4:19pm

Thu April 19, 2012
Politics and Government

Groups spend $1.5 million to push for campaign finance reform

With just two months left in the legislative session, advocates of campaign finance reform are pressing Governor Cuomo and the legislature to adopt a New York City style public financing system for the state.

The advocates, including Citizen Action’s Karen Scharff, want the state to adopt a public campaign financing system similar to the one in New York City where every one dollar donated by a private individual to a political campaign releases $6 of public money. Scharff argues it’s a way to ensure that not only wealthy donors have an impact, and she says the climate in New York is right to enact it.

“We’re going to be pushing hard,” Scharff said.

The groups also want to limit New York’s highest in the nation contribution limits, which currently allow an individual to contribute more than $100,000 each election cycle. They say loopholes, including donations to party housekeeping accounts, and the use of LLC’s Limited Liability Corporations, can increase that amount several times over. And they say enforcement by the State Board of Elections  is “non-existent.”

The traditional good government groups like the League of Women Voters and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) are joined by a number of unions, and for first time a national group, the Public Campaign Action Fund. It plans to spend $1.5 million in New York.  The group’s Jeanette Galanis says targeted mailers have already been sent to constituents of key state Senate Republicans, in hopes of persuading them to be the swing votes on the issue.

“You’ve got to have money to push a bill ,” Galanis said. “Everybody knows that.”

Democrats in the State Assembly support  public financing of campaigns and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is a long time proponent. He wrote a bill in 1986, when he was Elections Committee Chairman, which the Assembly has approved several times. Silver raised the possibility of using one statewide office, that of the state comptroller , as a test case for publicly financed campaigns as a compromise that Republicans in the Senate might support.  

“Just to show people it doesn’t cost a lot of money,” Silver said.

The State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli has already endorsed using the election for his office as a test case.

But Silver says Supreme Court actions in recent years, including the ruling permitting the formation of the independent Super PACS, have eroded existing public campaign finance programs.

Governor Cuomo listed public financing of campaigns as a priority goal in his State of the State message. Since the state budget was passed nearly one month ago, Cuomo has had only one word to say about campaign finance reform.

“Do you still plan on pushing for campaign finance reform?” a reporter asked.  

“Yes,” the governor answered.

Galanis, with the Public Campaign Action Fund, says the governor has a chance to become a national leader on the issue.

“Governor Cuomo has a real opportunity here to solidify himself as a national reformer,” said Galanis.

So far the Republicans who lead the Senate have not come out in favor of campaign finance reform.

The state’s Conservative Party, which traditionally cross-endorses most of the GOP Senators in elections, issued a statement against publicly financed campaigns, saying  full disclosure of all donations is better than forcing taxpayers to partially underwrite campaigns that they might not agree with.  The Conservative Party points out that many politicians abuse their campaign funds for meals, living expenses, and in some cases, new cars. They conclude that “if a candidate has good ideas, the public will support them.”

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