Effort to Revive Campaign Finance Reform Underway

Eric T. Schneiderman

May 13, 2009


ALBANY -- With attempts to overhaul state campaign-finance laws apparently stalled, a Democratic assemblyman Wednesday introduced a bill to lower donation limits, close loopholes and improve enforcement.

The changes are "necessary to reduce the influence of monied interests,'' said Assemblyman James Brennan, D-Brooklyn, the bill's sponsor. The limit on donations now to candidates running for statewide offices is $55,900, the highest of any state that has limits. Brennan's bill would cut that to $7,500. By contrast, federal law limits individual donations to presidential candidates to $1,000.

The Assembly has for more than two decades passed similar bills, only to see them die in the Senate. But this year with Democrats in control of the Senate for the first time since 1966 and Gov. David Paterson a strong supporter of tighter limits, advocates have renewed hope that the law might be changed.

Giving groups further hope is that Democratic Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is strong support of lower limits. Also, with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo aggressively investigating potential ties between campaign donations and investments by the state pension fund that DiNapoli controls, the comptroller has said the best way to deal with the issue is to have taxpayers pay for the campaigns instead.

Key to the chances of any bill getting passed is the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow 32-30 majority over Republicans. Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, is sponsoring the same bill in his house that Brennan introduced Wednesday in the Assembly. "We're committed to reform, and this is a very important piece of it,'' he said.

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