Public campaign finance bill touted as Senate hearing looks at abuses in the NYC system

-By TG Branfalt Jr

May 13, 2013- Dozens of protestors filled the hallway of the Capitol with chants of "let the people in" during a Senate hearing on public financing of elections after they were barred from entering the public hearing. The hearing examined the abuses within the New York City taxpayer funded system. Just hours before, the Assembly passed its "Fair Elections Act" (A.04980-c) 88-50, mostly across party lines.

The system proposed by the Assembly Democrats mirrors the New York City system that matches campaign donations with $6.00 of public money for every $1.00 raised by a candidate. If implemented the legislation would also create an independent oversight board to oversee the finance process.

The May 6 hearing, held by the Senate Elections Committee, opened with Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, suggesting the hearing be relocated to a larger hearing room so the public could attend. The motion was supported by Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, and Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, but the room change never happened.

Held in room 124 of the Capitol, members of the press corps were initially barred from the room by the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms until Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif allowed journalists inside the meeting room.

The room, which has a posted maximum capacity of 49, quickly exceeded capacity by legislative staffers, members of the press and lawyers, not to mention those invited to testify and the members of the committee themselves. Protesters who favor publicly financed campaigns later moved from the hallway to the windows of the hearing room where they held up signs and shouted from outside.

"I think we would have done this in a larger setting," Savino told Committee Chair Sen. Thomas O'Mara. "I shared my concerns with you yesterday about the individuals who feel that they should have the right to address this committee on an issue particularly because they feel they are going to be the subject of a lot of the discussion."

Sen. O'Mara, R-Big Flats, denied the motion flatly and was supported by his colleagues Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, and Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Seneca Falls.

"We're here now, we're all set up. Everybody that's here is here," O'Mara said. "We're not delaying these proceedings unnecessarily."

Following the dust up, O'Mara called David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, to testify on the short comings of the tax funded system.

Keating referenced the recent case of New York City Comptroller John Liu's speculated involvement in a fraud scheme involving two of his aides. The aides, Xing Wu Pan and Jia Hou, are accused of setting up straw donors in an attempt to obtain more matching funds.

"The lure of a lavish tax-financed matching funds program appears to have motivated the comptroller's aides to falsify donors in order to raid tax funds," Keating testified.

The Center for Competitive Politics published a report in 2011 which compiled data from official public sources and news reports about "clean election" corruption in Arizona, Maine and New York City. The report found abuse of the system was so "pervasive" that it did not live up to the "clean" moniker given to it by proponents.



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