Campaign Finance Reform

NYPIRG Troubled By End Of Aggregate Contribution Cap

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.

NYPIRG Response to BOE June 2014 by Nick Reisman

Sources: WFP’s Future At Stake In Endorsement Fight

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.

Conservative Party Warns Republicans: Don’t Go There on Public Financing

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.

BOE Releases Draft Regulations For Public Financing, IE Reporting

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.

140509 Independent Expenditures by Nick Reisman

140509 Public Funds Reg Draft by Nick Reisman

Senate Dems, Public Finance Advocates Won’t Support Watered-Down Agreement

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.”

Astorino Urges Senate GOP To Vote Against Public Financing

Westchester County executive and GOP candidate for governor Rob Astorino hopes Senate Republicans don’t go along with any plans to create a system of publicly financed campaigns.

In a radio interview on Fred Dicker’s Talk-1300 show, Astorino re-affirmed his anti-public financing position.

“I don’t think they should,” Astorino said when asked about whether Republicans in the Senate should back a statewide public financing measure. “They haven’t been in favor of it and I’m not in favor of it either. To take tax dollars which are scarce, we’re spending more than any other state, we’re taxing more, and giving it to politicians so they could have robocalls and have dinners is not something I think we should be spending our money on.”

The issue of public financing is more acute, given that the Working Families Party is pushing Cuomo to get state lawmakers to agree on a broader public financing plan than what was approved in the state budget.

An administration source earlier today said the governor was open to statewide public financing system that would take effect next year, and be phased in for open-seat elections where no incumbents are running.

Business groups like Unshackle Upstate, however, are staunchly opposed.

“It’s disappointing that Governor Cuomo and some state lawmakers – pushed by powerful, labor-backed special interests – continue to pursue the use of tax dollars to fund partisan political campaigns,” said the group’s executive director, Brian Sampson. “It has little to do with cleaning up public corruption in Albany and everything to do with bolstering the electoral influence of New York State’s already wildly powerful special interests, most importantly the Working Families Party.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, meanwhile, in a statement on Wednesday afternoon he was “encouraged” by Cuomo continue to puse public financing adding that 2020 is “too late.” Cuomo wants the public financing system to begin no later than the next election cycle, which starts in 2015.

“We need a strong campaign finance law that lessens the influence of big money on our elections and levels the playing field for all New Yorkers who want to compete for public office, and we need to enact such a law to take effect sooner rather than later – 2020 would be too late,” Silver said. “As he has shown in the past with other difficult issues, Governor Cuomo can help achieve real results by bringing stakeholders together and forging a consensus. His willingness to lead on campaign finance reform is just as important, and I believe we are closer than ever to finally enacting a law that could be a model for the rest of the country.”

Conservative Group Threatens Lawsuit Over NY Contribution Limits

A national conservative group on Wednesday is threatening to file a lawsuit unless New York repeal its aggregate limits on campaign contributions.

The letter from the Center for Competitive Politics to Gov. Andrew Cuomo cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end caps on donations in a given election cycle.

New York is one of several states that have aggregate limits on campaign spending, though a state-level court ruling tossed the cap and the state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office plans to appeal.

Both the Supreme Court case and the state-level case were brought by the same man, Alabama political donor Shaun McCutcheon.

In essence, the rulings are expected to usher in a new era of super PACs operating in state races, and Republicans have already formed one aimed at impacting Schneiderman’s re-election.

For now, the Center for Competitive Politics believes New York’s own contribution limits should be repealed entirely and “as soon as possible.”

“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 group also included a memo outlining its legal footing as well, noting that other states are already moving in the direction toward repeal of donor contribution limits.

“Massachusetts and Maryland moved quickly to avoid running afoul of the new decision,” the memo says. “New York needs to follow suit as well, recognizing the important First Amendment rights at stake and reforming its laws accordingly.”

