Campaign Finance Reform

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.

What Does The McCutcheon Ruling Mean For New York? (Updated X2)

Good-government advocates fear this morning Supreme Court ruling could have wide-reaching effects for New York’s own aggregate limits on campaign contributions in a given election cycle.

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision struck down a cap on overall contributions limits of $48,600 by individuals to candidates for federal office. At the same time, the court ruled the $74,600 cap to political party committees also violated the First Amendment.

For supporters of public financing in New York, the concern is that the case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, could be imposed on New York should its aggregate limits be challenged.

And indeed, the successful challenger in the case is already involved in New York politics.

As Jessica Alaimo at Capital notes, Shaun McCutcheon was the Alabama-based Republican activist who in 2013 challenged New York’s cap on independent expenditure campaign committees, which ultimately paved the way for a super PAC fueled by David Koch to support Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.

Right now, the state caps election-cycle contribution limits at $150,000 for an individual donor in a calendar year and $5,000 for corporations.

“It is unclear whether this decision will be applied to incorporated entities, but if future decisions decide this is the case, a massive new loophole will be added to New York’s election regulations,” said NYPIRG analyst Bill Mahoney. “The candidate and party receipt limits for corporations are the same as those for individuals.”

Of course, there are ways around these caps, ranging from the so-called LLC loophole to donating unlimited amounts of money to a “housekeeping committee.”

Still, supporters of public financing believe today’s ruling bolsters their case for a statewide system.

The $138 billion budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year applies a public financing system, but only for the state comptroller’s race.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pointed out the votes aren’t available in the Senate to support a public financing system, with opposition coming principally from Senate Republicans.

“The Governor and Legislature must immediately act to establish reasonable receipt limits on corporations, including incorporated labor unions,” Mahoney said. “They must establish a system of public financing designed to motivate the participation of small donors.”

Updated: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement he is “deeply disappointed” by the Supreme Court decision striking down the contribution limits.

“The majority decision ignores both the Court’s own precedent and common sense regarding the corrupting influence of unlimited contributions to parties or candidates if they are spread across different committees,” Schneiderman said. “Campaign finance laws protect the integrity and fairness of elections and help ensure that everyone—not just the wealthy or powerful corporations—are represented in our system of government. Together with Citizens United, this decision guts our campaign finance system and opens the door to corruption by handing a small minority of wealthy individuals the power to exercise undue influence over our government.”

Updated X2: Assemblyman Bill Nojay in a statement applauded the decision, saying it could help create a “level playing field” for businesses to compete with organized labor in the state.

“As today’s Supreme Court decision filters down to state campaign finance rules, we’ll hopefully see a level playing field so businesses and their supporters can compete with the likes of SEIU, Acorn and the Working Families Party. That would be real campaign finance reform, instead of throwing tax dollars at politicians.”

Soros-Backed Group Bemoans Public Financing Compromise

The group supported by Jonathan Soros, Friends of Democracy, blamed both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders for compromising on a public financing system that limits the donor-matching program to the state comptroller’s race.

In a statement from Friends of Democracy’s David Donnelly, the group accuses Cuomo of an “abdication of leadership” in the final push to include a statewide public financing system.

“Friends of Democracy is deeply disappointed with the failure of Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to address the systemic corruption in Albany through a comprehensive publicly funded Fair Elections program. Governor Cuomo’s abdication of leadership during the budget process resulted in little or no reform when an historic opportunity was at hand. One silver lining is the Senate Republicans’ willingness to vote for public funding for one state office as a pilot program. While we vigorously disagree with the scope and the content of this pilot program, we are encouraged that the vote may be a sign of openness for further negotiations.”

Cuomo had included a statewide campaign financing system in his January budget proposal that was based on the New York City model.

However, the final agreement limits the system to the comptroller’s race and is considered a “pilot” program.

Senate Republicans have been staunchly opposed to the use of taxpayer funds for elections, but did agree to a host of ethics reform legislation under the umbrella bill known as the Public Trust Act that tightens anti-corruption and bribery penalties.

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein is now attempting to negotiate a new, phased-in public financing proposal to be considered in the coming weeks.

What happens with public financing by the end of the June legislative session could have deep political ramifications down the road.

Advocates had hoped for some action in the budget process, considering that the governor tends to hold maximum leverage in the negotiations. A broader program could shore up his left flank as well as he heads into re-election.

Friends of Democracy is a deep-pocketed organization that has vowed to get involved in state legislative races heading into the election season.