NY Senate GOP opposes public funds for campaigns

December 9, 2013 By Michael Gormley Associated Press
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ALBANY— The bold recommendation of New York’s anti-corruption commission to use public money to fund political campaigns so far hasn’t improved the chances of getting the idea, prized by Democrats, through the Senate’s Republican conference.

On Monday, good-government groups sought to push Gov. Andrew Cuomo to force an early start to the issue through his State of the State address Jan. 8, before the legislative session begins. The groups said public financing of campaigns is critical along with several other measures to reform “the scandalous way that business is in done in Albany.”

Yet opposition led by Republicans on public financing of campaigns remains unchanged.

“Senate Republicans continue to oppose the creation of a statewide campaign finance system funded by taxpayers, which would needlessly divert resources away from our schools, infrastructure and initiatives to provide tax relief for hardworking families,” said GOP Senate spokesman Scott Reif.

This month, the anti-corruption panel recommended voluntary public financing of campaigns among its proposed reforms, although some of its members disagreed. The commission’s majority said the state would get fairer elections, reduce big-money dominance, and encourage more people to run for office while reducing the power of corporate and other special interests. The dissent, however, found that argument “significantly flawed,” saying there’s little evidence that the system elsewhere has diminished the power of big money in politics.

“It hinges on what the governor does,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It’s the governor’s commission and the governor’s mission. He’s the guy who ran in 2010 on fixing Albany. So does this report embolden him to be more aggressive? If yes, then this report does change things.”

But the governor’s plan remains unknown. Cuomo’s immediate reaction to last week’s commission report was noncommittal on public financing, while noting other recommendations were more politically possible.

“Public finance is a policy-slash-political issue, so I wasn’t overly surprised,” Cuomo said last week. “I believe there is consensus around those points, and those are issues that we should move forward on.”

His liberal base was irked over his comments. Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa then responded by saying the Democratic governor remains unequivocal in his support for public financing and will continue to push for it despite the fact that the proposal is a sticking point to getting other reforms such as transparency and lower donation limits.

Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the traditional Democratic legislative conferences remains staunch advocates of the “common-sense steps to clean up Albany.”

However, based on public comments, a vote at this point appears to be at least two votes short of the 32 votes need for approval. All 30 Republicans, Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who sits with the Republican conference, and conservative Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. are expected to continue their opposition.

“How can any politician in good conscience accept public money for his or her campaign when so many of their constituents continue to struggle to support their families?” Diaz said.

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