Saturday, May 28, 2005

Pataki Political-Money Proposal

On Thursday, New York governor George Pataki offered a new plan for reforming the Empire State's miserably outdated and loophole-ridden campaign finance laws. Under his two-bill proposal, limits on contributions to candidates for statewide office would decrease from $30,700 to $5,000, while contributions to candidates for the state senate and assembly would be capped at $2,500 and $1,000 respectively, and contributions to state party committees would be limited at $50,000 rather than the current $76,500.

Soft money would also be eliminated from state elections, and "issue ads" shown within six months of an election that "clearly support or oppose a particular candidate or party or that mention a particular candidate or party by name" would be made subject to contribution limits and disclosure requirements. All good elements of the plan, but this one is my personal favorite: "statewide elected officials and state legislators would be prohibited from fund-raising within 25 miles of the State Capitol" while the legislature is in session.

Pataki's second bill would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of donation disclosure requirements, and also toughens penalties for violations of state campaign finance laws. Fines for violations would be increased from $500 to $5,000, and willful violations would be made a felony crime rather than a misdemeanor. An independent "campaign finance commissioner" would be appointed to investigate charges of campaign finance abuse.

This is an excellent campaign finance reform package. If the governor gets serious and can twist arms in the state senate to push this plan through (and can obtain support from the Democrat-controlled assembly), it certainly has a chance at passage. I hope Pataki will be serious about it and use what clout he's got to make a positive impact on the state's political process.


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