Campaign Finance Reform
Feb 16th - 7:31 am
From the Morning Memo:
The Public Campaign Action Fund, a deep-pocketed organization that backs the public financing of political campaigns, has yet to jump in the lobbying fray this legislative session.
“We are definitely monitoring closely what’s going on in Albany, but we haven’t made any plans to lobby,” said Adam Smith, a spokesman for the group.
At the moment, neither Public Campaign Action Fund or a related organization, Friends of Democracy, has filed an intent to lobby letter with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics – a documented required when the cost of seeking to influence state government is expected to be more than $5,000 for any given entity.
The decision to remain on the sidelines for now comes after pro-public financing organizations spent heavily through independent expenditure committees in the state Senate elections over the past two cycles.
The campaign money was spent to little avail: Republicans swept three upstate Democratic incumbents from the chamber and held on to all of their seats on Long Island, securing a full majority in the chamber this past November.
At the same time, GOP candidates and their allies made a point of campaigning against creating a public financing system.
With Republicans fully in control of the Senate, the prospects of a broad public financing program passing this year appear dim.
The lobbying in favor of getting big money out of politics – be it in the form of personal meetings with decision makers or through well-financed TV ad and mail campaigns – has, ironically, been a costly one in recent years.
The organization spent more than $1.3 million lobbying state government on the issue of public financing last year.
Between January and February alone, the Public Campaign Action Fund spent $450,000 on a television ad buy. An additional $884,279 was spent between March and April (most likely mostly March) on ads, direct mail and phone banking.
The effort had only a half-result: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed to create the first statewide public financing program which applied only to the state comptroller’s race.
That pilot program didn’t work out too well. It’s lone participate – Onondaga County Coptroller Bob Antonacci, the GOP opponent to Democratic state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli – failed to meet the fundraising threshold to qualify for public matching funds.
Cuomo this year included a full public financing system in his $142 billion budget proposal.
This month, Cuomo has repeatedly called for new ethics legislation tied to the passage of the state budget, but he has been focused on achieving new disclosure laws when it comes to legislators’ outside income in the wake of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest on corruption charges.
The pro-public financing banner is still be carried in Albany in the form of the labor-aligned Working Families Party and its community-organizing partner, Citizen Action of NY.
Oct 27th - 8:45 am
From the Morning Memo:
The pro-public financing group Friends of Democracy this month spent virtually all of its $650,000 budget, according to a filing with the state Board of Elections.
The majority of the group’s money was contributed by Jonathan Soros, the son of wealthy financier George Soros, who donated $600,000 to the effort.
The filing shows Friends of Democracy has spent $637,125 this month, almost entirely on TV ad purchases.
The group has been active in at least two state Senate races: the 40th Senate district race between Democrat Justin Wagner and Republican Terrence Murphy, along with the 46th Senate district, which is a rematch between Democratic incumbent Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore.
Oct 20th - 7:00 am
A super PAC pushing an overhaul of federal campaign finance laws last week sent two mailers in the 18th congressional district, targeting Republican former Rep. Nan Hayworth.
The group, Every Voice Action, is tied to Jonathan Soros, the son of liberal financier George Soros, who is also funding Friends of Democracy, which has been active in several state legislative races.
Every Voice Action has also received funding from the Mayday PAC, a super PAC put together by legal theorist (and Zephyr Teachout booster) Lawrence Lessig.
The two mail pieces knock Hayworth for past votes on health-care related issues, which the group links back to her campaign contributions.
The mailers were sent last week to around 22,000 households in NY-18.
Hayworth is running for the seat in the Hudson Valley that she held until 2012, when she was defeated for re-election by Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney.
The Soros-backed Friends of Democracy is active again on the state-level this year, too, most notably funding a television ad knocking Republican state Senate hopeful George Amedore, a former assemblyman who is in a re-match himself against Democratic incumbent Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk.
Jul 19th - 1:02 am
Several Western New York Republicans have come to the defense of retiring New York State Senator George Maziarz in recent days; former GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Carl Paladino is not one of them.
“I think George is probably a poster child for term limits,” Paladino said.
Maziarz has served in the Niagara County based 62nd state senate seat for two decades. It’s a tenure Paladino believes was too long.
“After a while they start to feel like a king, you know King George,” said Paladino.
It’s a characterization the Buffalo businessman has repeated over the years, and one that now appears to be gaining traction. At about the same time Maziarz announced his retirement, reports surfaced the U.S. Attorney’s Office was looking into his campaign spending.
