Anatomy of a Shadow Party

Jo Meleca-Voigt flagged this one on FaceBook. The D&C’s Jill Terreri reports on the Independence Party and its workings. The Independence Party rarely runs it’s own candidates for anything, but rather raises money for candidates whom it endorses as a second party. This is a very lucrative and sought-after endorsement.

Of course these days, candidates aren’t even putting their primary party affiliation on their placards or television commercials, so how’s anyone supposed to know about this secondary endorsement? Seems like the kind of thing that can lead to abuse….


A Word on Obama and Campaign Finance

Unfortunately, it was during the chaos of my website meltdown that Barack Obama announced that he would not be taking the public campaign financing and run on his own donated money.  The media has been making a big deal of this, and of course, so has John McCain.  Ideologically, its a bit of a disappointment to see Obama or any politician not take public financing.

But those of us with a brain knew months ago that Obama wouldn’t be taking the public money, so while it might not seem like a great thing for those of us who support Clean Money, it’s not the huge surprise the media would like to believe it is.  It’s also just not the most interesting issue for many voters, which is why no one on the Democratic side has bothered hitting John McCain on his own public financing problems – it’s all just too esoteric.

But what is amusing is to watch the media, which has sat idly by while Republicans have out-raised Democrats in every single contest from President to Podunk Dog Catcher, suddenly find itself so concerned with the fairness of campaign finance when the situation is reversed.  It’s even more amusing to hear Republicans who actively work against Clean Money whenever it comes up suddenly clutching the pearls because Obama didn’t take the taxpayer dollars.

And all of this to be entirely ignored by the public.  No one really cares, it’s just Republicans flailing.


Dems to Sue McCain Over Election Fund Troubles

A while ago, there was a fair amount of information about John McCain’s funding troubles floating around. However, happily for McCain, the press was more interested in McCain’s alleged sexual promiscuity (ssssshhhivvver) with a young and pretty lobbyist. Now, the DNC plans to sue McCain over the issue, which is reported by Politico, but sadly without much information about the actual issue at hand. So, in case you missed it then or have subsequently forgotten about it now, I’ll throw you a primer after the link:

Jonathan Martin’s Blog: DNC to again file suit on McCain’s matching funds –

Democrats hope to puncture a hole in McCain’s good government image by pressing the issue while Republicans dismiss it as totally groundless.

Way back when John McCain was the luckless loser of the Republican Primary contests, he was riding coach and struggling to pay for even the most meager of campaign advertising and rallying. In those days, he chose to dip into the matching funds account setup by the Federal Elections Commission that pays an equal share of funds for every dollar you raise, up to a point. But he didn’t use it like you’d think he’d use it. What he did was apply for a loan from a bank and apply for the matching funds program at the same time. He then told the bank that they could use the matching funds money as collateral if he wasn’t able to pay the bank back.

He got both the loan and the matching funds approval. You can’t do that. And once he got the loan, he declared that he no longer needed the matching funds, so he figured he’d just turn them down. You can do that either.

The real trouble for McCain is that offering something up as collateral implicitly means you own it. Either that, or it’s fraud. It wasn’t fraud, inasmuch as he did get approved for matching funds. So the only other option is that he acted as though he’d already accepted the money. Once you accept the matching fund money, you have to play by the matching fund rules, which include a miniscule and wholly inadequate cap on spending which would put McCain well out of the race.

Because the FCC is currently not completely staffed, there’s no one at the bridge to say whether there is or isn’t a violation here, officially. So it appears as though the DNC has chosen to sue McCain in court to get the same ruling. This is going to be interesting.


The Public Finanacing Flap

So, it appears that Barack Obama and his campaign probably leaned too far forward in the early moments of the campaign in declaring their willingness to accept public financing if nominated to the general. Now, they’re going to have to eat a bit of crow, regardless of where they get the money from. The Washington Post picks up the story:

Getting His Money and Raising It, Too? –

The campaign went even further in answers to a questionnaire that the Midwest Democracy Network sent to candidates last September. The survey posed a simple question: “If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?” Obama replied “Yes.”

