News Coverage on Campaign Finance
Knocking donors out of politicsRick Karlin
ALBANY — A coalition of campaign finance reform supporters has mined election data to get personal to promote public financing of electoral campaigns.
Members of the FairElectionsNY coalition will gather at eight locations Saturday and then hit the streets for a petition drive in support of public financing for political campaigns.
That's happening in mostly Republican state Senate districts, including the 43rd District served by Sen. Roy McDonald, a Saratoga Republican.
In addition to their petitioning, FairElectionsNY members will release lists of top political donors to Senate races who also serve on the state Business Council. They say this should illustrate how corporate contributions represent undue influence in politics.
"Our communities, our children, our families, and our economy can no longer withstand the overwhelming weight of influence that CEO campaign contributions have over our electoral process," said Ivette Alfonso, president of Citizen Action of New York, which is part of the FairElectionsNY coalition.
But Business Council officials believe they are being targeted because they opposed certain parts of a campaign finance bill that has moved forward in the Democratic-led Assembly but failed to advance in the Republican Senate.
"These guys are protesting people that disagree with them on policy issues," said Ken Pokalsky, government affairs director at the Business Council. "They are doing this to support their agenda, which is fine, but let's take it for what it is."
The Business Council, Pokalsky added, hasn't taken as stance on campaign finance reform per se.
But they opposed the part of an Assembly bill that would have used penalties from securities law violations to fund public campaigns.
"We've always opposed tying penalty income to spending programs," Pokalsky said.
Public sector unions are also major political donors, even though they haven't been targeted by the FairElectionNY coalition, he added.
Saturday's activities appear to have some symmetry, at least in terms of the political and economic battles lines that are raging in the background.
The FairElectionsNY coalition, for example, includes the United Auto Workers and Communications Workers of America unions as well as Common Cause and Citizen Action.
CWA has been locked in a contract dispute with Verizon. The telecom giant is named by FairElectionsNY as major Business Council member and Senate campaign contributor.
Verizon gave $391,000 to various Senate candidates since January 2010, records show.
Other big Senate donors who participate in the Business Council include cable TV giant Time Warner and AT&T, a major communications company.
Among individuals who are on the Business Council board of directors, Syracuse real estate developer Michael Falcone was the biggest Senate giver with a total of $24,850.
All told, companies and individuals affiliated with the Business Council gave $1.9 million to Senate candidates or committees, said Charlie Albanetti of Citizen Action. Of that, $1.3 million went to Republicans or Republican committees.
The petition drive also appears to be targeting at least three GOP senators who face special challenges due to the their support for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's successful push last year for a gay marriage bill.
The Capital Region's McDonald, for example, is facing a primary challenge by Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione. Much of her backing comes from Republican activists who are upset that McDonald supported gay marriage.
Petitioners are scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. Saturday at Christ Church United Methodist, 35 State St., Troy.
Participants also will be in the districts represented by GOP senators Stephen Saland in the Hudson Valley and Mark Grisanti in Buffalo. Both voted for gay marriage, along with James Alesi of Rochester, who is not running for re-election.
The only Democrats who will get petitioners in their districts are Martin Malave Dilan of Brooklyn and Syracuse's David Valesky, who is a member of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference. The IDC doesn't always fall in line with the rest of the Democratic minority conference.
Albanetti said the petitioning was scheduled for particular districts. "Those are districts where we have lots of supporters," he said.