What started as a Moreland Commission report that showed $140,000 in unspecified campaign expenditures continues to expand. The Albany Times Union reported Friday Federal investigators are now examining unitemized checks that were made out to cash, but never reported to the state board of elections.
The latest questions center on funds from the Maziarz campaign account that were reportedly given to a youth softball team and thousands of dollars in purchases from a WNY business. Maziarz Campaign Treasurer, Laureen Jacobs, has been asked to turn over documents but her attorney wouldn’t provide any further details.
And although charges have not been filed, Paladino isn’t giving Maziarz the benefit of the doubt.
“In my book, he was the guy that held Niagara County down,” Paladino said.
Paladino believes the investigation into Maziarz campaign spending is nothing compared to what he didn’t do. That criticism has to do with what Paladino describes as more than $1 Billion from the New York State Power Authority’s budget.
That money, according to Paladino, was generated through the sale of unused allocated power. Money that Paladino insists should have been spent on development in Western New York.
“George turned the other way as Cuomo was sweeping the account for the last four years. He never ensured that that money would stay here for Western New York’s benefit. That’s the kind of stuff that bothered me about George.”
It may take some time before Maziarz’s legacy is clear. While the jury is still out in the court of public opinion, Paladino made up his mind long ago.
“George is going to walk away with a million, one hundred thousand dollars in his campaign account and Western New York is no further ahead today than it was when George originally took office,” Paladino added.
Jul 15th - 11:38 pm
Although he was surprised by it, State Senator Pat Gallivan said the public shouldn’t read into the timing of the retirement of fellow Western New York Republican George Maziarz.
“Senator Maziarz has expressed publically his reasons for retiring that he had been thinking of it for a while, that it was in the best interest of his family and his future and I think unless we see otherwise we have to take that at face value,” Gallivan said.
A report by an anti-corruption panel released in May that showed Maziarz had $140,000 in unspecified campaign expenditures, followed by the revelation his former chief of staff was issued a Federal subpoena has sparked a new conversation over how this money can and should be spent.
“It wasn’t talking about taxpayer dollars. It was talking about voluntary campaign contributions and of course the expenditures of campaign contributions are guided by the Executive Law,” said Gallivan.
Gallivan’s name also appeared on the now defunct Moreland Commission Report. It showed he had $80,000 in unspecified campaign expenditures dating back more than five years.
“When that happened I directed my campaign staff to look at our filings. We’ve always tried to endeavor to comply with the law but I asked them to look at our filings to ensure that we are in full compliance with the law,” Gallivan said.
Democratic Erie County Board of Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward said there’s a lot of gray area when it comes to campaign finance law in New York State. He said expenditures from private campaign donations, under $100 don’t have to be itemized.
“That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to keep the records so that if you are audited, at a point down the road, that you have to still have the records for such expenditures,” Ward said.
Ward said the Moreland Commission; even if it was still active, had no power to prosecute. There are also questions as to whether or not a commission appointed by the executive branch even had the authority to investigate the legislative branch of state government.
“Is it sufficiently clear? No. Our law should be strengthened and it should be tightened up to define a lot more of these expenses that would appear to people to be personal expenditures,” Ward added.
Gallivan hopes the public will keep a few things in mind before passing judgment solely on the findings of the Moreland Commission.
“My understanding is that they looked at the campaign filings of every member of the the legislature so in some way shape or form everybody was looked at, some questions were raised and that’s ok that some questions were raised because that gives you a chance to make sure you’re doing things the right way and again I’m confident that our filing, after review, are fully up to snuff and are in full compliance with the law,” Gallivan added.
Jun 6th - 11:59 am
An 11-page policy paper released by the New York Public Interest Research Group on Friday takes issue with the state Board of Elections to suspend the aggregate political contribution limits in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Broadly, NYPIRG notes the impact of the decision to suspend the state’s $150,000 aggregate limit for contributions in an election cycle will have little impact, considering donors can skirt that through donations from a web of limited liability corporations.
But the group takes issue with the decision by the board to suspend the cap without public hearings.
“However, the Board’s hasty decision highlights an ongoing weakness: namely that it has been too quick to act – and often with negative consequences – without publicly soliciting outside comments,” the paper states. “Additionally, and perhaps most significantly, this decision by the board establishes a precedent that will leave New York’s campaign finance system in worse shape.”
NYPIRG stresses the McCutcheon decision more readily impacted federal election law, not state-based contribution laws and regulations.
Nevertheless, the conservative Center for Competitive Politics earlier this year wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging the state to repeal the limits or face a lawsuit.
