Indeed, the push for independent redistricting—the major good government fight of the 2012 session—ended disappointingly, according to most reform groups, with the passage of the first round of voting on a constitutional amendment that would allow members of the Legislature to appoint a panel, split evenly between the two major parties, to draw new maps beginning after the 2020 U.S. Census, a legislative resolution that failed to establish an independent redistricting commission by many experts’ standards.
There is no question as to what the number one good government priority of the 2013 session will be: statewide campaign finance reform. Though good government groups had hoped to make a breakthrough on the issue in 2012 after Governor Cuomo called on the Legislature to pass campaign finance reform this year in his State of the State Address in January, ultimately the session drew to a close without anything getting done.
“It looks like the time has finally come to slay the dragon, and cure the disease that has plagued Albany for years: it is finally time to put money in politics front and center and achieve a real deal on campaign finance reform,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan. “Governor Cuomo has said repeatedly that he’s in favor of reform, but he’s also observed that the issue needs to move up the priority list for New Yorkers. I think it’s going to do that in the 2012 campaign season and its aftermath.”
What Got Done in 2012:
Russian added as required language for NYC ballot
Passage of first round of constitutional amendment on redistricting
What’s on the Agenda:
Campaign finance reform
Another round of ethics reform?
Common Cause/NY’s top two priorities for the 2013 legislative session are campaign finance reform and election reform. On the former, we intend to work closely with Governor Cuomo to halt the rampant flow of money in politics. We need to close loopholes in the law that make it possible for big donors to bypass contribution limits, and work to lower those limits to curtail the undue influence of money on public policy. We also need a public financing system for the state, similar to the New York City model, to improve public participation in the democratic process and help average people run for office. Finally, New York should reverse its usual bottom-of-the-barrel position and become a national leader in requiring disclosures that provide complete transparency of special interest and independent expenditure campaign spending.
However, in order to restore the public’s faith in the democratic process, we first need to modernize our election administration system by starting with ballot readability. Currently the ballot in Manhattan is slated to be printed in 7.5-point type. Such miniscule type is a needless hurdle to seniors and those with poor eyesight—to say nothing of making it difficult even for those with perfect eyesight. This is just one of the many problems inherent in our antiquated, partisan-controlled election system. More broadly, all procedures should be in sync with existing technology, so as to prevent future vote-counting debacles like the one that occurred in NY-13 in the June congressional primary. Although the New York City Board of Elections has made administrative changes, there need to be adjustments to the law so that voters’ experience on Election Day is not subject to the vagaries of arbitrary interpretation by the different boards of election around the state.
New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)
Government-reform advocates have a number of priorities for 2013. Updates are needed to bring the state’s transparency laws into the age of the Internet, and last year’s disappointingly weak redistricting agreement guarantees that the problem of gerrymandered lines will remain until something stronger is passed. The reform most urgently needed, however, is in our system of campaign finance.
Advocates are looking to Governor Cuomo to help lead the charge by following through on his promise to revamp New York’s broken system of funding elections. The top priority is to ensure that proposed changes address the fundamental problems that have plagued New York.
To prevent candidates from relying on the select group of special interests with business before the state, contribution limits need to be drastically lowered. This must include a reduction of maximum donations to individual candidates and the closing of the housekeeping and LLC loopholes that let interested donors give unlimited amounts of money. The concomitant creation of a robust public financing system is a key part of fixing things: The ability to access “clean” public campaign dollars would encourage candidates to rely on small donations from their constituents, instead of large contributions from a small number of contributors with direct business before state government.
The success of this system will rest heavily on its administration. The Board of Elections has repeatedly shown its inability to enforce the existing election laws and pass strong regulations. A public financing system must take oversight away from the partisan Board.
During his 2010 campaign Gov. Cuomo pledged to enact all of these changes. If the governor can deliver a public financing system with vigorous oversight, he will have done more to reform Albany’s “business as usual” culture than any chief executive in decades.
The League Of Women Voters Of New York State
The League of Women Voters of NYS continues to advocate for a more efficient and effective state government, and full participation of an educated public in the democratic process. Consequently, election law reform remains a priority. Over the last three federal elections, New York ranked 47th in voter-participation rankings of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. The League supports efforts to extend, encourage and protect voting rights, including Election Day registration, better ballot design, improved polling place management, poll-worker training and measures to ensure the integrity of all ballots. Legislative enactment of reforms such as these will advance voter participation in New York’s elections.
The League supports the urgent need for comprehensive campaign finance reform. The League believes that lower contribution limits, increased disclosure, and stronger and effective campaign finance enforcement are critical to fair elections. The League also strongly supports public financing of elections to increase engagement of the public in the electoral process. In anticipation of legislative action, the League is organizing community forums across the state this fall to educate the public on this issue.
The League maintains efforts to support effective ethics enforcement and open and transparent government processes. The League continues to advocate for mandate relief to stressed localities and to monitor the impact of the state-imposed property tax cap.
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