NYCLU Applauds Campaign Finance Reform Opinion Issued by Governor’s Office

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
June 9, 2016 3:15 pm

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Governor Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, issued an opinion letter yesterday outlining important steps that would lead to critical campaign finance reforms. The following statement can be attributed to Arthur Eisenberg, legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union:

“The opinion letter issued today by Governor Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, represents a significant contribution to the effort to reform our campaign finance laws, and offers precisely the appropriate response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. Critics of that decision often claim that the court was wrong to conclude that corporations engaged in independent campaign speech should have First Amendment rights. But this common criticism cannot be reconciled with countless cases, including the Pentagon Papers case and First National Bank v. Bellotti, that have upheld the free speech rights of corporations.”

“Rather than dwell on such criticism, the opinion letter properly focuses upon the court’s recognition in Citizens United that corporations engaged in independent campaign spending — who can, by virtue of their independence, avoid contribution limits — must scrupulously avoid coordinating such expenditures with the candidates and their campaigns. However, election law regulators frequently fail to prohibit coordinated ‘independent expenditures,’ effectively creating a gaping loophole in the contribution limits. The opinion letter proposes more specific statutory and regulatory measures to identify and proscribe what would constitute coordinated spending within a political campaign. This represents an important step in the right direction.”

“At the same time, yesterday’s proposal might not provide a complete solution. To prevent the end-run around campaign contribution limits through ‘independent expenditures’ there must be meaningful enforcement. One major reason for the lack of enforcement of the independence requirement is that the first-line of election law regulators, like the Federal Election Commission, are typically bi-partisan, with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. These bi-partisan agencies routinely fail in their regulatory responsibilities because of the political paralysis that sets in when the major political parties perceive benefits from doing nothing. To be effective, any solution must address this problem.”

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