OK, so as a supporter of Barack Obama’s who also prides himself on saying what he thinks, even of people he supports, I have to say Barack really fucked this one up good. He’s going to need to pay some sort of price for this, and I’ll get to what that might be in a few paras.

But as a supporter of Clean Money, Clean Elections, you might think I’d feel his not accepting public financing was a betrayal of my ideals, and that is not the case. I’m a dedicated supporter of plans to introduce public campaign financing here in New York State and have even lobbied on the subject with local state representatives. But there are significant differences between the CMCE plan being advocated here in NYS and the public financing system currently in place on the national level.

For a start, the plan in New York is to determine the amount of money needed to stay competitive in each race where CMCE is used. This is done by looking at the last three elections in that district and averaging out the amount of money spent by the winning candidate. That number is used as the initial maximum financing allowed for a candidate, and the candidate is given (as I recall) twenty percent of that amount at the start of the general. Additional funds are given to the candidate as needed up to that originally-determined maximum, but only as their competitor outspends them.Thus, there is an upper limit which is competitive for the race. If both candidates are using Clean Money, that is the hard-and-fast spending cap. But if the CMCE candidate faces a non-public challenger who outspends that cap, the cap can be extended to three times the original as needed. That’s quite the disincentive for a non-public challenger to try to swamp the CMCE candidate.

All of this is to say that the NYS CMCE system being proposed is both highly competitive and aimed at reducing costs. The national public financing system does not take the race into account at all and merely sets a limit of funding which was set years ago and is now a bit of a joke. There’s reason to suspect that a national campaign cannot be run on 50 million dollars at all, even if your competitor also agrees to public financing.

So my feeling is: the Obama camp was out of its mind to have ever suggested it would run on public financing at all. They probably deserve to get the snot knocked out of them – for a little while, at least – for having made such a ridiculous agreement in the first place.

And what will the political heat be for this gaff? My guess is probably not too much, under the circumstances. Had this been an issue when John Edwards was still in the running, he might have been able to capitalize on it. But Hillary Clinton certainly cannot, and John McCain, as much as he’d like to, is bound in too many ways to do much with it.

For one, as he tries desperately to convince Conservatives that he’s the candidate for them, he is stepping on his own feet if he actually takes public campaign money. Conservatives are dead-set against any such thing, and if you’re going to rail against special interests, declare yourself a Conservative, allegedly sleep with a lobbyist. . . and then take public money to run your campaign? Well, that’s not going to win you any friends on the Right. It’s also setting yourself up for a hard fall among the independent voting community, in whom John McCain has placed such faith.

And worse, McCain is even getting himself into hot water with the FEC (ooooh! The scary FEC!) over his public financing two-step. It seems Young John decided to secure a loan by stating that, if he lost the primary, he could simply accept public financing and use that to pay off the loan. Essentially, what he did was use public financing money he didn’t have as collateral for funds he couldn’t otherwise afford to borrow. Nice work.

And in my book – I suspect the FEC is thinking the same – using public financing as collateral is effectively taking the public financing money. You can’t legally provide something you don’t own as collateral, so if the bank accepted it, John McCain needs to accept it.

And for doing us so dirty and pulling such a fast one, he deserves to be hoisted up on his own petard, running a public financed campaign while Obama rides the wave of his popularity.


Clinton, Obama, Money and Clean Money

Of course, it’s all over the place now that Hillary Clinton loaned her own campaign 5 million dollars to remain solvent as this race between Democrats continues.  It goes without saying that a candidate who has previously had the support of PACs, establishment Democrats and deep pocket friends having to suddenly fund their own campaign is a sign that the engine is over-heating and that this old V8 Ford is about to stall at the finish line.  And at the same time, the ability of Barack Obama to raise 3 million dollars just in the last day is an amazing thing pointing to – whatever the naysayers may say – an incredible grassroots bed of support that continues to grow.

But as much as I support Barack Obama and wish him well, it is a shame that in an election where we should be discussing ideas and solutions, the conversation and the race revolve around money.  I don’t think that Rudy 9iu11iani would have been any more effective in a Clean Money system, nor do I think Obama would have been less so.  But these are the giants for whom the establishment has already made way.  Obama was already a Senator, 9iu11iani a Mayor, and John Edwards was a well-recognized face on the trail.  But who else might have bubbled up to the surface if money and connections had not been the primary means of success in presidential politics?


