Campaign Finance Reform
Jun 18th - 12:20 pm
As the chances of creating a system of publicly financed political campaigns wanes, 115 organizations from around the country are putting pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders to create a system of publicly financed campaigns.
In a letter to state officials, the groups write that a statewide system of public dollars for political campaigns would have reverberations outside of New York.
The letter was distributed widely by Fair Elections, the coalition of mostly labor and liberal groups backing the public financing system.
Thanks largely to many of the larger and more prominent groups in the coalition like Organizing for Action, the issue of public financing has been nationalized this year, along with the focus on an ambitious governor like Andrew Cuomo.
The outlook for public financing is not good this final week of the legislative session.
Senate Republicans are not expected to allow a vote on the measure this week as Cuomo has swung his support to the measure previously approved in the Democratic-led Assembly.
Jun 5th - 12:13 pm
The second item from today’s morning memo:
The Q-poll has good news and bad news for advocates of public financing.
A majority of voters — 53 percent to 37 percent — oppose the use of public dollars for political campaigns.
The issue is broadly opposed by Republicans, with 68 percent giving the thumbs down. Public financing is treading water with Democrats, meanwhile, with only 49 percent saying they backed the measure.
But given the choice of whether public financing would reduce or increase corruption, the results are more mixed. Forty-two percent of voters surveyed believe the measure can reduce wrongdoing in politics. Thirty-nine percent believe it can increase public fraud.
The poll results come as state lawmakers once again are being pushed on the issue of public financing, this time by a coalition of good-government groups, labor organizations and even the former campaign apparatus of President Obama’s re-election effort, Organizing for America.
Senate Republicans have said public financing is a non-stater for them, given the cost of the program and potential for abuse.
May 31st - 4:16 pm
In a Facebook post this afternoon Sen. Diane Savino called the Fair Elections coalition a “front” for the Jonathan Soros and the labor-backed Working Families Party.
She was responding to a post from earlier today on mailers in her district pushing her and Albany lawmakers to approve a public financing measure by the end of June.
“I rest my case….the whole Fair Elections is a front for Soros and his buddies at the Working Families Party which used to stand for something, now they just sell themselves to the highest bidder!!” Savino wrote when linking to the post.
The mailers are being funded by Friends of Democracy, a political action committee funded in part by Soros, the son of liberal billionaire financier George Soros.
Fair Elections is a coalition of mostly liberal and union-aligned groups backing a bill that would publicly finance campaigns, including the WFP.
Savino is a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, which is in a governing coalition with Republicans in the Senate.
Though GOP lawmakers oppose public financing, the IDC has its own bill that would publicly finance campaigns.
The package also includes a ban on soft money or “housekeeping” accounts, which isn’t included in the Fair Elections legislation.
Update: Fair Elections spokesman Morgan Hook responds to Savino.
“The Fair Elections for New York campaign has been clear that all of our partners want to see the Senate pass comprehensive campaign finance reform with public funding at its core,” he said. “Senator Savino says she supports this, and we are simply asking her to bring it to the senate floor for a vote. New Yorkers are demanding it, and our elected officials shouldn’t come home without it.”
The group also lists its various members on its website.
May 31st - 1:05 pm
The political action committee funded by Jonathan Soros is mailing in Sen. Diane Savino’s district on public financing under the Fair Elections umbrella.
The flyer urges Savino to “don’t come home” without passing the measure that is facing Republican opposition in the Senate.
The mail is being sent out under the Fair Elections banner, but says it was paid for by the Soros PAC Friends of Democracy.
Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, is part of the coalition of Republicans and IDC lawmakers leading the chamber.
The mailer to Savino comes after volunteers for the Working Families Party canvassed her district earlier this month pushing public financing (the influential, labor-backed third party is a major component of the Fair Elections coaltion).
A source familiar with the campaign says the canvassing has been expanded to include the districts represented by Long Island GOP Sens. Phil Boyle and Lee Zeldin, along with Savino’s fellow IDC member David Carlucci of Rockland County.
The IDC backs public financing of political campaigns, but has released its own package of reform measures separate from the Fair Elections push.
