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.
Women Leaders Sign Letter to Gov. Cuomo and Legislature Urging Reform
This week, more than 160 women business, philanthropic and political leaders signed onto a letter to New York’s legislative leaders and governor, encouraging them to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform with publicly funded elections. “For women in particular, this kind of reform is vital to participation in politics,” the letter stated. Women comprise merely 18 and 25 percent of the seats in the New York State Senate and Assembly, respectively. By contrast, in five out of the six states with publicly funded legislative elections, women constitute a higher percentage of legislators than the national average. In those five states, the percentage of female legislators is at least 8 percent higher than in New York. Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice were just some of the signatories on the letter.
Female Political Leaders Hold Press Conference in Albany on Public Financing
On Wednesday, several female state political leaders, along with members of the Fair Elections for New York coalition, gathered in Albany to press Governor Cuomo and the New York State Senate to pass small donor public financing in the 2014 budget. Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that “our current elections system forces candidates to raise ever-increasing sums of money leading some lawmakers to focus more on large donors than their constituents.” Other prominent women including, Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, Letitia James, public advocate of New York City, Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters of New York State, as well as a host of New York Senators and Assemblywomen also spoke at the press conference. The event came on the heels of a Brennan Center-sponsored panel that included Kathleen Rice, district attorney of Nassau County; Barbara Lawton, former lieutenant governor of Wisconsin; and Julie Muraco, managing partner of the Praeditis Group LLC. At the panel, the speakers discussed their experience running for office under the current campaign finance system, and why the issue of public financing is important to them as civic and business leaders. Empirical research has shown that raising money may be a deterrent keeping women from running for office. Rice explained that this is because women “still don’t have the inherent financial infrastructure men do.” Lawton added that public financing has the potential to bring more women into politics, as it decreases the burden of fundraising from special interests and mega-donors.
Anna Roosevelt’s Letter to Cuomo: Make New York a Model for the Nation
On Saturday, the Times-Union published Anna Eleanor Roosevelt’s letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to ensure that public financing of elections stays in the state budget. Anna Roosevelt, the granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, said that with Congress gridlocked, the opportunity for resolving the problems of governance lies with the states. Governors of New York, from Theodore Roosevelt, who as president first proposed public financing as a remedy to the corruption of the Gilded Age, to Mario Cuomo, who authorized the Feerick Commission to investigate the state’s campaign finance laws, all understood that “New York can set the pace for the nation.” Roosevelt applauded the governor for including reform in his budget, saying that such a system would incentivize candidates to raise money from small donors, rather than special interests. However, she insisted, Cuomo must now “leverage to ensure a vote” on the matter, and make certain that reform stays in the budget during the last-minute negotiations with the leaders of the Assembly Democrats, the Senate Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Republicans. “I know that millions of New Yorkers — and many millions more beyond New York — will be grateful if you indeed accomplish this,” Roosevelt stated.
Utica Observer-Dispatch: Public Financing Should Pass This Year
This week, a Utica Observer-Dispatch editorial pressed Governor Cuomo and state legislative leaders to pass reform before the April 1st deadline for the budget. Some lawmakers are reluctant to accept reform, the Observer-Dispatch argued, because the current system provides incumbents with “comfort and job security.” Most incumbents have widespread name recognition in their district and a large war chest of campaign funds to deter any potential challengers. In order to build up their campaign funds, legislators rely heavily on lobbyists, corporations, and a few ultra-rich donors—everyone except their constituents. In Maine, the editorial pointed out, 70 percent of legislators partake in a public financing program, which has also boosted participation. “That’s what New York needs…For the first time, campaign finance reform is more than just talk. Cuomo has taken action by including it in his budget, and he now needs to stand his ground. We urge him to do that and make sure this finally gets done — for the sake of all New Yorkers.”
Assemblyman Boyland Convicted on Bribery Charges
In a federal court on Thursday, Assemblyman William Boyland (D-Brooklyn) was convicted on all 21 counts of bribery, mail fraud and extortion that he faced. The 43 year-old Assemblyman was accused of accepting $14,300 and soliciting another $250,000 in bribes from two undercover FBI agents. One of the agents posed as a businessman seeking Boyland’s assistance in obtaining permits for a carnival in the Assemblyman’s district. Boyland also allocated public funds for the elderly into a non-profit organization he controlled, later using the money for campaign events. In addition to all of this, Boyland submitted more than $70,000 in fraudulent reimbursement expenses to the Assembly. This latest departure brings the number of vacancies in the 150-member Assembly up to 10, along with two in the state Senate—many due to corruption, sexual harassment and other ethics scandals.