MIDDLETOWN — With just over a week left in the legislative session, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced his own campaign finance-reform proposal that includes public financing of campaigns.
Cuomo unveiled three bills Tuesday, the campaign finance proposal, a law to make it easier to prosecute corruption and toughen penalties, and a package of voting reforms to make it easier to register and create an independent counsel to investigate election law violations.
The Assembly, controlled by Democrats, passed a public financing bill a month ago, and even before Tuesday, groups that favor public financing of political campaigns had been amping up pressure on the state Senate to pass a bill before the end of the session on June 20. The public financing proposals are modeled on New York City’s law, where contributions of up to $175 are matched $6 to $1.
Most Republican legislators oppose it. Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos reiterated that opposition Tuesday, and said it hasn’t even been discussed “in a while” during closed-door negotiations, according to the Associated Press.
The cost of public financing has been a point of contention; supporters argue it will cost far less than the up to $286 million Skelos has cited.
Cuomo’s bill falls somewhere in between the Assembly bill and a previous proposal by the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of four Democrats who run the Senate in a coalition with the Republicans. Cuomo would further restrict corporate contributions and “housekeeping accounts” attached to party campaign committees; the IDC would ban both outright. Cuomo’s bill, and his reiteration in a radio interview Tuesday of a threat to appoint a commission to investigate the Legislature if they don’t act on anti-corruption measures, gives public-financing advocates hope that something might pass before the session ends.
“They just need to come together and hold a floor vote, and the votes are there,” said Stephen Pampinella, spokesman for Fair Elections for New York.
Public finance advocates have been gathering petitions and taking out advertisements pressuring lawmakers. State Sen. John Bonacic, R-C-Mount Hope, has been one of the legislators targeted. A mailer from Citizen Action of New York and the Working Families Party went out in Bonacic’s district a month ago, and a recent radio ad also criticized his opposition to the bill.
The radio ad was paid for by Friends of Democracy, a pro-campaign finance reform group started by George Soros’ son, Jonathan, that also contributed heavily to Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk in her win last year for the Senate seat that includes eight municipalities in Ulster County. Members of the Hudson Valley chapter of Citizen Action dropped off a petition at Bonacic’s Middletown office Monday afternoon with more than 400 signatures, said Kat Fisher, their political organizer.
“Senator Bonacic needs to show that he stands with ordinary New Yorkers against big-money politics,” she said.
Bonacic opposes public financing, said his spokeswoman Jessica Cherry.
“Rather than asking hard-working taxpayers to fork over $286 million to pay for political campaign mail as this legislation would do, Senator Bonacic would rather see those dollars invested in our classrooms and hospitals or — here’s a novel concept — actually returned back to overtaxed New Yorkers,” she said. “When billionaire special interests (who are bankrolling the so-called Friends of Democracy group) finance a political campaign to get their favored political candidates funded by taxpayers, all we can say is watch your wallet and hold onto your pocketbook.”