I am no fan of Andrew Cuomo's economic policies, but if this report in the NY Times is accurate, he will make a major move tomorrow to advance democracy in New York State.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seeking to prod recalcitrant lawmakers to take action after a rash of embarrassing corruption scandals in Albany, plans to use his budget proposal this week to push for approval of new ethics laws and a public financing system for state political campaigns, administration officials said.Karen Scharff of Citizen Action responded to the report on behalf of the Fair Elections for New York coalition:
Mr. Cuomo, who has sought to position himself as a centrist Democrat and has collected millions of dollars in campaign cash from real estate developers and other wealthy donors, has faced persistent calls from the left wing of his party to be more forceful in demanding an overhaul of New York’s lax campaign fund-raising laws, a top priority of liberals who hope that sweeping changes in Albany could provide a model for other states….
By including public financing of elections in the budget, Governor Cuomo has demonstrated national leadership. The Governor is showing he is serious about cleaning up Albany and fixing our broken political system. Public financing is essential to changing Albany’s pay-to-play legal bribery culture and giving more power to the voters. As today's Siena poll showed, nearly 2/3 of New Yorkers in every part of the state support real reforms that limit the size of fat-cat contributions and replacing them with small donations that are matched by public money. We applaud the Governor's budget proposal as a major step in the right direction and urge the Legislature to follow his lead by passing it into law.Because of a peculiar provision of the New York State Constitution, the Governor has the authority to insert statutory language into his budget proposal. Concurrent votes of both houses of the legislature to remove it are then necessary or the Governor's proposal become law. IMHO that provision is manifestly antidemocratic, giving the governor quasi dictatorial power when the legislature is divided. Nevertheless, this is a big win for progressives - amending the Constitution is a task for the future. Politics ain't beanbag.
With the anniversary of Citizens United falling this week, it is heartening that New York could be the first state to enact a practical response to the unchecked flood of big money into our political system.
If the Gov had proposed public financing separately, outside the budget, and the Legislature took no action, public financing would not go forward. By putting it in the budget, Cuomo makes it highly likely to become law. A budget impasse could delay the outcome, but it is unlikely in an election year for the Legislature to go back on its recent record of on-time budgets. Likewise, it is very unlikely that the Assembly, which has passed one-house bills for public financing for many years, would agree to take it out of the budget bill.
However, per the article only some $ for enforcing campaign laws is in this years budget, not actual money for public financing for the 2014 election. The public financing of campaigns would start with the Legislature in 2016 and the statewide offices (Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller) in 2018. But it would be very hard for Cuomo to renege on the precedent when the time comes to fund campaigns with actual money.
The Governor's proposal is modeled on the NYC public financing law, which matches small contributions six to one with public money, so that a $200 contribution would make $1400 available to a participating candidate. In effect, this is not far from the preferable Clean Money Clean Elections model first passed by ballot inititative in Maine when the plutocracy wasn't paying attention, and passed by Connecticut after a major scandal that sent the governor to jail. The Assembly and finally Gov Cuomo chose to go with the second best option based on the NYC model, rather than follow other states.
Comptroller DiNapoli has proposed to start public financing statewide with the race for Comptroller, which had a major pay-to-play scandal with pension fund investments under his predecessor Alan Hevesi, who is was convicted of corruption and is now out on parole.
If the Legislature is so inclined, they could add actual public financing for this year's Comptroller race. They could also pass a call for a constitutional amendment to overturn "Citizens United", which I prefer to call Corporations Unlimited, as some 16 states have done already.
Either of those would be a challenge, with the GOP minority still in control of the state Senate thanks to the defection of four so called independent democrats. But they are worth fighting for as we nail down the Governors proposal. Groups like Citizen Action, NYPIRG, and Common Cause have been organizing actively for public campaign finance since the 1990s; now we can smell victory.
Voters sent a powerful message for public financing in 2012 when it became the main issue in Cecilia Tkaczyk's campaign in the newly created 46th Senate district, custom-carved for her GOP opponent. Tkaczyk won when enough challenged ballots were counted, after a heroic ground campaign by the Working Families party as well as progressive Democrats, and major independent expenditures by Jonathan Soros. And in 2013, Bill DiBlasio's populist campaign won an overwhelming victory, amplifying the message that organized people can beat organized money.