CLEAN, FAIR, OPEN AND DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGNS
Four years ago, Andrew Cuomo stood on the steps of a courthouse named after Boss Tweed and announced his campaign for Governor with a promise to clean up Albany. He has failed. Worse, he has become part of the problem. Big money interests today have even more power than they did when Andrew Cuomo took office. We have a campaign finance system that hands the wealthy few immense sway over our state government. The result is a government that responds to the one percent, not to the rest of us. That’s why our public schools get starved, while the rich get tax breaks. The way big money has directly shaped Governor Cuomo’s policies is well documented. Cuomo’s style of governing may not be technically illegal, but it epitomizes legal corruption.
My life's work has been devoted to preserving democracy, and safeguarding it from the corrupting threat of concentrated wealth. When I promise to clean up New York’s corrupt campaign finance system, voters can trust that I deliver. As governor, I will begin immediately to build a system that ensures that politicians represent the people. This includes the following five specific actions:
a. Public Financing of Elections
The way to fix the broken system is to provide public financing for all statewide and legislative elections. I will model my approach on the New York City system that provides $6 matching funds for every $1 contributed in small donations. Under this system every $50 donation would then be worth $350, because of the state “match.” Think about the effect of that: right now, a politician’s job is to spend 30% of her time talking to the 1%, the people who can donate more than $500. By contrast, when matching funds enables 20 working people to collectively donate $7000, every community group becomes worth listening to. I would also use this policy to lower contribution limits, close loopholes, and provide effective administration and enforcement of these rules.
Governor Cuomo has promised many times to enact public financing of elections. It is, sadly, the Governor’s favorite promise to break. He repeatedly claims to champion reform, then repeatedly fails to include any legislation in his budget or use his power and mandate to demand action from the legislature. There’s a simple reason Governor Cuomo opposes such reforms. As a recent investigative report found, the Governor raises a large share of his own campaign contributions precisely through the methods that favor big donors – the very loopholes the Governor had promised to close.
In New York City and Connecticut, public funding has increased the influence of voters and small donors, diversified who contributes, and enabled a greater variety of candidates to run for office. Already, public funding has empowered middle class families to shape policy, achieving reforms like paid sick days, and empowered more women and minorities to stand as candidates. Public funding of elections will bring us closer to achieving real democracy.
b. Strictly Limit Big Donor Money
New York State today has one of the least democratic electoral systems in America. Big donors can give as much as $60,000 to a single candidate running for governor. That compares to a limit of $2,600 for what that same person can donate to a candidate for the presidency of the United States, and is more than most other states in the Union. I will therefore move immediately to reduce the maximum individual contribution to all candidates in New York to $2,600. Any candidate who participates in the public funding system would agree to even lower limits. When one person can give more to a political campaign than the average New Yorker earns in a year, it drowns out the voices of ordinary citizens. This radically unfair system helps explain why Governor Cuomo’s political decisions massively favor the rich: he has raised less than 1 percent of his campaign funds from donations of $250 or lower. His economic policies – which have cut the state’s corporate tax rate, raised the exemption for the estate tax, and eliminated the bank tax entirely – reflect that.
c. Strictly Limit Corporate Money
New York law today allows corporations to make entirely unlimited contributions to state political parties for supposedly “non campaign” purposes. Verizon, Walmart, Coca-Cola and Altria are just some of the companies that use so-called “housekeeping accounts” to funnel millions of dollars into the pockets of New York politicians every year. Since taking office, Governor Cuomo alone has raised millions through the State Democratic Committee’s “housekeeping account.” This total includes a $800,000 contribution from a single real estate developer. It also includes contributions of $100,000 or more from over 20 corporations and individuals.
This is not bags of money being passed through a back door. These are tractor-trailer loads of money being forklifted across the loading dock. This is an outrageous abuse of our democracy in New York State, and I will move immediately to place strict and reasonable limits on all corporate contributions, much as the Moreland Commission called for in their Preliminary Report.
d. Close Corporate “LLC” Loopholes
Governor Cuomo also failed to close the "LLC loophole," which allows corporations to treat their LLC affiliates as "persons" under New York campaign finance laws. This means that rather than being limited to the $5,000 corporate contribution limit, companies can give as much as $60,800 for primary and general election campaigns combined to candidates for state-wide office. This loophole is exploited ruthlessly by the real estate industry, as well as by telecom giants like Cablevision and Comcast. Governor Cuomo has used LLCs to raise $6.2 million since he took office – more than double what our two previous governors collected during their combined four years in office. I would close the LLC loophole and end the fierce grip that powerful industries hold over New York's political system.
e. Revive the Moreland Commission
In July 2013 Governor Cuomo appointed the “Commission to Investigate Public Corruption” under the Moreland Act. Known as the “Moreland Commission,” the effort was heralded as a historic opportunity to clean up wrongdoing in Albany. Packed with some of the top legal minds and attorneys around the state, the Commission showed New York was serious about ferreting out corruption and restoring public trust in government. This April, Governor Cuomo abruptly and quietly announced he was dismantling the Moreland Commission. He said that he had convinced legislators to support new laws on bribery, corruption, and elections, eliminating the need for the Commission’s investigation.
The Governor’s decision to close down a public investigation into corruption is deeply disturbing. His justification for it – that negotiations with lawmakers in closed discussions had rendered the Commission obsolete – reveals how little respect the Governor holds for the public and for public accountability.
I would revive the Moreland Commission immediately, and ensure it has the funds to carry out the full term of its work.