Government watchdog group spoke mostly in favor of the campaign and election law reforms put forward by the state senators in the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) at a public hearing on Tuesday. The two-hour session at the Valley Cottage Library organized by Senators David Carlucci, Jeffrey Klein and Diane Savino on strategizing ways to improve the campaign and election process drew representatives from various public policy organizations and local residents.
Carlucci explained the IDC proposal aims to reform New York State’s campaign finance and election laws by closing loopholes, implementing matching campaign fund financing and increasing accountability and oversight.
Common Cause's Sean Coffey approved of the proposal particularly the public financing aspect. He said he had worked drafting public policy during election and witnessed fundraising taking priority over campaigning and meeting with constituents.
“I commend you because I think the time for half measures is over,” said Coffey. “As bad it was then it is worse now. This won’t solve all of it but it will solve part of it.
Klein noted the current system allows lobbyists to serve as campaign consultants and that legislation is in the works to prohibit that dual role. He said the measure would require people to “pick your profession.”
Linda Berns of the Rockland County League of Women Voters said her organization has been fighting against the state’s flawed election laws for years. She said now may be the best opportunity to change them.
“Voters clearly seek change and want their voices heard,” she said.
Several Rockland residents spoke up about the issues.
Pearl River resident Robert Tompkins suggested that ballots for town and village elections should not include party affiliations. He said that was irrelevant criteria for local candidates because the positions are administrative not policy making. Tompkins said the state should ban Republicans and Democrats from cross endorsements.
Joe Ciardullo of New City said disclosure of the relationship between the donor and candidate was a good idea. He said contributions are not base on philosophical agreements but because the candidates use the donor’s products or services.
West Nyack resident Laurie Kahn said, “People are very dissatisfied with how things go in Albany.”
Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice described the campaign finance system as broken and said the public increasingly want to reform the system in light of the increasing number of political corruption cases particularly in Albany.
“We have a systemic problem I would submit in Albany,” he said, adding his group favored public matching campaign funds.
Savino said the recent corruption scandals should not be used as a reason for the legislation because politicians who are corrupt will always find a way around the system.
Klein noted that the IDC proposal would eliminate Wilson-Pakula which also a candidate of one party to get the endorsement of another party with the approval of its leadership.
“We think we’re really taking the power away from these third parties and returning it to the grassroots level,” said Klein, noting that it would take power away from the party leaders.
Skaggs disagreed saying that repeal of Wilson-Pakula would weaken third parties. Jesse Laymon of Citizens Action of New York also opposed repeal of Wilson-Pakula because cross endorsements or fusion voting gives a clear choice to the voters.
Small donations should be the foundation of campaign fundraising efforts because they show the strength of local support in a district said Robert Werner of Americans for Campaign Finance Reform.