McCain to Abandon Public Financing

Of course, he’d be crazy not to.  Politico has the story, and of course, it’s a sad one if you like campaign finance reform.  The thing is: in Citizen Action’s Clean Money, Clean Elections bill that we’re trying to get through Albany, the spending limit provided is a sum considered competitive, based on the prior three elections.  But with the national fund, accepting public funds is tantamount to suicide, even if your opponent were to do as poorly as the national Republican are right now.

This is something of a P.R. problem for CMCE, inasmuch as it makes public funding seem irrelevant, when in fact the problem is a half-assed attempt that hasn’t been updated since Nixon.


Is CMCE Getting Closer?

RochesterTurning is reporting that there may be a retirement coming on the Republican side of the New York State Senate this year.  If so, that’s one of only two more seats needed for the Democrats to take control of the Senate.  As one commenter there points out, Joe Bruno is unlikely to be sitting idly by while this happens, so it remains to be seen what comes next.

And I can tell you for certain that the Conservative Party in this state, upon whose largess most Republicans get elected, is absolutely digging it’s heels in on CMCE, so they’re going to be very, very concerned as well.

More’s to come, certainly.  Stay tuned!


New York Election Reform: Keeping the Conversation Going

I’ve recently been involved in a few lobbying efforts with Metro Justice for the Clean Money, Clean Elections campaign, and have gained some small amount of insight as to the state of affairs in Albany.  If you’re wondering why there’s been very little talk about public campaign financing on this site or others in New York, its because the conversation has run a bit dry in the absence of legislative movement, and legislative movement won’t happen until we turn over the state Senate.

Clean Elections and Government as a Public Square

Late update: It seems that I was behind the times as usual and missed the fact that David Nachbar has withdrawn from the NY29 House race.  That’s good news for Dems in the 29th and beyond.  But the spirit of the post still stands.

I was searching the Internet, looking for articles on Clean Money, Clean Elections to discuss when I ran across an LTE in the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin on the subject. The original LTE, while it hit all the strong points on CMCE, was not half as interesting to me as the comments in the infamous Gannet Story Chat section:

Want more clout? Let state fund elections (Story Chat response) || Press and Sun-Bulletin:

Yeah, and they had state-funded elections back in the old soviet Russia too. The state-funded elections were calm and everything was peaceful – just what this letter-writer wants! That’s because (sp. correction mine) you could vote for only the state-funded candidate selected by the state.

For now, let me set aside the breathtakingly out-of-date Soviet Union reference. Instead of being baited by the inflammatory language of the argument, let me address the only issue of substance in his argument, which is that public financing will lead to an authoritarian restriction of choice.

Fox Media Executives Donate to Democrats?

The Huffington Post reports that all three of the front-running Democratic candidates have received money from Fox News executives in this campaign cycle.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both have the largest shares of Fox exec money, but then, they’re also leading in fundraising, generally.

As much as it does make the front-runners look bad, this also points out a fundamental problem with media executives endorsing or funding candidates.  The article points out that Fox News does actually have a number of Democrats on the payroll, but just the appearance of endorsement from a news organization, especially one so completely one-sided, drags the whole process down:

Hillary Clinton Shuns Fox Debates, But Pockets Murdochs’ Money – The Huffington Post

But in her most recent filing at the FEC, Hillary Clinton reported two large donations from the very top of the Fox corporate structure. On June 5, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the News Corporation, gave her presidential bid $2,300. A few weeks later, his son, James R. Murdoch, chief executive of British Sky Broadcasting in London, gave $3,400. Altogether, NewsCorp/Fox executives gave at least $40,000 to the Clinton campaign.

Obama has taken more $14,000 from NewsCorp/Fox executives, although none came from the Murdochs themselves. In the broad network of NewsCorp/Fox holdings, with many Hollywood and entertainment entities, there are a substantial number of Democrats on the payroll.

Edwards received substantially less than Clinton or Obama. His contributions from NewsCorp/Fox executives Louis Supowitz, Jonathan Sarrow, Sean A. Riley, and Jonathan Sarrow total just under $1,000. There was no immediate comment from the Edwards campaign.

