Cuomo’s Realpolitik Offer to Campaign Reform Advocates

Cuomo’s realpolitik offer to campaign reform advocates

Capital New York

Laura Nahmias

May 22, 2014

HUNTINGTON—Andrew Cuomo may give progressive and good-government groups the public campaign financing measure they’re looking for, but it will come at the expense of other reforms he promised in his budget, according to sources familiar with negotiations between the governor and reform advocates.

The other reforms, which Cuomo would effectively table, include a new oversight mechanism at the Board of Elections, new limits on the amount corporations or individuals can donate to party housekeeping accounts and closure of a loophole that lets wealthy donors evade limits by using shell companies.

During a meeting of campaign finance reform advocates on May 12, according to the sources, Cuomo told attendees that the G.O.P. would never sign off on a public matching system that includes those other increased enforcement measures.

The governor’s office also has indicated they are unwilling to consider lowering contribution limits for candidates who don’t participate in the public finance program.

It was the most recent gathering organized by Cuomo’s office to negotiate a new campaign finance bill, after reform advocates slammed him and the Legislature over the campaign finance reforms enacted in this year’s state budget. Those reforms, which were widely decried as weak, created a system of public financing for campaigns that applied to just one statewide office, that of the comptroller.

Cuomo is negotiating now in order to quiet critics on his left. His inability, which some perceived as personal reluctance, to pass strong campaign finance reform measures this year is one of the factors that led to recent unrestamong the liberal members of his own party.

Cuomo now faces the possibility the progressive, labor-backed Working Families Party may either decline to endorse him or run a challenger against him this year, unless he is either able to pass a stronger bill or convince party members that he will do so in the near future.

According to people familiar with the negotiations, Cuomo believes GOP lawmakers are unwilling to pass a bill this year, with months to go before November’s elections, if the bill includes measures such as one that would close the LLC loophole or cap donations to party housekeeping accounts. Cuomo believes lawmakers are concerned they’ll look hypocritical in the coming months for passing such a bill and then continuing to raise money through the system they’ve committed to reforming, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations.

Cuomo believes negotiations will become impossible if reform advocates insist on pushing a bill that includes both public financing and reforms. He has suggested that if they push for such a measure, it should be introduced on the Senate floor with the intent to let it fail.

A spokesman for the governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

As Capital previously reported, tensions exist among the negotiators over the specifics of the proposed public financing system, but it is now becoming clear that other, broader tensions exist, over the other reform measures that advocates say are necessary to make any public matching system functional.

Republican lawmakers are said to be pushing hard for a matching system that only applies to donations made within a lawmaker’s district. That would be more beneficial for politicians from wealthier areas seeking to stave off challengers funded from outside their districts. And disagreements remain over the exact formula for a matching rate. Reformers have previously insisted on a 6 to 1 matching rate, like the one used in New York City’s system, but are willing to consider compromises, according to sources familiar with negotiations.

Cuomo is pushing for a low matching rate, said sources with knowledge of the negotiations. And the governor is also interested in bypassing public money to fund the system. He is interested, instead, in an idea to fund the system using money from the state’s Unclaimed Funds account, a trust filled with unclaimed, leftover checks from New Yorkers’ forgotten bank and other accounts.

The governor is keen to have some kind of deal ready to be announced before the W.F.P. holds its own convention on May 31, where the party’s rank and file will decide whether they endorse him, or withhold their approval.


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