Campaign Finance Reform

Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Alarmed By Public Financing Details

The coalition that has pursued the adoption of a public financing system for campaigns is concerned with the potential recommendations of a commission determining the final details.

The commission is considering a high public matching ratio of 20 to 1.

But the commission is also considering limiting public matching funds to contributions that are given in-district as opposed to donors within the state.

And the commission is considering preserving donations to party committees, which could empower incumbents through funneled transfers.

In all, advocates worry the potential system is one that will have little appeal for candidates.

The coalition Fair Elections New York in a letter to the commission sent Monday urged the panel to consider a system that a broad array of candidates can participate in.

“It’s not too late for the Commission to reverse course and create a strong public campaign finance system based on proven programs like New York City’s and legislation previously introduced by the governor and legislature,” the letter states.

The coalition wants a permanent program to launch by January 2022 and have it cover both primary and general elections.

“Fair Elections believes the Commission should strive to create a model program for the nation,” the letter stated. “The inclusion of fusion voting in your deliberations, the recent reversal on donor-matching policy that undermines explicit statutory goals, and the refusal thus far to commit to an interim report are concerning for the process going forward.”

The commission is scheduled to hold a meeting in Buffalo on Tuesday.

NYPIRG Makes Public Campaign Finance Recommendations To Commission

The New York Public Interest Research Group delivered its second testimony before the state Public Campaign Financing Commission on Tuesday.

This time the good government group focused on recommendations limiting the role of lobbyists is a reformed system. NYPIRG made a number of recommendations including asking the commission toend the practice of making campaign contributions during the state legislative session.

“There is nothing more unsettling for those of us who believe in democracy and representative government than lobbyist forking over campaign dollars to elected officials at night while they ask for favors during the day,” Executive Director Blair Horner said.

The organization also recommended lobbyist be treated differently than others under a new public finance system. Horner said, like in New York City’s system, contributions from anyone doing business with the state should not be matched by public funds.

NYPIRG also believes those individuals and entities should be subject to lower contributions. It recommended those contributions only allowed to be made within the district where the lobbyist lives.

Another recommendations suggested the commission address the practice of “bundling.” Horner said some lobbying firms magnify their influence by aggregating checks from clients, family and others.

“New Yorkers deserve to know which interests have bought access to their elected officials; complete disclosure of bundling is the only way for them to do so,” Horner said.

The group called for an additional campaign finance reporting period from January 1 through March 31, as well. NYPIRG reiterated it believes the commission should use New York City’s program, which matches small dollar donations 6-1 with public funds, as a roadmap for its own system and avoid getting “distracted by other, unrelated election law issues.”

The commission report is due in December.

Common Cause: Citizens United Isn’t Blocking Reforms

The good-government group Common Cause vehemently disagreed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s assertion on Monday in a radio interview that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case made it impossible for major campaign-finance law changes.

“You need people in office who are going to use their best judgment in office,” Cuomo said on WNYC this morning, “because you’re not going to change the campaign finance system because of Citizens United.”

It’s argument Cuomo has made before, often in the context of creating a statewide public financing system for elections.

Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner, however, said the decision in the case shouldn’t hinder campaign-law changes.

“Anonymous spending is not what Citizens United is about; it’s what New York State has permitted it to become,” Lerner said. “The state is not powerless to act and I am disappointed that the Governor would suggest otherwise. Quite simply, the state has failed to avail itself of any number of reforms which would curtail the corrupting influence of money in politics.”

Common Cause pointed to a list of measures the state can adopt to enhance transparency when it comes to campaign finance, including requiring the full disclosure of donors to independent expenditure groups, have donors identify their occupation and employer, require the disclosure of campaign “bundlers” and maintain a “doing business” database at the state level that’s tied to campaign donations.

Meanwhile, Common Cause reiterated a 2013 report that found even candidates who do not enjoy support from independent expenditures can compete and win when participating in a system of publicly financed elections.

Miner To Stop Receiving LLC Contributions

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner on Friday announced she would no longer accept campaign contributions from limited liability corporations — tightening the political screws on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to potentially do the same.

Miner, a former state Democratic Committee co-chair who has feuded with Cuomo in recent years, said her decision to stop accepting LLC donations was over the concern of the “corrosive” influence of money in politics.

Giving from LLCs has come under scrutiny for what good-government reformers call a “loophole” in the campaign finance law that allows unlimited giving through a network of the entities.

“We have seen across New York State how money in politics has a corrosive effect on governing,” said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie A. Miner. “The need for campaign finance reform in New York State is real and it is urgent. In absence of our state leaders taking action, I have decided to take this step for myself and forgo political contributions from LLCs. It is my hope that my action will demonstrate a commitment on my part to delivering the highest ethical standard for my constituents.”

Miner is term limited from running again for mayor, but has not ruled out running for another office one day.

The move comes as another mayor Cuomo has differed with, New York City’s Bill de Blasio, has decided to return contributions from Glenwood Management, the real-estate firm that has played a role in multiple corruption cases and donated heavily to the convicted former leaders of the Senate and Assembly, Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver.

Cuomo supports closing the LLC loophole, but has declined to no longer accept donations from the entities. At the same time, Cuomo — whose business-backed campaign has received more than $500,000 from Glenwood and related entities — took a wait-and-see approach to the company’s donations.

Let’s see what happens with the trial,” he said during the Skelos trial. “Let’s see what the outcome is. If someone is convicted of a crime, then obviously not.”

Legislative Report Tallies Top LLC Givers

A report released on Wednesday by state lawmakers tallied the top limited liability corporation givers to political campaigns, finding they range from top real-estate companies to high-powered law firms.

The report, released by Democratic Sen. Daniel Squadron, comes as state lawmakers grapple with yet another high-profile conviction of one of their own: former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was found guilty of theft of honest services and money laundering, among other corruption charges.

