March 3, 2014
ALBANY, N.Y. — More than 160 women in elected positions or holding other leadership posts have written to New York’s top elected officials, all men, urging them to enact public campaign financing.
The said such funding is “vital” to getting more women in particular to participate in politics. They want Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders to enact Cuomo’s budget proposal for a campaign system like New York City’s, with small donations matched by public funds.
Separately, Cuomo’s re-election campaign planned to begin airing broadcast ads Monday calling for support of his legislative proposals for tougher bribery laws, more disclosure of legislators’ conflicts of interest and public campaign financing.
“The dearth of women lawmakers and leaders has resulted in legislatures that too often stand in the way of real reform,” the letter said. Signers include former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who is running for Congress.
“We need a bold approach to restore our democracy and take it back from the hands of the few, big money donors who too often call the shots in Washington and state capitols across the country,” they wrote.
At a panel discussion Monday in Manhattan, Rice said “very little” is illegal under New York’s campaign finance laws because the people writing the laws are those who’d be held accountable. Until recently, she co-chaired a state commission investigating public corruption. Also, the proposed reforms would level the playing field, she said.
“Women still don’t have the inherent financial infrastructure men do,” she said.
The letter noted that only 18 percent of the seats in the state Senate and 25 percent in the Assembly are held by women. Meanwhile, five of six states with public financing — Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine and Minnesota — have a higher percentage of women state legislators than the national average, it said.
“New York City’s robust system of public financing recently helped elected two women of color as top citywide leaders: Public Advocate Tish James and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito,” they wrote. The letter was also sent Friday to Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos and Senate Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein. Skelos and Klein are co-leaders of that chamber’s majority coalition.
In Cuomo’s television ads, funded by his campaign committee, he says one of his main legislative priorities this year is to clean up Albany corruption and that the proposed legislation is part of the plan.
The administration’s budget proposal for the fiscal year starting April 1 would establish campaign financing like the one in New York City, where contributions up to $175 are matched $6 to $1 but with limits.
The governor further proposes closing the loophole that now lets limited liability corporations avoid corporate donation limits. He also wants to limit annual campaign contributions to political parties’ housekeeping accounts to $25,000. There currently is no limit. The governor would budget $5.3 million for more election law enforcers.
The legislation would establish a misdemeanor for any public official or employee who fails to report bribery. It would make it easier for prosecutors to prove bribery, requiring they show only the payer intended to bribe the official or that the official intended to be influenced. Current law requires proving both.