protestwindow

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.

Committee on Open Government Complaint by Nick Reisman