Update on Campaign Finance Reform January 2017
The LWVNYC Campaign Finance Reform (CFR) Committee keeps tabs on all 3 levels of government: city, state and federal.
Our main work is to introduce Campaign Finance Reform in the State legislature. In the last session State Senator Daniel Squadron introduced legislation, which restricts Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) contributions to $5,000 and identifies members of each LLC. https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/articles/daniel-l-squadron/senator-squadron-assembmembers-kavanagh-simon-citizen-action
At the very end of last session, Cuomo gave us around 8 versions of the LLC loophole but his proposals lacked transparency on who were behind the LLC's. None of the versions saw the light of day.
In mid January 2017, on his whirlwind State of the State addresses in various parts of New York, Governor Cuomo repeated many of his proposed reforms from 2016, including closing the LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) loophole, enacting term limits, and instituting restrictions on outside income for state lawmakers -- all of which have been bucked by the Legislature, especially Senate Republicans (from Gotham Gazette, Citizens Union: http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda
Let's look for direction from our LWVNYS lobbyist, Barbara Bartoletti, who will let us know which LLC loophole bill the League will support. You can keep up with what's going on in Albany by checking out Barbara's blog, Capitol Beat http://lwvny-capitolbeat.blogspot.com/ Also be on the lookout for Action Alerts from the NYS league.
Please check our LWV NYS and LWVNYC websites:
On the local level New York City has one of the best and most progressive campaign finance laws on the books. It is administered by the independent and rigorous Campaign Finance Board. Every election cycle, the Board looks at how well the law and its administration serves the community. It then suggests improvements to the system on which the City Council votes. In December 2016 the City Council passed several laws to improve the Campaign Finance system. Two laws of the most interest were Intro 0985, which eliminates public matching funds for contributions bundled by people who do business with the city; and Intro 1355, in order to avoid even the appearance of fraud, the law was adjusted to allow candidates to fill in contribution cards but they MUST be dated and signed by the contributors.
There is a wealth of information on the Campaign Finance Board at their website http://www.nyccfb.info/about, And Eric Friedman puts out a weekly wrap-up that is very informative. Contact Eric to get on his mailing list: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another good source of information for both NYC and NYS is the Gotham Gazette put out by Citizens Union: Gothamgazette.com.
On the federal level, since the 2010 Supreme Court Decision “Citizens United,” the spigots of unprecedented campaign contributions by the Super Rich and outside spending groups has warped elections. There is an overwhelming case for providing candidates with incentives to raise small contributions from millions of ordinary Americans. Candidates need an alternative means to finance their campaigns without becoming obligated to big money funders. It is essential to keep the presidential financing system in law to provide the framework for updating and repairing the system in time for the next presidential election.
For more information: http://lwv.org/issues/reforming-money-politics
End of the legislative session report July 2016
In the last days of the legislative session in Albany, Governor Cuomo proposed 8 (count ‘em, EIGHT!) pieces of legislation in a “let’s-close- the-LLC- loophole” lollapalooza. “Pass all of them, or as many as you’d like, but at a minimum, pass the one impacting anyone running for the office of the Governor. I will go first – pass it and I will sign it into law today," said the Governor. The proposed “close-the- LLC-loophole” legislation by the Governor:
1. Everyone (all candidates for state political office)
2. Candidates for Governor and the State Legislature
3. Candidates for Governor and State Senate
4. Candidates for Governor and State Assembly
5. Candidates for Governor, the Attorney General and the Comptroller
6. Candidates for Governor and the Attorney General
7. Candidates for Governor and the Comptroller
8. Candidates for Governor
NONE of the Governor’s bills, however, had the provision to disclose the identity of the members of the LLC. It makes me wonder about the intention of the Governor. Was it a sincere show of good intention or a confusing cover to hide behind, keeping the taps of abundant campaign contributions flowing? Of course the League couldn’t take a stand on any of the bills, since we never did see the final versions.
