million in 2012. Major League Soccer, which is seeking to open a new stadium in Queens, came in third, also nearing $2.1 million in lobbying expenditures. According to Kelly Williams, corporate general counsel at the Brennan Center, the new regulations ensure that voters can “tell who is trying to influence the legislative process,” especially when entities with vague and unrecognizable names tacitly conduct expensive lobbying campaigns.

Organizing for Action Joins Fair Elections for New York Campaign
Organizing for Action, a team of grassroots volunteers formed from President Obama’s campaign organization, has decided to join the movement for campaign finance reform in New York State. At a conference call for members, OFA executive director Jon Carson stated that the group will help build momentum for the fair elections effort in the final three months of the state legislative session. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, also on the call, informed participants that public financing of elections is “essential in a post-Citizens United world.” The campaign finance push is OFA’s first foray into state politics and away from Obama’s presidential agenda. The Fair Elections for New York coalition, a diverse array of reform, good-government, and business organizations is already active on the issue, organizing house parties and rallies, gathering signatures for petitions, and lobbying legislators in Albany. OFA’s lead New York organizer Kate Stevens, said OFA volunteers will be doing grassroots organizing as well, including house parties, educational forums, and reaching out to friends and neighbors.



Washington Post op-ed: Small Donor Democracy Can Replace Status Quo
In a Washington Post, op-ed E.J. Doinne Jr. describes the current battle over gun control as an advertising contest between proponents of regulations such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and opponents such as the NRA. Unfortunately politics has been reduced to a “contest between liberal rich people and conservative rich people” in America. The post-Citizens United world is infused with nonstop fundraising, political spending and permanent campaigning. As political strategists dismiss campaign contribution limits and Organizing for Action plans to accept large donations, Doinne suggests an alternative. It would be far better for the Obama administration to concentrate “primarily on building off the pioneering work his campaigns did in rallying small donors.” Unfortunately, too many politicians are growing comfortable with the status quo of big money campaigns. Two Congressional Representatives that refuse to are David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). They are sponsoring the Empowering Citizens Act, which would match contributions under $250 with public funds at a 5 to 1 ratio. Other members of Congress would do well to add their names as co-sponsors and publicly voice their support.

Do You Ever Wonder What Your Former Congressman Is Doing?
USA Today reports that 16 lawmakers that left Congress recently have now jumped on board with lobbying groups. The analysis looks at lawmakers who retired, resigned or lost their seats in the last Congress and the new Congress. Although rules forbid former Representatives and Senators from directly lobbying Congress for one and two years respectively, there are no restrictions on providing advice and consulting services to organizations seeking to shape federal legislation. Former lawmakers are allowed to lobby the executive branch and state and local governments without any moratorium. Former Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) who resigned from Congress in January, is now the President and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts Senator who was defeated in November, will be joining the lobbying firm Nixon Peabody. Scott received extensive contributions from the financial services, real estate and insurance industry during his Congressional race. The firm’s D.C. clients include Goldman Sachs and Sallie Mae.

Public Financing Bill Clears Hawaii Senate Committee
On Thursday, the Hawaii Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended the passage of House Bill 1481, which passed the state House earlier this month. Currently, Hawaii has a partial public funding program, but only one legislative candidate participated in 2012. The new legislative proposal aims to strengthen the program. Under the new system, candidates who collect a certain number of signatures and qualifying contributions from registered voters to show broad-based community support would be eligible to receive a public grant to fund their campaigns. An interview with the lead sponsor of the bill, Hawaii State Representative Della Au Belatti (D), is available at the Public Campaign website. “It would … really free political candidates and elected officials from having to chase after money, which we so often have to do,” she stated.

West Virginia House of Delegates Passes Resolution to Encourage Congress to Overturn Citizens United
The West Virginia House of Delegates is asking Congress to enact a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. House Resolution 9, which passed 60–39 on Thursday, asks Congress to draft a constitutional amendment that will allow for corporations to be regulated in terms of how much money they can donate and spend on politics. Proposed amendments need to either (a) receive backing from three-fifths of the members of the U.S. House and Senate or (b) attain support for a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of all state legislatures, before they can be considered for ratification by the states (three-quarters of the state legislatures are required to approve) and added to the Constitution. House Resolution 9 is advisory in nature and does not call for a constitutional convention. Referring to corporations, Delegate John Ellem (R-Wood) stated, “Since a corporation is a tool for commerce, I strongly believe being a tool we created, we have the power, we as the legislative body, and the Supreme Court has chimed in on it, but we have the right to impose restrictions."