Tonawanda News

April 26, 2013

Coalition presses for campaign finance reform

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — The Clean Air Coalition, two local elected officials and a handful of other progressive groups continued their campaign for fair state elections Thursday morning at a press conference outside of the Board of Elections office in downtown Buffalo. 

The coalition announced their support for the fair elections bill at a demonstration at the beginning of the month in front the of Huntley power plant, just down the road from Tonawanda Coke — the plant that has recently been found guilty of violating two federal environmental laws. 

“We’ve seen how big money can take over the political system, and we want to join Gov. Andrew Cuomo in support of this bill,” the director of the coalition, Erin Heaney, said Thursday. “The voices of corporations are too strong ... Tonawanda Coke has given $50,000 to politicians in recent years, and they are not the only ones.”

Democratic State Assemblyman Sean Ryan, whose district covers portions of Buffalo and the south towns, agreed with Heaney and encouraged the legislature in Albany to approve the fair elections proposal.

“Things can get sticky when you are arguing with someone, and then they offer to give you money,” Ryan said. 

Ryan also pointed to specific issues with the state’s current elections. 

“U.S. senators represent 19 million people, and I represent 133,000. But under the current rules, you can give me more money than a U.S. senator,” he said. “This is just one measure that should help with this problem, and I will continue pushing to have it move forward in the upcoming legislative session.” 

The current state bill would institute limitations on contributions, implement stronger controls for those that skirt the system and set real-time disclosure of campaign-related activity. It is based off New York City’s model, in which the city instituted matching public funding for small donor contributions. 

State Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, has also publicly supported the bill and said he will vote for it again when it comes before him. 

But despite the bill’s benefits, the measure would transfer some election costs to taxpayers. Officials said Thursday that those costs would be minimal, likely less than a cup of coffee, but representatives from Republican politicians’ offices said they are against instituting taxpayer-funded elections. 

Republican state Sen. Mark Grisanti, who represents Tonawanda in the recent redistricting decision, is in support of further campaign finance reform law, his Chief of Staff Doug Curella said.

“I believe that we must review the maximum amount an individual, business or political action committee can donate,” his website states. “I also believe that we need stronger and more robust disclosure of campaign contributions that includes rigorous enforcement of the law.”

But Grisanti is against an increase in taxes that would likely occur if the bill was passed. Curella also pointed out the option within the bill to opt-out of the publicly funded elections and continue business as usual.

But Ryan said said Thursday that every campaign reform law across the United States includes such an option due to constitutional rights.

State Sen. Tim Kennedy, who was also on hand Thursday, agreed, and accused Republicans of skewing statistics to advance their own interests.

“They want to maintain the status quo,” he said. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150