New York Campaign Finance Laws Fall Short

February 4, 2008

For Immediate Release: 

February 4, 2008

Contact: 

Mike Webb, 212-998-6746

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy,
212-998-6025

 

Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
released new research that details the problems plaguing New York State's
campaign finance system.  The new article
shows how the State could follow New York City's lead and model new laws after
the City's public finance program.

 

Published in the Albany
Government Law Review
, the research explains how state leaders should move
to close donation loopholes, lower donation limits, improve enforcement of the
finance laws, and establish a statewide public funding system.  In a letter sent to Gov. Spitzer, Assembly
Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Bruno, the Brennan Center notes, "New
York State's campaign finance regime is among the least advanced systems
nationally and forms a stark contrast with New York City's own admirable system
of public funding for elections."

 

The new research, which was written and compiled by the
Brennan Center's Ciara Torres-Spelliscy and Ari Weisbard, shows:

 

  • Aggregate contribution limits for individuals
    is $150,000 annually - or more than 3 times the median annual income for
    households in New York
    ($46,659).  This limit is more than 10
    times the $4,600 individuals can give to presidential candidates.
  • Although nearly half the states ban corporate
    contributions, New York
    allows up to an aggregate of $5,000 per year. 
    However, affiliated and subsidiary corporations can also donate money,
    which effectively makes it legal for companies with complex corporate
    structures to multiply their influence.
  • New
    York allows unlimited donations to "housekeeping
    accounts" which accept money ostensibly to maintain party headquarters and
    staff and to hold activities that do not promote specific candidates.  Others have reported that $53.2 million was
    given to "housekeeping accounts" between 1999 and 2006.  The new report shows how one corporation was
    able to give $395,000 beyond the acceptable limit.
  • A lack of clear rules on how campaign
    contributions can be spent results in abuses that allow candidates to spend the
    money on personal items such as a pool cover or car expenses.
  • The state must eliminate
    "pay-to-play" conflicts that allow contractors to donate to elected
    officials who may have influence over state contracting and regulatory
    decisions.  Similarly, contributions from
    lobbyists must be strictly regulated to reduce concerns about corruption.
  •  The maximum civil fine for violating campaign
    finance disclosure rules is only $500 and those who illegally exceed the limits
    are not subject to any fines at all. 
    Higher fines and additional enforcement staff are needed to act as more
    effective deterrents.

 

"Governor Spitzer was correct when, on his first day in
office, he outlined an agenda to reform many of the deficiencies in the state's
campaign finance regime," said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, counsel in the
Brennan Center's Democracy Program. 
"Last year, our state leaders came close to revising the finance
laws, but failed to reach a final accord. 
The Brennan Center will continue our efforts to make sure those reforms
happen and that we finally provide meaningful financing to executive and
legislative candidates."

 

The full law review article, "What Albany Could Learn
From New York City: A Model of Meaningful Campaign Finance Reform in
Action
" and a summary of the findings are available here.

 

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