WNYT.com

Campaign finance reform gains momentum

Posted at: 04/02/2013 11:39 PM
Updated at: 04/02/2013 11:59 PM
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY -  Even though campaign finance reform might have been enacted any way this year in New York, on Tuesday night people were saying the arrest of State Senator Malcolm Smith (D - Queens) on corruption charges earlier in the day, probably won't hurt their chances to achieve fair elections.

In a state where allowable political campaign contributions are the highest, voter participation is practically the lowest (third lowest in the country). That alone might be reason to enact campaign finance reform here.

"It's definitely time," said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, a government watchdog group, "I think this is a time when change is needed and New Yorkers are really crying out for change."

Citizen Action organized a panel discussion Tuesday night for the purpose of setting a course of action and change. The public forum coincides with a statewide television ad campaign that shows people with strips of black tape over their mouths, helping to drive home the point that individual voices are silenced by corporate contributions.

Susan Weber of MoveOn.org thinks big money buying our elections represents America's most pressing, and overriding issue, and enacting election reform, she says, is critical.

"It's not going to come from the big boys in Washington," Weber asserts, "It's going to have to come state by state by state."

What's being proposed in New York State is a system that would match small political contributions with public money, six dollars for every one dollar raised, something already on the books in New York City.

It's something Governor Andrew Cuomo called for in his State of the State message on January 9th.

"This issue is gaining more steam every day," observed Assemblyman John McDonald (D - Cohoes)

A lot of the steam provided on Tuesday came from the arrest of Smith.

"I don't know if one issue or one person's actions pushes a large issue like this across the goal line," McDonald suggested.

"I think it's going to help," said Assemblyman Phil Steck (D - Colonie)

"There's definitely been momentum building regardless and I don't think New Yorkers actually need another scandal to know that money is having such a huge influence on our politics," Scharff said.

"The questions I have is: how strong a bill will it be?" Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk (D - Duanesburg) asked rhetorically. "The devil is in the details and I think we have to make sure we are making real changes."