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New York’s campaign filings prove that money follows power

You don’t need to be a political scientist to know that power follows money, and money follows power. But rarely has that truism been more obvious than in New York State’s latest campaign disclosure filings, which show a swing in donations unlike any in recent history.

The Buffalo News reports that in 2017, when the GOP controlled the State Senate, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee raised $1.2 million in donations during the first six months. This year, when they have only 23 of 63 seats? $176,425.

In 2017, Democrats, then the minority party, had raised only $535,000 during the same period. This year, which they began with 40 of 63 seats, they raised $1.7 million. Vast sums of these donations came from special interests.

Elected officials will likely never stop claiming to be free from the influence of campaign contributions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change the system. And the upcoming campaign finance commission provides an opportunity to do just that.

Speaking of which…

  • This past spring, your elected officials established a campaign finance commission to implement a public matching system for New York state elections. Chris McNickle in Gotham Gazette has some suggestions for how the nine-member panel can create genuine change. Here’s a breakdown of his recommendations, which serve as a great primer for campaign finance reform:
    • Lower contribution limits, and pass a ban on donations from PACs, businesses, and unions.
    • Bar elected officials from fundraising during the legislative session (29 states already do this).
    • Mirror NYC’s public matching system, providing $8 for every $1 of the first $250 of every donation given to a candidate for state office.
    • Require all candidates to release 5 years of tax returns to get on the ballot.
    • Increase the ban on elected officials lobbying from 2 years to 5 years.
    • Strengthen the Joint Commission of Public Ethics, New York state’s official ethics enforcement board.
  • Last week, we pointed to the Queens DA race as proof of the need for election reform. Well, don’t just take our word for it – election experts also argue that this is a sign that we desperately need change, through shifts as drastic as making the Board of Elections nonpartisan, to smaller tasks such as splitting shifts among poll workers so that they are less prone to making mistakes from fatigue.

And now, for something completely ridiculous:

  • Mount Vernon has two mayors. The most recently elected mayor of Mount Vernon, NY, Richard Thomas, has been found guilty of campaign finance misdemeanors. He took a plea deal to avoid jail time–but part of that deal, apparently, is that he can still remain in office until September 30, and he’s choosing to hold on to the little power he has left by doing just that. Meanwhile, the mayor appointed as his replacement, Andre Wallace, is working right across the hall, and the transition has not been smooth. Sounds like time to consider succession laws.


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