With less than a week to go, Cuomo rolls out public campaign financing bill

JasonParis/via Flickr
June 12, 2013

With just over a week left in the legislative session, Governor Cuomo released his bill to extend public financing of political campaigns to statewide races.  But he still faces resistance from some factions in the legislature.

Cuomo’s talked of his support for a public campaign finance system for state wide races based on the New York  City model,  but this is the first time that he’s revealed the details of the actual legislation. The governor says the measure, plus other reforms, are long overdue. He says the seemingly endless string of scandals at the Capitol this session only underscore how much change is needed.

“The past few months are really just the accelerant,” Cuomo said. “ You needed public finance and campaign finance reform done 10 years ago.”

The public campaign financing option would offer a six to one match, using government money, for individual contributions up to $175.  It would be paid for using money from the state’s general fund as well as a check off box on state incomes taxes, and from the state’s abandoned property funds 

The legislation also limits campaign contributions across the board and requires more disclosure of donors.

The new rules would not affect Cuomo’s re election efforts in 2014 or any other state races. It would not begin until January 2015. 

The governor also focused on a related reform proposal to give the state’s District Attorneys more powers to prosecute corruption related crimes in state government, like bribery and embezzlement. 

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick is one of several DA’s who came to the Capitol to support the measures. He likened the string of corruption cases in state government to a disease.

“When you have 35 elected representatives in the past six years who are either under investigation, indicted or convicted, there’s a cancer on the legislature,” Fitzpatrick said.

Cuomo faces stiff opposition from Republicans in the State Senate, who say public financing of campaigns is a waste of the tax payers’ money.

The GOP co- leads the Senate with the Independent Democratic Conference, four Democrats who split from the mainstream Democratic conference.

Cuomo left it to the Brennan Center’s Michael Waldman, one of the reform advocates who spoke at the event, to put the pressure on the Republicans and their Democratic allies to act.

“This is a matter of political will,” said Waldman, who says there is a majority of votes in the Senate to pass public campaign financing. He says opponents should stop making “excuses”. 

“Lawmakers who use excuses will have the stain of the state’s corruption on their hands,” Waldman said.

The governor did not rule out splitting the public campaign finance portion of the legislation off from the other bills, in the face of GOP opposition. And he says he does not see an “easy glide” to passage of the reform legislation. But Cuomo warns that if the legislature does not act on some of the proposals, he’ll begin an investigation of legislative corruption, using powers given to governors in the state’s Moreland Act. 

“This legislative initiative or a Moreland Act Commission will advance the public trust,” Cuomo said. “One way or another we’ll get it done by the end of next week.”

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, speaking to reporters earlier in the day, says he’s open to a number of the governor’s reform proposals, and predicts that there will be some sort of deal reached. But he says he doesn’t foresee any scenario in which the public campaign financing part of the legislation would come to the Senate floor for a vote.

“I’ve said we’re not in favor of tax payer funding of campaigns,” said Skelos.

The Sneate GOP Leader says he believes the program  would cost $200 million, and he says  he’d rather use the money for other things like education, infrastructure, job creation and child care.

“There are a lot of areas that we can use that money for,” Skelos said.

Cuomo estimates that public financing would cost far less, at around $41 million dollars.

There are just a few more working days scheduled in the legislative session for the governor to put a deal together with the Senate and the Assembly.