The IDC-GOP coalition requires a consensus among leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein before a bill can go to the floor for a vote.
Savino told Karen DeWitt on New York Now last week that a vote on public financing won’t be forced.
“Forcing a vote to the floor is not the way the IDC and the coalition was put together,” Savino said on the program. “We don’t want them (Senate Republicans) trying to force bills to the floor that Democrats like myself would find offensive. A coalition like that wouldn’t work. It’s important to gain the support not just of Senator Skelos but of his conference.”
Klein said in a Capital Tonight interview this week that he remained confident public financing would still be voted on later this year.
May 29th - 1:57 pm
Hundreds of advocates are in Albany today in order to boost the chances of public financing passing this session, but time is rapidly becoming an obstacle in addition to the state Senate.
The Democratic-led Assembly previously approved the measure favored by the Fair Elections umbrella group, a coalition of labor-backed organizations and other liberal-leaning advocacy groups.
Advocates cite the good polling on public financing, their grassroots support and, of course, the parade of corruption scandals that have hit state government in the last two months.
But the measure so far has not gained much traction in the Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of four Democrats and Republicans.
Senate Republicans have cited the cost of public financing, as well as the concern that voters wouldn’t want to use public dollars to pay for political activity.
There are four weeks left in the legislative session that is scheduled to end June 20.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who at this point in the year often trades barbs with the Senate Republican leadership over who is being more obstinate in negotiations, is already blaming the GOP.
“Right now the Senate is expressing a desire not to do those things, which is unfortunate,” Silver said. ”I don’t think it has anything to do with anything other than different philosophies and looking out for other New Yorkers.”
Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference and coalition co-leader, backs his own public financing bill that also includes an end to housekeeping accounts and a repeal of the Wilson-Pakula waiver.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs a public financing system and even at one point participated in a rare conference call with Fair Elections supporters. But Cuomo and the coalition, which is backed by the Working Families Party, do not align on the repeal of Wilson-Pakula, which allows party bosses to grant non-party members a spot on the ballot.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, meanwhile, has rejected the idea that public financing could help curb corruption, noting that the New York City system hasn’t stopped fraud.
Cuomo in recent weeks has acknowledged there’s an ideological wall with Republicans when it comes to the public financing issue, but has said he’s still backing the measure. Cuomo has also started to emphasize independent oversight at the state Board of Elections as a means to fighting corruption.
Still, public financing advocates are undaunted by the seemingly steep climb, saying today’s protest is just the beginning of a stepped-up effort in the final weeks.
“It’s funny how Albany works,” said Citizen Action’s Karen Scharrf. ”It’s always either too early or too late. Things are always go slow until they happen, so we think four weeks is definitely enough.
May 22nd - 1:06 pm
Volunteers for the Working Families Party are canvassing the Staten Island Senate District of Democratic Sen. Diane Savino, part of what a source familiar with the campaign says is a “growing discontent” with her and the Independent Democratic Conference over concerns the lawmakers aren’t pushing hard enough for the public financing of political campaigns this legislative session.
The canvassing push from the WFP, which began last night in the district, will stretch until the end of the legislative session, June 20.
The message to Savino, according to the source, is “Don’t come home from Albany without passing public financing.”
The move to pressure the IDC comes after the Senate Elections Committee held a hearing that was critical of public financing, but also knocked for shutting out some advocates of the proposal. Members of the umbrella group Fair Elections, which includes the influential WFP, had sent a letter to lawmakers on the panel, including Savino, asking that they be included.
Savino was critical of the Republican-backed move to shut some advocates of the meeting, while Elections Committee Chairman Tom O’Mara insisted that not enough time was available for all to testify.
Savino released a statement through a spokesman noting she backs public financing herself and criticizes the Working Families Party while making a reference to the organization’s ties to an investigation to Staten Island campaigns.
“Over the past two months, no one had worked harder to pass real campaign finance reform than my colleagues and I in the IDC. We’ve introduced truly comprehensive reform, held four public hearings, and have earned the support of advocates and voters statewide. Staten Island probably isn’t the best place for the Working Families Party to start a paid canvas, given their questionable history of gaming our current campaign finance system to their benefit. Perhaps Dan Donovan should take a look into who’s paying for this canvass too.”
