New York's campaign finance system may be about to change, but not the way good-government groups and many Democrats in public office had hoped for. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.
Wednesday morning, in a 5-to-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down overall contribution limits to federal campaigns and committees. Observers say the ruling could have an immediate impact on the 2014 midterm elections, and the decision opens the door to a possible challenge to New York's campaign contribution limits.
Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko of the Capital Region says the decision is a setback for democracy. "I think it defies the spirit of this country in the sense that we the people were to be the voice heard. This gives more and more certainty that those with influence, undue influence will have their voice heard and be able to buy the seats of Congress, which I think is a frightening outcome that really challenges the ability for the great masses to be the force that controls their government."
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York pegged the decision as "another step on the road to ruination. It could lead to interpretations of the law that would result in the end of any fairness in the political system as we know it."
NYPIRG's Bill Mahoney says the decision’s effect on New York remains unknown at this time. "Right now it appears to only apply to the federal level, but presumably it sets a precedent where similar findings could directly go to New York State and to other states throughout the country. If this is the case, the biggest direct effect would be a change in how corporations are regulated under New York State contribution law. Right now corporations are prohibited from giving more than 5000 dollars in a calendar year to all candidates combined. But if this law is applied to the New York State level we'll see that these corporations each can give about 60 thousand dollars to a candidate for governor for each election cycle."
Jessica Wisneski, the Legislative and Campaigns Director at Citizen Action of New York, points out that Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Supreme Court have "one thing in common” after the state budget signed this week left public campaign financing out except for a limited plan that would involve only the comptroller’s race. "This week they both chose the one percent campaign contributors over ordinary voters. Only a small-donor matching system for all state races gives voters the ability to counter the onslaught of campaign cash that will rain down on elections."
The Cuomo Administration did not respond to a request for comment in time for broadcast.
Republicans disagree: they see the Supreme Court’s ruling on campaign donations as a victory for free speech, which means no limits on how many candidates an individual may support with a legal contribution.