Norden in Democrat and Chronicle: Adopt Moreland Campaign Finance Reforms [Op-Ed]

Guest essay: Adopt Moreland campaign finance reforms

Democrat and Chronicle

Lawrence Norden

January 24, 2014

Reviewing the Moreland Commission’s preliminary report released last month, one could be forgiven for thinking it was produced by a cadre of longtime campaign finance advocates. But in fact, many of the commissioners began as skeptics — even opponents — of comprehensive campaign finance reform in New York.

They came around because of the tremendous evidence demonstrating how well three reforms — lower contribution limits, robust and independent enforcement of campaign finance laws, and a voluntary public financing system — have worked together in New York City and Connecticut to reduce the corrupting influence of big donors.

These reforms have the support of approximately two-thirds of New Yorkers, according to a poll released this week. On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo boldly included them in his executive budget, amping up the pressure on the Senate, where they came within one vote of becoming law last year, and where opposition to real change still runs strong.

Since being instituted in New York City 15 years ago, these common-sense policies have changed the political culture: In contrast to state elections, where special interests dominate, 93 percent of money raised for city offices comes from individual citizens. A statewide public financing system that could replicate these results would cost each New Yorker less than a penny a day to pay to restore the voice of average New Yorkers. There’s no question that our state government needs reform, now. The Moreland report spells out, in excruciating detail, the degree to which Albany is dominated by big money and its effects: bribery, pay-to-play politics, and the silencing of average voters at the expense of those rich enough to pay for political access.

Some zealous campaign reform advocates argue that a constitutional amendment is the only path forward. It’s an understandable reaction to the heinous 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unlimited independent political spending by Super PACs and corporations.

But if overturning that decision is a worthy long-term goal — one that could take years, if not decades — that shouldn’t detract from the good the Moreland reforms can do today.We don’t need to speculate about the kind of change such reforms would bring in a post-Citizens United world. New York City and Connecticut provide the evidence. The Moreland reforms would create a system that is more fair and transparent, and give the rest of us a chance to have our voices heard. One last push from Gov. Cuomo, ethics-minded legislators, and average voters can make these recommendations law, and bring dramatic change to Albany.

Norden is deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

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