The bill the League did support, which limits LLC contributions to $5,000 and identifies members of the LLC, is A 6975C/Squadron and the already passed Assembly companion bill S 060B/Kavanagh. Apparently the Governor did not see fit to use his leadership and throw his support behind Squadron’s excellent bill.
So once again not one scrap of meaningful campaign finance reform passed the Legislature, not even the so-called easy fix of closing the LLC loophole.
In her June 28 State Voter article, Jennifer Wilson, LWVNY Program and Policy Director, wrote:
“Ethics reforms were largely overlooked by the legislature this session. During the last day of session, Governor Cuomo released a 5-point ethics plan that was mainly aimed at curbing independent expenditures. The plan did not include closing the LLC loophole, increasing disclosures of discretionary funding or lowering of contribution limits. Instead the plan tightens coordination rules for independent expenditures, forces political consultants to register as lobbyists, and implements pension forfeiture. While we support these efforts, these are not the type of reforms that will change Albany's culture of corruption. Until the legislature passes laws to address the larger issues of campaign finance abuse and improper usage of undesignated budget line items, the legislature will continue to take advantage of our broken system."
On top of our do-nothing state legislature, at the end of June a unanimous Supreme Court decision overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor, Bob McDonnell. As reported by The New York Times: SCOTUS narrowly ruled that the instructions to the jury had been far too vague. The court’s analysis was specific to the facts of this case. Indeed, the justices sent the suit back to the lower court, allowing for the possibility that Mr. McDonnell could be retried using clearer jury instructions. The Times editorial board opined: The McDonnell decision should be narrowly construed and need not stop prosecutors from building strong cases against politicians who are abusing their office for personal gain.
In Manhattan, a spokesman for Preet Bharara, the United States attorney there, said in a statement on Monday (June 27), “While we are reviewing the McDonnell decision, the official actions that led to the convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos fall squarely within the definition set forth by the Supreme Court today.”
Mr. Bharara has repeatedly said he remains committed to ending a pattern of corrupt acts by elected officials, and most recently, his office won the convictions of Mr. Skelos and Mr. Silver, a former State Assembly leader.
Still, there was agreement among legal experts on Monday (June 27) that the ruling would make it harder for the government to win corruption convictions. For the second time since 2010, the court narrowed the avenues that prosecutors have to file such charges. The decision could even discourage some cases from being brought in the first place.
Below is my synopsis of the last gasps of legislative session as told by the Gotham Gazette (from Citizens Union):
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders finished protracted and messy end-of- session negotiations on Friday night (June 17, 2016) -- with a series of press releases and not with the traditional celebratory press conference. So, a press release announcing an agreement on a five-point “ethics reform plan” was sent out at about 7 p.m., though actual bill language wasn’t available until about 1:45 a.m., with legislators expected to vote on the varied measures immediately thereafter.
Even without knowing much about what they were voting on, state Senators voted through the ethics package 60-2 and the "big ugly" mash-up of other bills 61-1.
The Friday deal agreed to by Cuomo and legislative leaders addressed the use of independent expenditure committees; tightened rules on what would be improper coordination between candidate campaigns and committees; did away with a rule from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics that forced lobbyists’ consultants to disclose their interactions with clients to newspaper editorial boards (for further clarification on this and First Amendment implications refer to this Times Union article:
http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/245951/jcope-clarifies- lobbying-rules- including-on- editorial-boards/ ); and will begin the process of amending the state constitution to strip lawmakers convicted of corruption of their pensions. This last measure is an amendment to the state constitution and will therefore have to be passed by a second consecutive state legislature (following this fall’s elections), placed on the ballot, and approved by voters, likely in November, 2017.
Also included is a measure to increase disclosure by 501(c)(4) organizations that take money from 501(c)(3) organizations, a move seen by many as an attack on good government groups that use the latter for funding their advocacy work. Cuomo administration officials have repeatedly referred to good government groups as “shadow lobbyists” while the governor has regularly worked with them on ethics and campaign finance reform measures.
The five-point plan falls significantly short of what Cuomo outlined in his January State of the State speech and of what good government groups and reform-minded legislators have been calling for. In a twist of irony, the ethics related bills were given almost virtually no public review before being moved through.
