capitaltonight.com Campaign Finance Reform (12/1/2010)

Okay and welcome back to capitol tonight well the us supreme court’s landmark citizens united case earlier this year allowed corporations and labor unions to spend as much money as they’d like to influence elections and of course not surprisingly they took advantage of that decision spending millions across the nation this fall now that phenomenon has actually

Reignited advocates calls for campaign finance reform and my next guests are two experts in this area dr. michael melvin is the executive director of the campaign finance institute he has a new report out that takes a look at the impact that small donors can have on elections and as well as state funded initiatives that encourage small contributions and across the

Table from him is jerry goldfeder he is an election attorney and former counsel to andrew cuomo the incoming governor also the author of gold fedders modern election law he has a different take on all this i want to thank you both for your time thank you very much let’s just start with this report which basically says that citizens united the the general premise

Citizens united as i said allows a lot of outside spending by big rich corporations and instead of trying to combat that as a lot of people have it might be better to try and go from the grassroots up by incentivizing small donations it’s the basic argument liz and thanks for having me and if i may do one amendment to the biography i’m also a professor in state

University of new york at albany and i wanted to be sure that that’s said yep the premise of a lot of campaign finance legislation in the last 30 years has been that you can bring about greater equality all sorts of good results by holding down participation by people who give lots of money or i have lots of money to spend i think it’s been of decades of frustration

And the public financing has done a lot of has worked in some respects at the presidential level contribution limits have worked in some respects but most of the efforts to restrain spending janella well and also are not constitutional correct that’s right right that’s right new york city has a different kind of approach we decided to look at it we have been looking

At all 50 states as well as the federal government is part of a long multi-year small donor project that’s going to result in a book and lots of other studies but the one we looked at most recently was taking a look at the new york city 2009 election so he look at recently or state elections and other state elections what would happen if you try to support the new

York city model which of course is the recommendation that the governor elect homo has put in his campaign literature right and what what we found is that the new york city program is remarkably effective at getting participation by many more people to give small contributions it completely changes the balance of financial power in city elections and if imported to

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The state would have the same effect the question is whether it makes a difference if we have many more donors involved in the system small donors does that change who gets elected does that change policy that’s really an open question look i think everybody is in agreement that the kind of campaign finance system that we have in new york state needs to be changed

In this last election a donor could give fifty nine thousand five hundred dollars to somebody running for governor or turning around here to talk money it’s a huge amount of money and in frankly it’s it’s something that people have been working on for years to try to change this may be the time we have a new governor the attorney general controller we have a new

Legislature and we have a lot of people who have committed themselves to making a change i would rather see in new york state and importing rather than in new york city matching program the same kind of program they have for the presidential election where a candidate for president united states gets a some a grant 75 million dollars here’s 75 million dollars go

Campaign for president instead of candidates being on the phone day after day imploring donors to give their money to their campaign i’d like to see candidates spend time with voters on issues rather than having to spend so much time raising money okay let me just add just just one question before we go forward and actually we spoke of it off there so i’ll ask you

Michael they it really what we’re talking about and what you’re saying is a full campaign for a fully funded campaign public campaign finance system no matching is that way that’s what i’d like to see i think that would be more affection but more also more expensive i mean what we’re talking about with matching in the new york city program if we if we expanded its

Statewide we’re talking about taxpayer dollars that fund the careers of politicians arguably there are a lot of taxpayers out there that probably are watching and saying yeah no thanks i mean how much is it going to be a and the money where is it going to come from since we have a nine to ten billion dollar deficit just in the next year that we’re looking at now

Sure first a full public funding system would would cost more but we’ve actually had a full public funding system at the presidential level some other a number of other level and is failed it fails because the spending limits are not realistic and candidates choose not to participate people are not funding it because they see these grants to politicians as the

Equivalent of welfare for politicians right matching fund systems are much more about about donors but it’s it’s a it’s trying to incentivize the small donor the with money would come from look nothing is nothing is free but the cost that if if it would have been in place for the most recent election in the state that we’ve been able to analyze it’s about 34

