The Journal News
NY State Senators Jeffrey D. Klein and David Carlucci
May 7, 2013
If New Yorkers needed one more reason to support major ethics and campaign finance reform in Albany, this past week gave them several. The recent scandals that have rocked our state’s political world have cast a cloud over the integrity and fairness of our political system. The apparent corruption that has ensnared public officials throughout the state, with some of the alleged wrongdoers residing in Rockland County, hits very close to home.
Now is the time to act swiftly so that we can restore accountability and transparency at the ballot box. This afternoon, we will host a public hearing in Rockland County to solicit ideas and expert testimony from some of the foremost leaders in campaign finance and ethics reform. Most notably, this will be a venue for members of the public to make their voices heard.
In addition, we are proposing several reforms to our state’s campaign finance and ethics laws.
We need to start by eliminating clear conflicts of interest that undermine lawmakers’ ability to act independently. As part of Albany’s outdated culture, high-paid campaign consultants often turn around after Election Day and sell their access to elected officials to the highest corporate bidder. That’s unacceptable. As New York Public Interest Group shows, over the past two years, at least 29 political consulting firms doubled as state lobbyists, raking in over $5 million in lobbying fees while also advising candidates on how to get elected. Selling special access to lawmakers is just wrong. That is why we stand firmly behind legislation introduced by our colleague, Sen. David Valesky, to prohibit high-paid campaign consultants from turning around and lobbying the same legislators they help to elect.
We also must bring our state’s campaign finance laws into the 21st century by establishing a public financing system for state elections that will level the playing field and begin taking big money out of our political process. We support an optional public campaign finance system that includes a 6-to-1 match for every $250 raised from an individual. Individuals with business before the state would be restricted to very low limits and would not have their donations matched.
We also would prohibit all corporate contributions. As a means of paying for this, matching funds would be derived from a 10 percent surcharge on state litigation, an optional campaign finance tax donation check-off box on state tax forms and unused surplus monies from the state’s unclaimed property fund.
As part of our proposal, we will give the state attorney general and an independent campaign finance board the power to actually enforce our laws. After all, we shouldn’t need to rely solely on federal prosecutors to enforce New York’s laws.
Next, in order to limit the power of money in the political process, we also must cap the amount of money that one individual can contribute. Right now, individual donors can contribute tens of thousands of dollars to candidates for state office. We must impose new, strict limits that are already in effect at the federal level. In doing so, we will cap the amount that any individual can give at $2,600. This would bring our state in line with federal standards. After all, if a $2,600 contribution limit is high enough for a presidential campaign, it should be good enough for candidates for statewide office.
Finally, we must remove backdoor entryways into candidate campaign coffers. To evade New York’s limits on contributions to candidate committees, major parties currently use “housekeeping” and “party” accounts to siphon large donations toward their preferred candidate.
Donors can make unlimited contributions to housekeeping accounts, and up to $110,000 in contributions to state party committees. If we continue to allow these backdoor committees to spend on behalf of candidates, we are undermining our own efforts at reform. That is why, as part of the Independent Democratic Conference’s proposal, we would end these accounts.
These proposals have the potential to transform New York’s political system. In the weeks and months ahead, we can get these reforms passed. But we need your help and your input. As we know all too well, Albany is resistant to major change. But by building momentum toward reform, we can get there.
The people of New York deserve nothing less.
The writers are members of the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference. Klein is the co-leader of the Senate and the IDC leader.