“If New York fails to either amend or repeal this statute to conform to the Court’s ruling, it risks a lawsuit,” wrote the group’s president, David Keating. “CCP has provided pro bono representation in similar situations, and would strongly consider doing so here as well. Such legal action would cost the state money defending the case, and would distract the Attorney General’s office from other important legal work. Additionally, if the state chooses to defend the law in court, it is probable that the state will have to pay substantial legal fees to successful plaintiffs.”
The McCutcheon decision could usher in a new era of super PAC spending the state level, with one group already created to work on behalf of Senate Republicans as well as GOP attorney general candidate John Cahill.
May 30th - 3:45 pm
When Working Families Party state committee members gather at their convention tomorrow, far more than the endorsement for governor will be at stake.
The very future of the labor-backed party will be on the line, and according to one labor source, the damage done by the disagreement over whether or not to back Gov. Andrew Cuomo again may very well be irreparable.
“Regardless of what happens now, the way the party has conducted itself has done lasting damage to relationships with key (union) affiliates,” the source said. “It’s unclear if the party will ever be the same.”
Union leaders were burning up the phone lines this morning, discussing whether the time had finally come to pull their support of the party they helped create and have financially sustained since 1998.
According to another labor source involved in these talks, a number of the largest and most significant unions – including 1199 SEIU, HTC, the laborers, RWDSU, and the UFT – were prepared to call it quits with the WFP, knowing that their withdrawal could very well lead to the party’s “collapse.”
The Teamsters and TWU were also involved in these discussions, which were far enough along to warrant talk of drafting of a joint statement, although one was never actually released.
The problem is not merely that these unions and others have benefitted from their relationship with Cuomo and want to give him Row D as payback. There is something bigger in play – the direction in which the party has been going and its overall reason for existing in the first place.
The reality is that creation of a public campaign finance system – an issue of utmost importance this legislative session to the activist faction of the WFP – is not actually all that important to many labor unions, which care more about job creation, wages and benefits.
Or, as one labor leader told me this morning, the “far left progressive agenda” that is driving the party at the moment “does not put one person to work.”
As Capital NY reported this morning, about one third of the WFP’s state committee seats are vacant – a situation that empowers the activists over the union members.
The anger that was palpable among union officials this morning seems to have calmed somewhat, and they are now holding off on the so-called “nuclear option” of pulling out of the WFP altogether.
But that possibility is still on the table, according to these sources, and will remain there even if the divided state committee endorses Cuomo over Fordham Prof. Zephyr Teachout tomorrow, or decides to back a placeholder candidate for governor on the line for the short term.
At least one labor source suggested that creation of an entirely new party has been discussed – one truly focused on the needs of “working people” and not interested in striking a symbolic blow in New York to capitalize on a perceived national moment of political power for the left.
It was also suggested that perhaps the New York City-based unions could choose to redirect their support to the Central Labor Council, empowering it to become more of a political player, though it would not – as the WFP does (for the moment) – have the benefit of a ballot line.
It’s also possible that an eleventh-hour deal comes together, with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio managing to cobble together some sort of temporary peace agreement between labor, the WFP leadership, and the governor that would be amenable to the party’s rank-and-file.
But even if that happens, unions might not be so inclined to support the WFP going forward, being slightly less generous in their contributions to its coffers and less enthusiastic in encouraging their members to cast general election votes on the WFP line.
The situation at the moment is very fluid, and could very well remain so right up until the voting at the convention on the endorsement for governor question begins tomorrow night.
And, according to BuzzFeed, Cuomo is reportedly fanning the flames by asking AG Eric Schneiderman – a darling of the left – to refuse the WFP’s endorsement, which would be a significant blow.
The governor may have made the same ask of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who arguably owes his close 2010 win over Republican Harry Wilson to the unions and the GOTV effort they ran on his behalf.
May 16th - 3:30 pm
Following Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos’ comments yesterday about ongoing talks on a public campaign finance system, state Conservative Party is upping the ante on the issue, warning Republican lawmakers that they could lose a crucial endorsement if they vote “yes” should a bill come to the floor.
The party sent out a press release this morning reiterating its “staunch” opposition to “the wasteful and often abused system of public financing of campaigns,” and reminding members of the Senate and Assembly who plan on seeking the Conservative line this fall that legislation that would create such a system is double rated – meaning it will carry twice the rate of other bills in determining lawmakers’ score, as it were, on top party issues.
Party leaders use those scores in determining who will receive their endorsement.
In a brief telephone interview this afternoon, Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long went one step further, saying that while public campaign finance is not currently a line-in-the-sand issue like same-sex marriage, he may revisit that question with executive committee members in the coming weeks.
