Release: Assembly Passes 2013 Fair Elections ActView Update
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Reforming the state’s campaign finance system will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s next big thing.
The Democrat said Tuesday he would begin touring the state to argue for a system of public matching funds that will blunt the influence wealthy donors have on the political system.
Cuomo said his push will likely coincide with this year’s presidential election, and may result in legislation before lawmakers return to Albany in January for the next scheduled session.
A pay boost for legislators may be considered after the fall election, and Cuomo could use it as a bargaining chip to get campaign finance reform through the Legislature.
“The challenge with campaign finance is it’s not high enough on the priority list for the people,” Cuomo said in the Capitol’s Red Room. “The legislators aren’t hearing enough about it. … To get something done, for me, in this town, I need to leave this town, wage a whole education effort and get the issue up to the top of the list.”
Cuomo has used a similar playbook for four other issues, all of which passed the Legislature. In 2011, he toured the state pushing for tighter government ethics laws, the legalization of same-sex marriage and a cap on local property tax increases. Earlier this year, he advocated for a new agency to oversee how the state cares for vulnerable citizens.
The governor’s support of campaign finance reform is not new. He included it in books published in 2010 by his campaign as well as his State of the State presentation in January.
But Cuomo’s willingness to use his bully pulpit — a poll last month showed he is viewed favorably by 70 percent of the state’s voters — elevates the issue above others that he has pushed for with less vigor, such as raising the state’s minimum wage.
The governor said he hoped to replicate his successful campaign for same-sex marriage. He and his staff united previously fractious gay rights advocates into one campaign led by Jennifer Cunningham, a consultant at SKD Knickerbocker, in close coordination with Steve Cohen, then Cuomo’s chief of staff.
Cunningham and Cohen confirmed they would again be involved at an advisory level. An umbrella coalition, called Fair Elections for New York, was formed in April. It includes good-government groups and labor unions that have traditionally toiled for campaign finance reform. But they are working alongside a group of some of the state’s top political donors, organized by Sean Eldridge.
They have committed money to a PAC and nonprofit lobbying group, both called Protect Our Democracy.
“This is really going to start moving,” said Karen Scharff, a longtime campaign reform advocate. “It sounds likely that there will be a special session after the election, and we think this should be taken up as a part of it.”
Cuomo suggested the flood of advertising from the presidential campaign would sour voters on the status quo. He repeated the point at the Capitol briefing, and said he hoped to craft legislation at some point in this year.
“People are going to be deluged with money and ads and political propaganda from all sorts of ways, and I think they’re going to say the system is out of control,” he said.
The effort for public funding of campaigns will be constrained by the cost of any public match on a tight state budget, and free speech protections asserted in U.S. Supreme Court rulings like the 2011 Citizens United case, which ruled corporate speech could not be limited. This election season has seen the rise of so-called “super PACs” stoked by wealthy individuals — some affiliated with campaigns and some not.
It’s unclear how Cuomo’s new push will fit into the context of state politics. Democrats who dominate the Assembly support public campaign financing, while Republicans who control the Senate say it’s an unwise use of tax dollars.
But because lawmakers of both parties want a pay raise, Cuomo will at least have an audience for his ideas about campaign finance reform.