Update: A paragraph about how matching funds would be distributed under the Fair Elections Act has been removed from this article pending review.
Late Friday night, the New York State budget was “finalized” for vote today without funding for a public finance scheme called the Fair Elections Act that supporters were pushing Governor Cuomo hard to support. In the week leading up to this negotiated budget many emails went out encouraging citizens of New York to call the Governor Cuomo‘s office and Senator Klein and ask them to not do what they ended up doing: caving in on funding for the FEA. Unfortunately, nearly every email of support contained a false claim about this bill.
It’s more than likely that supporters of this bill were not fully aware of how it would function. The authors of the newsletter for the Occupy Network wrote “After decades of relentlessly fighting for Fair Elections for New York, we may know by Monday if it’ll be included in the budget. If not, we will be there to shame Governor Cuomo if this turns out to be nothing more than another empty promise.” If they understood how much the FEA would reinforce the corporate duolpoly, the would actually swing by Senator Skelos‘ office and thank him for his principled, steadfast opposition to the FEA.
One group that fully understood the bill is Public Citizen. A common false claim was asserted by Public Citizen’s Robert Weissman who wrote:
New York is on the verge of comprehensive reform — called Fair Elections — that would limit the influence of corporate CEOs and special-interest campaign cash by providing public financing to amplify the contributions of individual, everyday voters.
People for the American Way’s Calvin Sloan also claimed that the FEA would “will limit the influence of CEO campaign cash.” Josh Orton of Progressives United falsely claimed the FEA will help “drive big money out of New York elections.“
The FEA would not limit corporate or fat-cat cash spent on electioneering communications if passed into law. It cannot; the Supreme Court has determined that this influence is legal with its Citizens United v FEC decision. The FEA did not even propose to stop direct campaign donations from corporations to candidates for office, currently legal in NY.
Perhaps the most absurd claim that the FEA would affect corruption in New York. Johnny Papagiannis of the Public Campaign Action Fund claimed that the bill would do something about “fighting back against corruption.” Josh Orton of Progressives United also claimed that the FEA has something to do with ” fighting corruption.” The Alliance for Justice sent a blast out claiming that the FEA would help “fight Albany’s culture of corruption.” Even Free Speech for People’s Lindsey Van Dyke wrote “New York deserves a governor who will keep his promise to fight Albany’s culture of corruption and pass Fair Elections.”
If history is a guide, these claims are not true. The FEA was based upon a donation matching law passed in New York City years ago. Since enactment of that law, illegal corruption in the Big Apple has gone up. The bill also would not have addressed the institutional corruption legalized by the Supreme Court with Citizens United. No law can do that until the Court or the American people reverse that decision.
Another distortion was offered by Susan Lerner of New York’s Common Cause who claimed the FEA to be “comprehensive campaign finance reform.” There is nothing comprehensive about it. Corporations would still be able to donate directly to candidates, and unlimited spending on electioneering communications by candidates is protected by the corporate Court’s past decisions. Eddie Geller from Demand Progress asserted “We’re close to getting real reform but we won’t take any half measures.” Rootstrikers made that same statement, but because of the Court’s rulings, half or partial measures are the best legislators can legally offer. Comprehensive campaign finance reform will first require an amendment to the Constitution or a Court decision to overturn Buckley v Valeo. Without one of these actions, partial campaign finance reform is all legislators can offer.
Karen Scharff of Citizen Action of New York wrote to their members, “There’s no reason for Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Klein to give Senate Republicans veto power.” Actually, the unfair nature of the law is a damn good reason, not to mention the other reasons described above.
Karma strikes again. The FEA in New York is dead; long live fair elections. Hopefully, next time the bill will be rewritten to make it genuinely fair, and its supporters will not need to make any false claims to support its enactment.