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Mole's Progressive Democrat

The Progressive Democrat Newsletter grew out of the frustration of the 2004 election. Originally intended for New York City progressives, its readership is now national. For anyone who wants to be alerted by email whenever this newsletter is updated (usually weekly), please send your email address and let me know what state you live in (so I can keep track of my readership).

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I am a research biologist in NYC. Married with two kids living in Brooklyn.

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  • Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Campaign Finance Reform in NY State

    Campaign Finance Reform is one of the number one issues progressives need to push for, particularly in New York State. Here are some ideas and links to further resources for reform.

    This comes from the Brennan Center for Justice:

    Public Financing

    Public funding of political campaigns: no proposed reform would work better to reduce the power of big money in American elections and restore confidence in American democracy.

    Public financing limits the influence of big money campaign donations and so encourages candidates with limited resources to run for office. Plus, it frees politicians from the burden and distraction involved in constant fundraising.

    The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law works with policy makers and activists interested in decreasing the power of big money and concomitant increase in the impact each individual citizen has at the polls. Working on the federal, state and local levels, we help draft and enact legislation, provide legal analysis, and assist in the defense of campaign finance laws when they are challenged in court.

    Recently Brennan Center staff helped Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Specter (R-PA) draft the "Fair Elections Now Act," a bill that would create a public financing system for congressional elections. The Center co-authored and released "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," which explains how congressional public financing would make our federal government more honest, transparent, and accountable.

    Our work on the state level involves efforts to help draft public financing legislation tailored to local interests and needs. When systems we supported were passed into law and came under attack, our lawyers helped defend them in court. We successfully beat back a challenge to the public financing systems in Maine, and we are defending our victories in Arizona and North Carolina as they are attacked on appeal. We are currently working to defend Connecticut's system of public financing, which is scheduled to go into effect in time for the 2008 legislative elections but is currently under attack in federal court.


    Disclosure

    The most fundamental part of a campaign finance system is disclosure. Public disclosure of campaign activity gives voters a supplement to campaign advertising and gives them clues to candidates' likely leanings on issues. Disclosure also makes it easier for voters and watchdogs to detect exchanges of political favors for donations.

    The Brennan Center works on the state and federal levels to ensure that candidates and other political entities are required to disclose enough information to the public to allow voters to make informed decisions about their representatives. Most notably, in 2002, the Center partnered with Senators Russell Feingold and John McCain to push for passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which, among other things, required enhanced disclosure of independent expenditures above a certain limit and those made within 20 days of an election. The Brennan Center's research also supported BCRA's provisions regulating disclosure and funding of "sham issue ads."


    Contribution Limits

    While all voters are equal in the voting booth, all voters are not equal in their ability to influence elections and policy. A $5 contribution from a low-income constituent may represent a much greater commitment than a $10,000 contribution from a millionaire, but in our system, the latter usually has more power to influence the outcome of the election and to secure access to the candidates once elected to office.

    That's where contribution limits come in-limiting the influence of big donors over elected officials and motivating candidates to cultivate a wide base of public support. Effective contribution limits are set low enough to encourage a broad-based fundraising strategy but high enough to allow candidates to run effective campaigns. They must also be comprehensive, regulating the flow of money between individuals, candidates, political parties and their affiliates, and political action committees.

    The Brennan Center counsels states on creating and strengthening contribution limits and conducts research measuring the breadth and effectiveness of state limits.


    Other Reforms

    Reducing corruption and increasing participation in politics are essential goals to ensure a well-functioning democracy. To reduce corruption, the Brennan Center supports efforts to reduce the role of special interest money in elections. But reform measures must be careful not to choke off legitimate—often, highly valuable—efforts to increase voter participation. With these principles in mind, the Brennan Center has engaged in legal and policy research and advocacy on the regulation of so-called "527" organizations and other organizations whose activities affect politics and policy-making.

    In addition to helping draft campaign finance laws, the Brennan Center is committed to the fair interpretation and enforcement of federal campaign finance laws by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC was designed to fail. Routine appointments of three Democrats and three Republicans has led to partisan deadlock, timidity or active opposition to reform. Weak enforcement undermines even strong laws. The Center is working to ensure that the Federal Elections Commission, which enforces federal campaign finance laws, acts to promote the goals of existing campaign finance regulations.

    For more information and ideas for reformers, go here to download the Brennan Center's report "Writing Reform: A Guide to Drafting State & Local Campaign Finance Laws (2008 Revised Edition)"

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