Vive la CMCE!

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Look on the Bright Side, Ericka!

Ericka Rosenberg of WXXI seems to enjoy, like many commentators, having a bit of fun with Eliot Spitzer’s “Day One” dillio from the campaign.  They all gasp in feigned shock to discover that everything did not, in fact, change on day one.

But seriously, were you really so foolish as to have believed that *everything* was literally changing the moment Eliot Spitzer was sworn in?  Did anyone fall for that as a literal promise, or did most people take that to mean that the debate was going to change and that real changes might for once in New York’s history be possible?  If you knew *everything* was going to change the minute you elected a leader, wouldn’t that be dictatorship, and why would you have voted for that?

Don’t be silly.  Great to jab the current executive of the state, but let’s not lose our sensibilities.  And as Mrs. Rosenberg points out herself, there have been changes, albeit not of the earth-scorching variety:

Policy Wonk: Legislative Lessons for a New Governor

At least this year the leaders parted ways over genuinely important issues and each was forced to publicly state his position. In the past, Bruno has been able to sidestep the campaign-finance issue. This year, because of the high profile Spitzer put on the issue, Bruno had to confront it. Yes, he tried to brush it aside by saying voters don’t care how campaigns are financed, but he also had to employ the “campaign giving is free speech” argument to defend the high limits and loopholes in the law.

And oh, what a memorable collection of Bruno quotes it has been, eh?

While I’ve been critical of the governor’s style from time to time, the fact remains that, especially where Clean Money, Clean Elections is concerned, the dialogue in Albany has changed dramatically.  Inasmuch as talking about election and campaign finance reform won’t be all it takes, it is important to recognize that once an idea is planted in the minds of the body politic, some definitive answer to the question is inevitable.

What that answer will be remains open for debate.  The Citizen Action people are pushing hard to make sure that CMCE is the adopted standard in favour of Sheldon Silver’s ill-omened “partial financing” option.  Of course, Albany leaders can try to sit on this one as long as they can, like usual; silence is also an answer.

But Eliot Spitzer has done a great job changing the discussion in Albany, the rest is up to the activists to bring that message to the people and the people to Albany.

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Maggie Brooks and the Republican Funny Money

Funny, but I didn’t think that “Renaissance” meant “the same old crap.” Apparently, according to the way things work in Monroe County, I was wrong:

GOP benefits from Ren Square developers’ largesse || Democrat & Chronicle: Local News

County Executive Maggie Brooks, who is seeking re-election in November and has received about $12,500 in campaign contributions from Renaissance Square developers during the same time period, said she does not control who is selected for the project’s contracts; the companies are chosen by a committee that reviews bids.”I absolutely discount the fact that that has anything to do with it,” she said. “We have a lot of talented people in this community, and we don’t make our decisions based on” political contributions.

Still, some developers admitted that they contribute to the parties — and had been doing so long before Renaissance Square — to help get contracts.

So, once again, Maggie Brooks blames all the ills of our contracting/construction world on some nameless, faceless “committee.” It’s COMIDA all over again. The fact that she’s the chief executive of Monroe County’s affairs and aught to at least be somewhat familiar with major contract negotiations seems not to factor into this equation at all, at least not for her. It’s just not her department, that’s all.

Meanwhile, the contributions keep rolling in and the contractors are not shy in admitting to Joe Spector that, well, those contributions are helping bunches and bunches. Moreover, the article points out that the Dems are getting about 15 cents on the Republican dollar. You know what they say: it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

OK, people. I think we’ve heard enough. I’m as sure as anybody that Maggie Brooks is a well-intentioned public servant, but she’s either intentionally ignorant of the impropriety around her or she’s really as out-of-touch as she seems to be when questioned. Either she’s allowed Steve Minarik to run the show as he claims to, or she’s in over her head.

Both options are viable, since after all, she’s twice now made a big deal out of stuff she saw on television about her own administration. Stuff that a responsible administrator would either have already known or else quietly made reparations on and dutifully reported back to the public without the pomp and circumstance.

Let’s try to do better with the next Executive.

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