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Million dollars be more of this higher participation is that is that free no it’s not free is it a relatively low cost for making a better democracy and probably may save money and all sorts of ill thought out programs that are handouts the donors i think yes do i i agree and disagree i i disagree with michaels of analysis that the presidential program has failed

And i do agree that there’s a there’s a cost to a public financing program sure it costs money but that’s the price of democracy we pay for all sorts of things with taxpayer dollars and it seems to me that it would be worthwhile to pay for a public finance campaign finance fund if we can have clean elections where candidates are not spending wasting their time

Calling donors day in and day out and and frankly we could set up a tax credit program where people donate to a campaign fund and get a tax credit to offset taxpayer dollars there are ways of constructing it so that it can work no one calls a 50-dollar donor or a hundred dollar donor you hold an event it’s it’s an entirely different type of fundraise you can get

Them on the internet you know is barack obama demonstrated and howard dean actually before him it’s moving this way cost of doing on the internet is my way down it’s going down to be used at the state legislative level and local level but the question is to what end we want any voting people to participate and own their democracies and we want that that’s that’s

That’s very important but does that change who gets elected does that change the policies of your chance the way they run short changes the words of who you see is your constituency but does it change any policies i’m not sure that it does okay wait let me just ask a question just quickly when you say that it’s broken at the presidential level because no michael i

Said i’m sorry sorry sorry for me you say it’s not broken michael when you say that it is broken at the presidential level because people opt out is that what you’re saying in the spending one that’s aren’t adhere to you see subsequently in new york city in 2009 a billionaire mayor opts out didn’t keep opted out in every single time and didn’t participate in the

Program incentives work when candidates choose to participate if a person ops outer some cave locked out the existence of the system still change the incentive and behavior of the vast majority of candidates who stated in the presidential system most people are going to be opting out there olga knocked out next time most up it out last time and the one who didn’t

John mccain ended up raising tons of money for the political parties anyway right so the question is can we disincentivize can we discourage people from opting out whether they’re self financing like mayor bloomberg or whether they think they need to raise a lot more money like barack obama can we persuade the albany times union the daily news the new york times to

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Eddie editorialize and say well we support public campaign financing and we also will not support a candidate who opts out can we get them to do that can we get the leaders of the unions and the leaders of the business councils to do that as well i just want to get to this because unfortunately running out of time but i also want to mention this actually it this

Is an opera topic because just today we have the us supreme court saying that they will be hearing an arizona case that that deals with a bonus provision so when you do have a billionaire candidate or a very wealthy self-funding candidate you get more that’s the bonus position and we have a very lengthy statement from the new york city campaign finance more that

Says this isn’t going to affect our system and do you agree in fact that if in fact the arizona system is struck down that new york city system will still stand well on the there’s no telling what the united states supreme court will do the the issue on citizens united that they ultimately decided was not directly in front of them they decided to take the case on

Right and and render a decision that in effect deregulated independent expenditures and i think that that’s what’s going to happen in this new case as well which is even more reason for the state to put into place public campaign financing because on the federal level we are seeing more and more deregulation by the courts so the state really needs to step up to

The plate and enact some real reform here yeah answer the question i think new york city’s bonus provision would be at risk of the supreme court threw out the arizona provision very much at risk the lawyers will litigate it and i’m not a lawyer however what arizona will have to do and what connecticut is already looking at doing this readjusting its system so that

It doesn’t have the kind of spending limit that track that traps candidates and keeps low donor fundraising and lets candidates continue to raise money from small donors that option is open to any jurisdiction that uses this kind of public funds you’re shifting it toward toward a different kind of donor the flat ground systems just can’t do that i match from twins

Can unfortunately are out of time but also this is a issue i should say that’s been kicking around albany for a long time i mean i’ve been here 15 years we’ve been talking about it for some time yes andrew cuomo has brought it up i don’t think it is high on the extremely high on the to-do list that would be the budget however we will be talking about it i’m sure

I want to thank you jerry goldfeder and mike madden thank you very much for being you and still to come on cap

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capitaltonight.com Campaign Finance Reform (12/1/2010) By StateofPolitics