2014 04 30 Legal Memo McCutcheon NY State Aggregate Contribution Limit Statute is Likely Unconstitutional (… by Nick Reisman

In TV Ad, Public Campaign Action Fund Knocks Cuomo

A 30-second TV spot from the Public Campaign Action Fund released Friday takes direct aimed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo with a $300,000 ad purchase for a budget agreement that does not include overhauling the state’s campaign-finance laws.

The ad will air in the Buffalo and Syracuse markets, the group said.

The Public Campaign Action Fund pushed hard during the legislative session and the budget negotiating process for the public financing of political campaigns.

But the ad released this afternoon goes further, knocking Cuomo for not achieving a budget agreement that includes other measures such as limits on campaign contributions and for ending the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.

“Gov. Cuomo offered a bold plan to clean up Albany, but New York was left with just a fig leaf,” said David Donnelly, executive director of Public Campaign Action Fund in a statement. “The governor should live up to his own words and work with legislative leaders to pass a comprehensive public financing system for all state races as soon as possible.”

The $138 billion budget agreement did include new anti-bribery and anti-fraud laws as well as a new enforcement officer at the state Board of Elections. Cuomo has also insisted the public financing of political campaigns being limited to the state comptroller’s race is a breath through considering the opposition to a statewide program in the Senate.

At the same time, the Public Campaign Action Fund also released a poll it conducted finding broad support for changing the state’s campaign laws.

What Public Financing Would Do To Statewide Coffers

What if the public financing proposal wasn’t just statewide, but all incumbents opted in to the program?

The result would mean $22.8 million would essentially be off the table for the coming election, according to an analysis from the New York Public Interest Research Group’s Bill Mahoney.

Of course, that’s not the case with the budget agreement, which included a state comptroller-only program that incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli will not participate in.

The bulk of the money would likely either have to be returned to the high-dollar contributors who gave them or it would have to be withheld from being spent.

But if he did, it would mean a loss of 73 percent of his cash on hand, $1.5 million.

If the program applied to Attorney General Eric Scheiderman, his coffers would lose $4.3 million, or 72 percent of his funds.

And for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it would mean $17 million, or 51 percent of his cash.

DiNapoli: I Won’t Be A ‘Sacrificial Lamb’ For Public Financing

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has decided not to opt in to the yearlong public campaign finance system established in the 2014-15 budget solely for his office in the upcoming elections.

In a statement, DiNapoli called the pilot program “a poor excuse to avoid the real reforms New Yorkers deserve,” adding:

“At this point, I cannot participate in this pilot. I was always willing to have reform start with the Comptroller’s office, but I will not be a convenient sacrificial lamb.”

“I hope that before the legislative session ends, there will be comprehensive campaign finance reform, as well as a reconsideration of the proposal I advanced, with realistic timeframes for successful implementation.”

This doesn’t come as a big surprise. DiNapoli has been saying since word of the comptroller-only option in the budget leaked that he does not support the idea – despite the fact that he has promoted it in years past.

The idea to use the state comptroller as a public finance guinea pig was agreed to by the governor and three legislative leaders, but DiNapoli was blindsided by the agreement, complaining that he had not been consulted or included in negotiations.

The comptroller’s decision not to opt into the program will no doubt draw criticism from the governor and whoever his GOP opponent is, should one emerge (the likelihood of that has increased since the establishment of the low-donor matching program, assuming the state Board of Elections can manage to get it off the ground in time).

But DiNapoli is getting cover for his non-participation from campaign finance advocates, who praised the Assembly for passing the comptroller-only plan in 2011, but have said this version is being established too late in the election season to be fair.

Also, since circumstances have changed in the campaign finance arena, the advocates are no longer willing to accept half a loaf when it comes to a publicly funded system.

They are blaming the governor for failing to push the Senate Republicans hard enough to agree to a system that includes more than just the comptroller – something they insist is necessary to address the ongoing corruption problems that have long plagued Albany.