The report traced back the donations from LLCs, through which individual donors can contributed unlimited funds to candidates and political causes.

“You shouldn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to follow the money in state elections,” Squadron said in a statement. “As we’ve seen time and time again, when unlimited, anonymous corporate dollars enter government and politics, everyday New Yorkers get muscled out. It’s time to close the LLC Loophole, once and for all.” More >

Antonacci: More Time Needed For Public Financing Implementation

antonacciOnondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci is, so far, the only candidate to have participated in a statewide public financing system.

It didn’t work out the way he hoped: The Republican lost to incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli and failed to qualify for matching funds.

Despite the experience, Antonacci more or less embraced the findings of a seven-page report released this week by the Board of Elections assessing the one-year only program that was in place last year for the comptroller’s race.

In short, the report found the Board of Elections needed more time to implement the system than introducing it in the middle of an election cycle. More >

BOE Report Assesses The One-Time Public Financing Program

dinapoliA report released this week by the Board of Elections provides an assessment on the one-time public financing program for the state comptroller’s race in which none of the major and minor party candidates actually received any matching funds.

The results for the board were inconclusive, given that none of the candidates for comptroller actually received any matching funds for their campaigns, the board found.

“The State Board was prepared to administer the entire program but anticipated potential problems with a full program roll out because of the extremely short implementation timeframe,” the report concludes. “With no qualified participant or full program implementation, it is difficult and somewhat impractical for the Board to make comments to improve the program.”

In the seven-page report, the Board of Elections calls for a longer time frame to implement the program, at least two years. More >

Brennan Center Files Suit To Close LLC Loophole

The Brennan Center, alongside a coalition of law firms, state lawmakers and others on Tuesday announced they had filed a suit against the Board of Elections to end the practice of a network of limited liability companies contributing endless cash to political candidates.

The lawsuit is the latest in the effort to end the LLC “loophole” this year.

The Board of Elections’ commissioners earlier in the year were deadlocked over a proposed regulation that would have treated individual LLCs linked to a specific contributor as a single donor.

An effort to curtail LLC political giving legislatively stalled in the Senate at the end of the legislative session, which concluded last month.

“By treating LLCs as individuals rather than artificial business entities like corporations or partnerships, the Board of Elections created a gaping hole at the heart of our state’s legislatively enacted campaign finance system,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “It defies common sense and state law.”

The plaintiffs in the suit include Republican former Sen. John Dunne, Democratic Sens. Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron, Democratic Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and SUNY New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin, the father of Capital Tonight anchor Liz Benjamin.

In addition, the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP is also listed as a plaintiff in the challenge.

“At a time when New York government is in crisis thanks to a series of high-profile corruption scandals, the Board has opted to perpetuate its deeply flawed rule that enables frequent and harmful circumvention of the law,” said Elizabeth S. Saylor, a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP. “The LLC Loophole undermines the New York State Legislature’s clear intent to control campaign contributions by limiting the donations permitted and mandating full disclosure of donors. It must be closed.”

Brief.Art 78 MOL — FINAL with TOC-TOA (00220640x9CCC2).pdf by Nick Reisman

Assembly Bill Would Clarify PAC And Housekeeping Roles In Campaigns

The Democratic-led Assembly on Wednesday approved two bills that seek to clarify both political action committees, independent expenditure groups and the use of so-called “housekeeping” or soft money accounts used by party committees.

“Now more than ever, we must work to restore our constituents’ confidence in our electoral process,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “These bills would help to ensure that the voices of all New Yorkers are heard and to limit the influence of big money in politics.”

One bill, backed by Assemblyman Michael Cusick, clarifies the distinction between political action committees and independent expenditure groups, which have grown in spending and scope in state campaigns following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision.

The Cusick bill provides for contribution limits to both PACs and IEs as well as penalties for violating the caps. IEs would be barred from donating directly to candidates.

There is no Senate same-as.

A separate bill, also approved today, would shore up the legal uses for housekeeping accounts, which are used by party conference committees and can raise unlimited funds with no contribution limits (then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2012 gave Senate Republicans $1 million to their housekeeping account).

The money cannot be spent on a specific candidate, but can be used on purposes such headquarters, staff and other office-related functions.

The bill would regulate housekeeping accounts so that any transferred funds are kept in a separate account and not used for unintended activities, such as funding a candidate.

“These bills are a step in the right direction toward campaign finance reform,” Cusick said. “Election laws are essential to democracy and cannot be left open to interpretation. Providing clear definitions and imposing penalties for breaking the law will help level the playing field and allow for more honest elections.”

NYPIRG IDs The 3 Different LLC Givers

The New York Public Interest Research Group in a letter to the state Board of Elections identifies three different ways companies seek to circumvent the state’s campaign limits through a network of limited liability companies.

In one example, cable and broadband provider Cablevision has used LLCs based in different parts of the country to make a bundle of donations worth more than $425,000.

In other, nine LLCs with different, albeit vague-sounding names, but with the same address, made $225,000 in donations.

And finally, there’s the LLCs with different and untraceable names that are linked to the same company.

NYPIRG was able to cull together the LLC donations through the hedgeclipers.org website, which was developed to track political giving in state government.

“It is clear that the Board has opened a Pandora’s Box of problems and troubles through its LLC interpretation—as demonstrated in this letter,” NYPIRG’s Blair Horner and Russ Haven wrote. “Instead of trying to justify the ruling and ignore the fact it undermines the Election Law, it’s time to acknowledge its failures and follow the federal rule.”

An effort to curtail LLC political giving has been largely blocked by the state Legislature, while the Board of Elections was deadlocked earlier this year in a vote that would have reclassified LLCs under the campaign finance regulations.

Ssboe Letter Final by Nick Reisman