Tonawanda News

April 3, 2013

Advocates target industry's political donations

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The Clean Air Coalition was back breathing down the necks of elected officials Tuesday afternoon, less than a week after it achieved success in the form of a guilty verdict for Tonawanda Coke and its environmental manager, Mark Kamholz.

“We are here today on the tailwinds of a great victory at Tonawanda Coke,” the director of the Clean Air Coalition, Erin Heaney said. “But it shouldn’t take 10 years for the government to respond to us ... there’s a lot more work to do, and we can’t do it when the system is rigged.” 

At a press conference Tuesday, Heaney and other CAC members argued that the current campaign finance system slows down the course of justice by lending further support to industrial polluters while drowning out the voices of the little guys.

According to the coalition, over the past five years, Tonawanda Coke has donated $53,106 to political campaigns while NOCO Energy Corp. has given $191,847, and 3M has donated over $35,000. 

Heaney and speakers argued that those funds lead lawmakers to make decisions benefiting industrial polluters. In short, the corporations have the candidates wrapped around their finger before they are even elected. 

The coalition called on state Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, to support statewide campaign finance reform, and also called for further limits on what corporations can contribute. 

“Campaign finance reform ... would make lawmakers no longer fear crossing coal companies because they fear losing money,” Jennifer Tuttle, of the Sierra Club, said during the press conference Tuesday. 

According to the coalition, Grisanti and Schimminger have not publicly supported the package of reforms, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo detailed in his State of the State addresses. 

Those proposals are based off New York City’s model, which instituted matching public funding for small donor contributions. The package would also set lower limits on contributions, real-time disclosure of campaign-related activity and laws to prevent corruption in state contracting.

According to Grisanti’s website and his chief of staff, Doug Curella, Grisanti does support further limitations on contribution. 

“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 enfrocement of the law. I would also call on further increases to the penalties for campaign finance law violations.”

But Grisanti, along with many other state Republicans, are not in favor of instating elections that are publicly funded. 

“We are not in favor of taxpayer funded elections,” Curella said.

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