Gov. Cuomo Introduces Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform Bill

Cuomo Pushes Legislators on Elections Financing

The New York Times

Thomas Kaplan

June 11, 2013

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, embracing a top priority of government reformers and liberal groups, asked the Legislature on Tuesday to enact a system of public financing for state elections, modeled after one used in New York City.

The governor acknowledged that the measure was a long shot in the waning days of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end June 20, but said it would help restore the public’s trust in state government.

The push by the governor comes after a series of corruption cases involving legislators that has given many voters a negative impression of their elected representatives in Albany.

“I would not say that I see an especially easy glide path to passage for this bill,” Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference. “I think it has nothing to do with the merits. I think on the merits, this is a powerful proposal. It’s long overdue. It’s needed.”

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, wants lawmakers to enact public financing as part of a broader package of laws that also includes measures to improve the enforcement of election law, to encourage voter registration and to strengthen the state’s bribery laws so that district attorneys can more effectively prosecute public integrity cases.

“I hate to say it, but right now, there’s a cancer on the State Legislature,” said William J. Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney.

On Tuesday, the governor repeated his threat to appoint a special panel, called a Moreland Act commission, to investigate the Legislature if lawmakers refused to pass the measures that he is seeking. “Life is options,” Mr. Cuomo said.

But the political terrain that the governor is confronting is atypical, and makes the remainder of the legislative session more unpredictable than usual.

Democrats who control the State Assembly have already passed legislation that would put in place a system of public financing. The obstacle, for advocates of public financing, is the State Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of Republicans and an independent faction of four Democrats.

The leaders of the Republicans and the independent Democrats must both agree on legislation to be considered by the Senate, and the Republican caucus has been steadfastly opposed to public financing.

The Senate Republican leader, Dean G. Skelos of Long Island, told reporters on Tuesday that he did not foresee any way that a measure to provide public financing would be considered by the Senate and would receive approval.

Citing the proposal’s possible cost, Mr. Skelos said he would rather put the money “into education, infrastructure, job creation, child care — there are a lot of areas that we can use that money for.”

The optional public financing system proposed by Mr. Cuomo would provide political candidates $6 in public money for every dollar raised from eligible donors, for contributions up to $175.

The governor’s office estimated that the public financing system would cost $166 million over a four-year election cycle. The system would take effect in 2015. (Mr. Cuomo, who has more than $22 million in his campaign account, is up for re-election in 2014.)

The bill that the governor unveiled on Tuesday included various other proposed changes to the state’s notoriously lax campaign fund-raising laws. The proposal would lower contribution limits, require the disclosure of contributions within 48 hours, and forbid candidates to use campaign money on personal expenses. It also would require the disclosure of independent expenditures, which have played an increasing role in state elections.

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