New York Times Covers NY LEAD Launch

Wealthy Donors Join Effort to Improve Campaign Finance System

New York Times

By Thomas Kaplan

February 15, 2012

ALBANY – The push to improve the state’s campaign finance laws has gained an unlikely ally: some of New York’s wealthiest political donors.

A new group called New York Leadership for Accountable Government unveiled an agenda on Wednesday that hewed to what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo laid out in his State of the State address last month, including support for the creation of a system of public financing for state campaigns and lowered contribution limits.

Government reform groups have pushed those ideas for years. But the newly formed coalition attracted attention at the Capitol because of its unusual roster of supporters, who include deep-pocketed business leaders to whom lawmakers typically turn for high-dollar donations.

Among the representatives of the group at a news conference on Wednesday was Sean Eldridge, the president of Hudson River Ventures, an investment fund. Mr. Eldridge hosted a fund-raiser last year with his fiancé, Chris Hughes, a founder of Facebook, that raised several hundred thousand dollars for Mr. Cuomo.

Mr. Eldridge said New York’s campaign finance system was “built for the big donor, not for the average voter.”

“I would love to have fewer fund-raisers,” he said. “I would love to see our elected officials talking to all of the voters, not just the people who can write big checks.”

Among the prominent individuals from the business world who are members of the new group are Barry Diller, the chairman of IAC; Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., the former chief executive of Seagram; and Jerome Kohlberg, a co-founder of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. David Rockefeller is also part of the coalition, as is Jonathan Soros, son of the billionaire financier George Soros.

The group also includes a number of former public officials, including Edward I. Koch, a former New York City mayor; William H. Donaldson, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; and several former members of Congress, among them Harold Ford Jr. and Scott Murphy.

Making a case for curbing the influence of money in state elections, Mr. Murphy, an upstate Democrat who was defeated in 2010, invoked the success of the British singer and songwriter Adele.

“She’s not part of the music elite; she’s not somebody that came through the system,” Mr. Murphy said. “I think that’s a perfect parallel for what we’re trying to do. We want to open up the system, let more voices be heard, let that new voice come out that nobody’s ever heard of, that’s not from a traditional source, that doesn’t have access to money to get involved in politics.”

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