New York: The Front Line in the Political Money Wars
Can a crew of CEOs, investors, priests, rabbis, enviros, and more score a huge campaign finance victory in the Empire State?
Forget Washington, DC. The real front line in the battle to get big money out of politics is in Albany, New York's capital and a rough-and-tumble hotbed of political corruption and dysfunction.
On Wednesday, a new campaign, Fair Elections for New York, will launch to implement a taxpayer-funded public financing system for statewide elections and slash the contribution limit for political donors. Behind this effort is more than the usual cast of good-government and watchdog types. Fair Elections for New York's coalition includes powerful business leaders and philanthropists, big political donors, environmentalists, religious leaders, labor unions, ethics watchdogs, and more, all of whom say they're sick of the status quo in New York.
As the New York legislature resumes business in Albany in the coming weeks, the fair elections campaign will blanket the state with mailers and robocalls and lobby state lawmakers to pass a package of campaign finance reforms. Specific legislation is still in the works, but supporters say they want the state's public financing system to look like New York City's, which gives candidates $6 for every $1 they raise up to $175 per donor. The reform coalition also wants to lower the contribution limit for individual donors from $55,900 to $2,000, while limiting individuals who do business with the state to $400 in donations.
Advocates in New York have fought for public financing legislation for decades in New York. The state Assembly has passed bills on a number of occasions only to have them spiked by the state Senate. The latest blow came in 2009, when the Senate elections subcommittee was on the verge of approving public financing legislation. Then two Democratic state senators switched to the GOP, effectively killing the bill.
There's broad public support for public financing in New York—72 percent of respondents in a recent Siena poll supported the idea. What's different in 2012 is that reformers have the vocal support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Cuomo campaigned on revamping the state's campaign finance system. He reiterated that support in his 2010 and 2011 State of the State speeches. "The state's campaign finance laws fail to prevent the dominance of wealthy contributors and special interests in our government," he said in January.