Missing from the ethics deal are many of Cuomo’s major proposals he made in January - proposals that include limiting outside income for legislators; closing a loophole that allows corporations to subvert campaign contribution limits by creating multiple LLCs; and measures to prevent campaign accounts controlled by political parties from taking in unlimited donations.
Read the entire article below:
http://gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6403-in- extended-session- lawmakers-vote- through-variety- of-bills- with-little- public-review
Also check out Barbara Bartoletti’s blog: http://lwvny capitolbeat.blogspot.com/
The New York League of Women Voters’ stand on campaign finance reform calls for
1.a voluntary program of public matching funds for small donations;
2.establishment of an independent, rigorous enforcement regime to ensure compliance;
3.reduction of campaign contribution limits to bring them into line with other states;
4.and full disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures.
With the two State legislative leaders, (Former Speaker Sheldon Silver and Former Senate Leader Dean Skellos) under indictment, the Campaign Finance Reform (CFR) Committee had hoped that some aspect of CFR could be achieved this legislative session. In the immortal words of Rahm Emanuel, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” With that as inspiration, the NYC League went into action. In February we sent letters to the Governor and Speaker Heastie and during March we met with Assembly members as constituents and League members.
In April the State League sent out a statewide e-mail encouraging LWV members to contact the State Board of Elections (SBE). We urged the SBE to reverse its 1996 decision that permitted limited liability companies (LLCs) to take advantage of the much higher contribution limits of individuals rather than the more restrictive limits on corporations. By reversing the 1996 decision the State Board of Elections would close the LLC loophole once and for all. This giant loophole has brought virtually limitless campaign giving to New York politics, while allowing large individual donors and businesses to conceal their identities. On April 16, however, the Board of Elections deadlocked on the vote (2 Democratic appointees in favor of reversal, 2 Republican appointees against) leaving the 1996 decision unchanged. In response to the SBE deadlock, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assembly member Brian Kavanagh introduced State Senate bill S. 60 and Assembly bill A6975, to close the LLC loophole legislatively. A6975 passed the Assembly but S.60 languished in the State Senate Corporations Committee. Suffice to say the Governor and legislature broke our hearts again this year with no campaign finance reform passed statewide.
Not that this legislative roadblock keeps the committee from working. The committee decided to pursue two projects. First, we will become expert in our own NYC Campaign Finance Board. The system we want to pass statewide already exists in the City, thanks to Charter reform and Mayor Koch back in 1988. Through a city referendum, NYC voters approved a Charter revision establishing the Campaign Finance Board (CFB). The independent, nonpartisan agency is charged with limiting the role and influence of private money in the political process by providing public matching funds to candidates running for city office. - See more at: http://www.nyccfb.info/about/history#sthash.F5V5CyhG.dpuf
Second, some Committee members are intrigued with the possibility of amending the Constitution in order to overturn the 2010 Citzens UnitedSupreme Court decision, which deregulated outside campaign money. According to the Brennan Center “Fundraising in the 2016 presidential race is unlike anything seen before. Just a few months into the presidential race, ostensibly independent groups have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, greatly outpacing the candidates’ own campaign committees. The vast majority of the money raised so far has been collected by outside groups not subject to contribution limits.”
Over the decades there have been several calls for amending the Constitution, not only to reverse Citizens United but to institute other “remedies” of the political process, such as a balanced budget or a presidential line item veto. The League of Women Voters of the U.S. is asking local leagues to come to consensus to develop guidelines for evaluating the constitutional amendment proposals and the process of amending the Constitution. More information on this will be forthcoming. Save the date: the evening of October 22 for a members’ Consensus meeting.
Last Chance for Campaign Finance - Call Leaders!
Take Action with the League:
State budget bills were printed late last night creating a pilot program for public campaign financing for state comptroller candidates, along with modest reforms to ethics and campaign finance enforcement. Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein has said that public financing is still on the table and that talks are ongoing. It isn't over until it is over.
