How do we get big money to stop talking?

•  New York has richly earned its reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the country, even earning a “D-“ grade in a 2015 State Integrity Investigation.

• One of the two lynchpins for corruption in New York State has been the claim that the state has a “part-time” legislature, so state senators and assemblypersons can earn unlimited outside income, invariably creating conflict of interest issues.

• The other is the incredibly weak campaign finance laws that enable rich donors to pour money into the system without having to account for their donations.

• In response to these two issues, the state recently passed a campaign finance reform bill – which hardly addresses either problem. So now New York is left with the illusion of campaign finance reform, while allowing politicians to still live by the old rules.

There’s nothing in the constitution that relates to campaign finance and a dedicated legislature.  A new amendment needs to be added that addresses the following issues:

• To completely eliminate the outside income problem, all legislators should be paid appropriately as dedicated legislators, and they must commit to the same rules on outside income that apply to the United States Congress, which severely limits outside income.

• No contributions can be given from any person or entity that does business with the state.

• There must lower contribution limits instead of the ridiculously high limits now. Contributions should be limited to $5000 per candidate per election. The total can be adjusted for inflation every ten years.

• Perhaps most importantly, a public financing system based on the one used by New York City, which matches every dollar in small donor contributions with six dollars in public funds, must be applied to the whole state.

What do you think?

• "The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process." Adlai Stevenson, Democratic candidate, 1956.

• “The cleaner solution would be, full-time Legislature, you get one check, no outside income, period.” – Governor Cuomo, Politico, December, 2015.

• “I have not seen the final copy of this, but from what I understand it does sound as though this is more tinkering around the edges, accompanied by some fairly strong and recycled language about how this really solves all the problems,” said Schneiderman, a former state senator.

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Article III
Legislature[Compensation, allowances and traveling expenses of members]
§6. Each member of the legislature shall receive for his or her services a like annual salary, to be fixed by law…  (Amended by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938; further amended by vote of the people November 4, 1947; November 3, 1964; November 6, 2001.) 

Campaign finance reform is an issue that has been building for decades, even centuries.  Money has rightfully been known as the “mother’s milk” of politics.  Over the years, there have been many farsighted New Yorkers advocating reform.  For instance, during the 1907 State of the Union Address, President Theodore Roosevelt stated “The need for collecting large campaign funds would vanish if Congress provided an appropriation for the proper and legitimate expenses of each of the great national parties.”

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Let’s look at two states that have or are in the process of reforming campaign finance by referendum.

Independent commissions draw the lines for both state legislative and congressional districts in six states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington. These commissions do not include legislators or other elected officials.

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Campaign contributions limit amendment to appear on Missouri ballot,” by Jason Hancock, The Kansas City Star, September 19, 2016.

Colorado Constitution Article XXVIII.

Common Cause/NY Compiles a Major Review of Outside Income for NYS Lawmakers,” Common Cause New York, December, 2015.

Cuomo: ‘No appetite’ for full-time Legislature,” by Jimmy Vielkind, Politico, December 1, 2015.

DiNapoli Op-Ed: New York Should Opt Into Public Financing of Elections,” Thomas DiNapoli, August 26, 2015.

How Corrupt is Your State? All 50 Are Ranked from Most to Least Corrupt,” by Caroline Schaeffer, Independent Journal Review, 2014.

“”Moreland Monday” analysis of soft money housekeeping accounts is ripe for review by Commission,” Common Cause New York, August 19, 2013.

New York gets D- Grade in 2015 State Integrity Investigation,” by Matt Krupnick, The Center for Public Integrity, November 9, 2015.

New York lawmakers pass ethics legislation, but critics say the measure falls short,” by Nicholas Kusnetz, The Center for Public Integrity, April 1, 2015.

Overview of State Laws on Public Financing,” National Conference of State Legislatures, sampled September 27, 2016.

Schneiderman on ethics deal: ‘Tinkering around the edges’,” by Laura Nahmias, Politico, 03/30/15.

Small Donor Matching Funds: The NYC Election Experience, by Angela Migally, Susan M. Liss, Frederick A. O. (“Fritz”) Schwarz, Jr., September 17, 2010.

States with a full-time legislature,” Ballotopedia.