Campaign Finance Reform Exhibit A: Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is the poster child for our broken campaign finance system. Cuomo has $22 million in his campaign account. While some people donate to political campaigns in an effort to support a candidate who espouses ideas they believe in, most campaign donors are seeking influence and favors. Most political donations are made in an effort to get patronage jobs, government contracts or to influence how legislation and regulations are drafted.

$22 million dollars is a lot of favors for a Governor to repay. An analysis of donations to Cuomo by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) reveals some interesting facts.

– Over the last two years, only 1 percent of the money raised by Mr. Cuomo’s campaign came from donors who gave him less than $1,000

– Only about 5 percent of donations to the governor came from donors who gave less than $2,500.

– Nearly 40 percent of money raised by Cuomo for his campaign fund came in donations of $40,000 or more.

– 79 percent of the money raised by Cuomo since he took office has come from entities and individuals who have given him $10,000 or more apiece. 142 corporations, unions or individuals have donated at least $40,000 apiece and seven contributed between $100,000 and $500,000.

New York has one of the highest contribution limits in the nation — $60,800 for statewide candidates. The donation limit for federal campaigns is $2,500.

Your average citizen does not donate to political candidates because they cannot afford to do so and smaller contributions are typically not sought by candidates for many offices. The politics of money involves a small world, as less than 1/2 of a percent of New York State residents contribute to political candidates.

As the New York Times reports:

“But even the high contribution limits in New York are easily evaded. The name of the governor’s largest donor, the real estate developer Leonard Litwin, does not appear in new campaign finance records, because he takes advantage of what has long been seen as a loophole in state laws — using limited-liability companies to legally circumvent the contribution limits. Mr. Litwin has donated $500,000 to the governor over the past two years.”

Litwin’s firm currently owns and operates approximately 23 buildings in Manhattan. In 2006, Litwin ranked number 374 on the Forbes 400, with a net worth of approximately $1 billion.

Larry Norden, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, a research and advocacy group, said, “It’s troubling to see such a small slice of the population essentially running and paying for our elections.”

In a Buffalo News article, Bill Mahoney from NYPIRG stated, “There’s no reason one individual should be able to direct half a million dollars to a candidate in New York State.”

The best quote of all courtesy of Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi:

“Donations of any size from anyone play absolutely no role in the decisions and functioning of state government.” Who actually believes that statement?

Our campaign contribution system needs to be reformed by implementing a form of public financing similar to what is in place in New York City. To his credit Cuomo says that he wants to reform New York’s current campaign finance system and hopefully he will. In the mean time the money talks loud and it keeps rolling in.

Exhibit B of the need for campaign finance reform is the $1 million dollars that Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has raised in one of the poorest cities in the nation.

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