Can you help us by calling Governor Cuomo, Senate Co-Leader Klein, and your senator to tell them that they need to finish the job on campaign finance reform? The deal on the table is not enough.
Call and tell them they need to deliver on comprehensive campaign finance reform including lower campaign contribution limits, closing of loopholes, and public financing for all statewide and legislative office:
Governor Cuomo - (518) 474-8390
Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein - (518) 455-3595
The Moreland Commission Preliminary Report, December 2, 2013
The Committee on Campaign Finance Reform (CFR) held its first meeting of the 2013-2014 legislative year on November 20, 2013.
The Committee considered the lack of success in getting CFR enacted during the 2013 legislative session (see wrap-up below) and discussed in detail various strategies to attempt to persuade the Governor and the Legislature to adopt a comprehensive reform package. The Committee was joined by NYS Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan who spoke in detail about the abuses of campaign financing under current State law and encouraged the Committee and the League to continue efforts to reform NYS campaign finance laws.
The Committee and Senator Krueger discussed the appointment by Governor Cuomo of a Moreland Act Commission to investigate corruption in the Legislature and the expectation that the Commission would issue its first Report in early December. It was agreed that the Report would likely lead to additional public disappointment with current campaign finance laws and could create further pressure for legislative action. The Committee scheduled its next meeting for December 11, 2013 when it would consider the Moreland Commission Report and consider further action.
The Committee urged the City League’s Board of Directors to include CFR in its recommendations to the State League for legislative priorities for the 2013 – 2014 legislative session.
2013 Legislative Wrap-Up
The League of Woman Voters at every level has long recognized the corrosive influence of money in elections. At the national level, the League has worked with other good government groups to respond to the negative effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. And, in New York State, the State and City Leagues have long been in the forefront of efforts to reform New York State’s extremely loose and largely unenforced campaign finance laws. As an example, of all the states that impose any limits on the amounts that can be contributed to candidates running for statewide executive and legislative positions, New York’s limits are by far the highest, requiring candidates, in order to be competitive, to spend inordinate amounts of time raising and spending extremely large amounts of money.
Hopes were high early in 2013 that a package of significant reforms could be enacted in Albany. Governor Cuomo endorsed campaign finance reform (CFR) in his early proposals to the Legislature. The Assembly, with a substantial Democratic majority, had passed CFR legislation for several legislative sessions and promised to do so again. And, although in the past the Republican-controlled State Senate had blocked CFR, it was unclear whether they would be able to do so again. In 2013, the Senate Republicans shared control of the chamber with four Democrats who had split off from their Democratic colleagues and formed their own Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC). Observers hoped that the four could be convinced to vote with the 29 Democrats to finally enact comprehensive CFR legislation which, it was thought, would include public matching funds for State candidates (modeled on NYC’s law), limits on the amounts candidates could spend, and new enforcement mechanisms.
The State League, with energetic help from the City League’s Campaign Finance Reform Committee, joined other good-government groups and many of the State’s newspapers to lobby members of the Senate seeking enactment. Members of the City League’s CFR Committee gathered constituents and visited the offices of influential legislators seeking to persuade them to support the reforms.
Unfortunately, it was not to be in 2013. At the last minute, the Senate adjourned without taking up the Assembly-passed CFR bill, disappointing reformers and forcing the coalition to look to 2014. In frustration and response, Governor Cuomo appointed a Moreland Act Commission to investigate corruption in State government, especially in connection with campaign contributions. The Commission has begun its work and supporters of CFR are hoping that results of the Moreland Commission investigations will provide new momentum for the enactment of CFR in the Legislative Session that begins in January 2014.
LWVNYS 2013 Legislative Wrap-up and Recent Letters, Press Releases, Op Ed Pieces, and Press Coverage 2013
Letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Letter to New York State Senator Jeffrey Klein
Letter to Speaker of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
League Applauds IDC on Proposal for Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform (4/12/2013)
Fair Elections and Good Government Advocates Call for Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform: Latest Scandal Emphasizes Urgent Need to Empower Voters, End Money in Politics Culture (3/3/2013)