“Let me say this to you: At this stage in the game, if the bill were to pass, it’s really a vote for the Working Families Party,” Long told me. “And knowing what’s happening here, if in fact the legislators give this issue to the Working Families Party, I may go back and revisit it with the board.”
“If this is given to the Working Families Party – because that’s who’s pushing this, it’s the progressives who are pushing this agenda – I’m going to take very strong exception to it. I just can’t see how any of our endorsed legislators could go for this type of bill.”
Losing the Conservative line would be problematic for a number of GOP senators in closely divided districts. Skelos was careful to say that what’s under consideration is a “non-taxpayer” funded system, floating the idea of using a tax return check off to pay for matching funds.
The governor and IDC Leader Jeff Klein have been pushing hard for a more robust public system since the passage of the one-year, state comptroller-only program that was included in the 2014-125 budget and quickly panned by reform advocates. Democratic state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has said he won’t participate, even though he championed just such a pilot plan in the past, while his GOP opponent, Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, is not only participating, but crediting the existence of the program for his decision to run.
Time is of the essence when it comes to public finance negotiations, since this is a key issue for many WFP activists who oppose giving Cuomo their party’s endorsement this fall if he doesn’t fails to deliver a more widespread program than the one included in the budget. The WFP is holding its nominating convention at the Desmond Hotel in Colonie on May 31. Coincidentally, the Conservative Party is having its convention that day, too, in Rockville Center, Long Island.
May 9th - 5:31 pm
The state Board of Elections on Friday afternoon released a set of proposed regulations governing new disclosure requirements for independent expenditure organizations as well as draft rules that would governing the public financing of the state comptroller’s race.
Both the IE reporting requirements, as well as the public financing system, were included in the 2014-15 state budget agreement, approved in March.
The regulations are being considered for adoption by the board on an “emergency basis” at its next meeting, scheduled for May 22.
The public financing system for the comptroller’s race would cap matching funds at $4 million to a candidate in a primary or general election, being paid out by the state’s unclaimed funds.
Incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli is not participating in the program; Republican candidate Robert Antonacci, however, will.
The proposed public financing regulations provide an outline for how the matching funds payments will be made, as well how oversight of the funds spent would function and criteria for what type of contribution qualifies to receive public dollars.
But proposed regulations for independent expenditures are calling for more information how the newly created office of the enforcement counsel will enforce non-compliance.
The BOE regulations for IE groups outlines what constitutes an independent expenditure organization as well as rules for IE registration.
May 9th - 11:21 am
As various proposals for a broader public financing system are floated, members of the mainline Democratic conference in the Senate, as well as advocates that have pushed the measure over the years, are telegraphing they won’t support any agreement they deem watered-down.
If anything, the concerns advocates and liberal lawmakers are raising underscores just how much of a Rubik’s Cube the issue is for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who faces pressure from the left to push the system through the state Senate, but resistance from Republicans to attaining what would be the ideal system desired by supporters, including Working Families Party.
“We’re encouraged by the renewed interested in Fair Elections in Albany,” said Karen Scharff, the executive director of Citizen Action of New York, who released a statement on behalf of the Fair Elections for New York campaign. “But when it comes to public campaign funding, the details matter. History has proven that half a loaf campaign finance reforms result in failure, and we don’t want history to repeat itself in New York. Public campaign funding systems have been successful in New York City, Connecticut, Arizona and Maine because they provide enough public funds for candidates to run competitive campaigns.”
A variety of potential compromises have been floated in recent days that seem geared toward enticing the Senate Republicans to reaching a deal with Cuomo on the issue.
The potential agreements range from a regional plan that would provide more money downstate, to a phased-in approach that would begin to impact races without incumbents running and would begin in the next election cycle.
“Adequate funding, strong enforcement and starting the system in the next election cycle are necessary for public campaign funding to work for New York State,” Scharff said. “We were glad to see the Senate Democrats and Speaker Silver indicate yesterday that they can’t support a weak system that won’t work. We look forward to working with the Governor and leaders to pass a strong fair elections system this session.”
Advocates remain restive over a March agreement with the Legislature that created public financing for only the state comptroller’s race, which Republican comptroller candidate Bob Antonacci is participating in.
Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic conference, pointed to a package of measures unveiled this week by lawmakers there, adding such compromises would be difficult to support.
“We unveiled our campaign finance and ethics plan earlier this week,” he said. “The current rumors and speculation circulating Albany do not approach that plan and would be very hard to support.”