The four-member Independent Democratic Conference backs a broad package of reform measures that includes the public financing of political campaigns. But the package also includes provisions the WFP opposes, including an end to the Wilson-Pakula waiver and a ban on so-called “soft money” housekeeping accounts.
The IDC is in a governing coalition with Senate Republicans, with the agreement that both Senate leaders, Jeff Klein and the GOP’s Dean Skelos, must agree on legislation before it comes to the floor for a vote.
Senate Republicans have generally opposed public financing of campaigns, citing cost and concerns over abuse.
Supporters contend an adoption of a New York City-style system will help curb public corruption cases that have hit Albany in recent weeks.
May 21st - 12:21 pm
Billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given $7.2 million.
The New York State United Teachers unions has doled out $3.2 million.
And the Greater New York Hospital Association contributed $3 million.
Good-government groups don’t consider the state’s campaign finance regulatons to be the most stringent to begin with, but when it comes to so-called “housekeeping” accounts, the sky is indeed the limit.
The group Common Cause/NY released today a report on soft money giving to the accounts, finding that in the last six years alone $58 million has been sent to housekeeping accounts of political parties and legislative conferences.
“Housekeeping accounts are a notorious loophole which both contributors and committees exploit to ignore our state’s campaign contribution limits and undermine the voters. The system of legal bribery in which Albany operates is largely responsible for the wide scale corruption we’ve seen in recent months. In order to change the culture of corruption which puts democracy up for auction, we need wholesale campaign finance reform, built around a system of small dollar matching funds, to hold elected accountable to their constituents. As long as big dollar donors wield disproportionate influence over our politics, we will never truly have a government for and by the people,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
Bloomberg, a political patron of the Senate Republicans, has given the most over the years in New York. Last year Bloomberg cut a $1 million check to the GOP’s housekeeping account.
Hedge manager Robert Mercer also contributed $1 million in 2010 to the state Conservative Party.
The reoprt found that housekeeping accounts represent an often exploited loophole in the state’s campaign finance law with unlimited donations. The money is ostensibly not meant to be used for specific candidates, but money transfers allow for a end-run around that rule.
Banning houseekping accounts, however, is easier said than done.
A measure to public finance political campaigns passed the Democratic-led Assembly earlier this year, but that did not include a curb on soft money.
The four-member Independent Democratic Conference has a package of campaign finance law changes that includes a ban on the housekeeping accounts.
May 20th - 6:00 am
The latest Siena poll contains some head-scratching results.
On the one hand, half of New Yorkers agree with Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he says state government is working again.
But when asked how they feel about the government in light of the recent series of public corruption scandals, only 26 percent said it’s working effectively, compared to 67 percent who said it is becoming more dysfunctional every day.
A vast majority of poll respondents – 88 percent – believe more arrests of legislators are on the horizon. That’s up from 81 percent last month.
A plurality of voters – 41 percent – said passing laws to address corruption should be the top end-of-session priority.
Addressing the governor’s Women’s Equality Agenda came in a distant second at 21 percent, with more than twice as much support from women as from men, followed by public campaign financing at 15 percent and the casino amendment at 13 percent.
All this turmoil has, oddly, been good for Cuomo’s favorability rating, which had fallen incrementally in each of the last four months.
According to this poll, Cuomo’s numbers – both approval and re-elect – have edged up a little, while his job performance rating remains identical to last month.
Cuomo now has a 64-32 favorability rating, up slightly from 62-33 percent last month.
Fifty-two percent say Cuomo is doing an excellent or good job as governor, and 47 percent say he’s doing only a fair or poor job. That’s unchanged from April.
Fifty-five percent say they are prepared to re-elect Cuomo, while 36 percent would prefer someone else – up from 53-39 in April.
Support for a casino gambling constitutional amendment, 53-37 percent, is the highest it has ever been. This makes some sense, given the amount of attention given to the Cuomo administration-Oneida Indian Nation deal struck last week.
