The clock runs down in Albany on campaign finance reform
This was supposed to be the year that statewide campaign finance reform finally got passed. After decades of frustration and false stops, good-government groups and other proponents of reform found the ally they had been waiting for in the form of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state’s powerful and effective chief executive.
In his State of the State Address in January, Cuomo delighted longtime advocates for reform by not just publicly embracing a sweeping overhaul of the state’s electoral system and calling for a public financing model based on New York City’s but also by setting an ambitious time frame for getting it done.
“Let’s pass campaign finance reform and let’s do it this year,” announced Cuomo back then, to largely enthusiastic applause.
However, as the legislative calendar winds to a close on June 21, it appears increasingly unlikely that any such reforms will pass this session. Indeed, even Cuomo seems to have written off the possibility of any major developments, predicting that the remainder of the session will be “relatively quiet.”
Chief among the obstacles to the passage of campaign-finance-reform legislation appears to be the Senate Republicans. While Majority Leader Dean Skelos has said he is open to the possibility of lowering contribution limits and closing loopholes, he has dismissed the central tenet of the reform effort—the public financing of elections—as a “nonstarter,” arguing that tax dollars would be better spent on education.
Despite Skelos’ vocal opposition, good-government groups remain hopeful that campaign finance reform will not only be passed but will come to fruition in the not-too-distant future, perhaps even this session or in a special session later on this year.
“It is the time [of the legislative year] in which reform measures have traditionally come to the floor, so we’re definitely not prepared to say that it couldn’t happen between now and the end of June,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York. “The question about campaign finance reform and public funding of elections is whether it will be adopted soon or sooner. I fully expect that in the next year we will see major changes in this state.”
Though serious roadblocks persist in the Senate, good-government advocates cite progress in both houses of the Legislature this session. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a longtime champion of campaign finance reform, has introduced a bill that would enact a public financing system, which has moved through the relevant committees and is ready for a vote.
In the Senate, Minority Leader John Sampson has introduced an identical bill to Silver’s, which is cosponsored by a majority of the Democratic conference. Sen. Eric Adams of Brooklyn has proposed separate public financing legislation, which is largely the same as the Silver-Sampson bill but is generally preferred by good-government groups because it includes additional provisions like closing loopholes that enable so-called “housekeeping committees” to raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash on state races.
To move these bills forward, a coalition called Fair Elections for New York recently held petitioning drives in the districts of eight state senators targeted as obstacles to reform. While six of the senators—Mark Grisanti, Kemp Hannon, Martin Golden, Tom Libous, Roy McDonald and Steve Saland—are Republicans, two are Democrats: Martin Dilan and David Valesky. Of the eight, only Valesky is not currently facing a primary or general-election opponent this cycle.
Though Sens. Dilan and Valesky are among the lawmakers at whom the Fair Elections coalition has taken aim, Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan is confident that her fellow Democrats will get on board if a bill comes to the floor for a vote. Krueger also believes that Republican opposition is not insurmountable.
“Things get done all the time in the Senate even when people say they aren’t interested,” Krueger said.
“It’s a function of leadership,” she added. “We have a very strong, very opinionated governor, and the record shows that when he puts his mind and his leadership to something, it gets done.”
Good-government advocates point to a broadening of their traditional coalition as an indicator that there is significant momentum for change. In addition to the usual partners—unions like CWA and UAW, the Working Families Party, and neighborhood advocacy groups like Community Voices Heard—environmental groups, faith-based organizations and even business leaders have joined in the fight. NY Leadership for Accountable Government
(NY Lead)—an alliance of high-profile New Yorkers like philanthropist David Rockefeller, Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, media moguls Barry Diller and Edgar Bronfman Sr., restaurateur Danny Meyer and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch—has added deep pockets and an element of star power to the effort.
But ultimately Susan Lerner predicts that the public’s growing outrage at the influence of money on elections—a Reuters poll in May found that 75 percent of Americans feel there is too much money in politics—will compel lawmakers in Albany to enact landmark legislation.
“There is significant momentum for campaign finance reform and the public finance of elections that is building, and I believe will continue to build, through the coming election cycle,” Lerner said. “I don’t think that the public is going to appreciate the amount of money that will be spent, particularly by noncandidate spenders.”
Tags: AndrewCuomo, Barry Diller, campaign finance reform, Chris Hughes, Community Voices Heard, CWA, Danny Meyer, David Rockefeller, David Valesky, Dean Skelos, Ed Koch, Edgar Bronfman Sr., elections, eric adams, Fair Elections for New York, John Sampson, Kemp Hannon, Liz Krueger, Mark Grisanti, Martin Malave Dilan, Morgan Pehme, NY Lead, NY Leadership for Accountable Government, public financing, Reuters, Roy McDonald, Sheldon Silver, Steve Saland, Susan Lerner, Tom Libous, UAW, Working Families Party
Trackback from your site.