New York Times
March 31, 2013
ALBANY — In an effort to build public support for reining in the flood of money in politics, advocates of overhauling New York State’s political fund-raising laws will spend over $800,000 on a new advertising campaign to begin on Monday.
The campaign marks the beginning of what is expected to be an ambitious push to persuade Albany lawmakers to confront the issue of campaign fund-raising during this year’s legislative session. Organizing for Action, the political operation that grew out of President Obama’s re-election campaign, has signed on to help with the effort.
“The basic message is that everyday New Yorkers aren’t getting their voices heard in Albany, and we need to change the campaign finance laws so that people are heard and state government represents everyone in New York,” said David Donnelly, the executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, a national advocacy group.
Supporters of overhauling the state’s campaign finance laws are also planning to hold rallies this week in Albany, New York City, Syracuse and the Mohawk Valley; more than 100 house parties are scheduled for the week of April 7, and meetings are being organized on college campuses around the state.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, is proposing a system of public financing that is modeled after the one used in New York City, where, in exchange for abiding by strict spending limits, candidates can receive $6 in public funds to match every dollar they collect in donations up to $175. Mr. Cuomo would also lower contribution limits and expand disclosure rules.
Senate Republicans have objected to public financing, arguing that it is not a prudent use of taxpayer money. Many lawmakers are also not eager to change a campaign finance system that favors the re-election of incumbents, who tend to have a large advantage in raising money.
The advertising campaign comes as lawmakers have returned to their districts for a two-week recess after the passage of the state budget last week. Mr. Cuomo said in a radio interview last week that one of his top priorities when lawmakers return to Albany would be to revamp the state’s campaign fund-raising laws.
The mobilization effort by advocacy groups will try to tap into what their leaders believe is widespread disillusionment among voters over the role of money in electoral campaigns, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case.
The attempt to change New York’s rules is backed groups including Citizen Action of New York, the Working Families Party and the Public Campaign Action Fund, as well as Friends of Democracy, a group whose founders include Mr. Donnelly and Jonathan Soros, a son of the billionaire financier George Soros.
A 30-second television ad is scheduled to begin broadcasts statewide on Monday and to run for two weeks. It warns that “political campaigns are dominated by big money,” and adds, “As hard as we try, it doesn’t feel like anyone in Albany is listening.” The advertisement was produced by SKDKnickerbocker, a political consulting firm with close ties to Mr. Cuomo that also worked on the successful push to build public support for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Web advertising and direct mail will also be part of the campaign, which is budgeted at $815,000. Sean Eldridge, an investor and political activist who is exploring a run for Congress next year in the Hudson Valley, contributed $250,000 toward the effort.
Organizing for Action, which has more than 700,000 members in New York, is also getting involved, and has hired a New York State coordinator to work in large part on the campaign finance effort. “We have a chance for New York State to be a leader in this,” Jon Carson, the executive director of the group, said on a conference call with volunteers last week. He said that action in Albany could “lead to similar efforts in other states and help us change this overall system.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Carson added. “President Obama has spoken on these issues, and believes in this kind of approach.”
Mr. Cuomo has been outspoken about campaign finance in recent weeks — he gave a speech on the subject to an audience of business leaders at a Manhattan law firm last month, and also spoke on a conference call, with reporters listening in, to encourage grass-roots activists, an unusually public step for him.
But it remains unclear whether Mr. Cuomo will be able to persuade lawmakers to embrace public financing — and how such a system could be paid for. Some advocates of campaign finance changes, including the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, have warned that lawmakers might try to jettison the public financing portion of the governor’s proposal.
“Victory is within our grasp,” Mr. Schneiderman, a Democrat, said on the conference call hosted by Organizing for Action. But he also struck a cautionary note. “In Albany,” he said, “they’re really, really good at coming up with something that looks like reform, and that they tout as reform, but really falls short.”