On fracking, 39 percent of voters say they’d like to see drilling move forward, while 41 percent are opposed. The numbers last month were 45 percent opposed, 40 percent in favor.
Statewide, 57 percent of New Yorkers support the idea of a taxpayer funded campaign finance system, (in other words, using public dollars to match donations to candidates while also lowering contribution limits).
More than 60 percent of Democrats and independents support creation of a public system, while Republicans are evenly divided.
May 7th - 4:14 pm
As good-government advocates complain they were not allowed to sit through today’s public proceedings on the New York City public financing system, Senate Elections Committee Chairman Tom O’Mara said there wasn’t enough time to hear all takers on the topic.
The hearing, which featured witnesses critical of public financing along with some supporters, lasted most of the morning and into the early afternoon.
“We couldn’t have everybody here,” O’Mara said in an interview. ”We’ve been here for over four hours already as it is with the witnesses that we’ve had.”
O’Mara pointed to additional public hearings being held on the topic by the Independent Democratic Conference.
“They don’t need to be heard at every forum and there’s just not enough time in the day to accommodate all those groups,” he said.
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif was more pointed in a statement earlier this afternoon, saying the room was filled to capacity and that not everyone could be let inside. The hearing was webcast online, he added.
But officials were clearly cautious about who was let into the hearing room, which was held in the Capitol and not the Legislative Office Building, where there are larger meeting rooms that could handle a larger audience.
Reporters who arrived after the meeting began were told the room was at capacity, with sergeants-at-arms even questioning whether they were members of the press. After Reif appeared, the reporters were let inside.
May 7th - 12:55 pm
Protesters barred from the Senate Elections Committee hearing this morning taking a critical look at public financing of political campaigns sought to make themsevles heard as much as possible.
Veering into a near-farce, at one point during the testimony of anti-tax advocate David Keating, the president of the Center for Competitive Politics, protesters even appeared an open window in the first-floor room at the Capitol.
The window, opened to let some air in the stifling romo, was quickly closed by the sergeant-at-arms.
Nonetheless, protesters loudly chanted “let the people in” outside of the committee hearing room.
But it wasn’t just protesters blocked from entering the room.
Security was so tight at the hearing that six Senate sergeants-at-arms were guarding the room, even temporarily barring credentialed members of the press from entering the public proceeding (this reporter, alongside NY1′s Zack Fink, was eventually let in by Senate spokesman Scott Reif).
NYPIRG researcher Bill Mahoney this afternoon sent a formal letter of complaint to the state Committee on Open Government on being barred from the meeting. He, along with other advocates critical of Senate Republican opposition to the public financing, were not allowed inside the room.
“With the recent spate of arrests and polls showing keen public interest in reform issues, members of the public ought to at least be able to observe and listen to the proceedings, in accordance with the law,” Mahoney wrote in the complaint. “The failure to open up a “public” hearing to the public today is a new low for democracy and open government in New York.”
All in all, this was not the optics Senate Republicans were going for when they announced the hearing to investigate the New York City public financing system.
The conference has spent the last month pushing back on the claims of advocates for public financing and debated the cost of the system, pointing to more pressing needs for the use of public funds.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is backing the public financing effort as part of a larger reform proposal being made in the wake of a series of public corruption arrests, the latest of which netted Sen. John Sampson, who is accused of embezzling $440,000 to fund his Brooklyn DA campaign.
Sen. Kathy Marchione questioned whether the money for public financing would be better spent on gap elimination aid for education, while Sen. Greg Ball threw a pointed jab at Democratic Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, wondering out loud about independent expenditure groups funded by “Soros.”
Ball was referring to the campaign funded by Jonathan Soros, the son of liberal financier George Soros, who spent heavily in Tkaczyk’s successful race pushing for public financing of political campaigns.
And Keating, of the Center for Competitive Politics, suggested that public matching dollars could go toward extremist political organizations like Nazis.
Nevertheless, Republicans did invite advocates in favor of public financing, including Dick Dadey of the good-government group Citizens Union, and Randy Mastro, a deputy mayor of New York City during the Giuliani administration.
Mastro in his testimony said the public financing system “has the potential to restore public trust” in Albany.