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Yankees lobbying expenditures is a case study, for some, on why NY needs campaign finance reform

By Brandon Quinn
Staff Writer

A report released last month by the Center for Working Families highlights the political spending of the New York Yankees leading up to the construction of their new stadium as evidence of capital ruling in the Capitol. Photo by AP.
May 07, 2012
With the budget settled, new emphasis is being placed on the issue of campaign finance — an issue Gov. Andrew Cuomo campaigned on reforming — by multiple groups across the state.

Two new fronts in the war for public financing of elections opened recently, with the Center for Working Families and New York Leadership for Accountable Government launching their attacks on the campaign contribution system.

Presently, politicians running in a statewide election can collect $60,800 per donor and, with political action committees being declared legal by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case, these types of large-scale donations are on the rise. There are no limits on contributions to political parties, which can dole out money as they see fit.

What many good government groups are advocating for, in order to dampen the influence of capital in the Capitol, is a system similar to the one adopted by New York City in 1988.

Under the city system, for every dollar donated to their campaign, up until the cap of $175, a candidate will receive an additional $6 in public taxpayer funds. This is in return for abiding by stricter filing rules and increased transparency.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has introduced legislation that would create a system similar to that of New York City, with the cap being set at $250. However, there isn't expected to be much movement on the bill in the Republican controlled Senate.

Presenting it as a report on why letting money rule in politics has failed as a policy, the Center for Working Families has compiled a list of the most damning conclusions from a variety of investigative resources on the public financing of the new Yankee Stadium in 2005.

According to the report, the Yankees paid more than $300,000 in 2006 to the Mirram Group, a lobbying firm run by Roberto Ramirez, a former Bronx assemblyman and chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party. This was the largest lobbying fee registered in 2006.

The report goes on to say the Yankees made significant contributions to politicians who had influence over the process of passing the bill, including former Republican Senator Joseph Bruno. Bruno, the former majority leader who has been accused of peddling his influence, received $18,000 from the Yankees between 2006 and 2008.

Joe Rappaport, policy director for the Center for Working Families, said they chose to release the report because it was timely, coinciding with the Yankees home opener and the "current focus on campaign finance."

"Our view is that if you're paying a substantial amount of money to a firm, or to a powerful person in Bronx politics, there is a possibility of a profound influence in decision making," said Rappaport.

After cataloguing the money spent by the Yankees within the political arena, the report shows within only a month of the stadium construction legislation being introduced and massive debate surrounding a proposed Jets stadium to be built in New York's Upper West Side, the Legislature unanimously approved $663.5 million in government subsidies and the seizure of 25.3 acres of "heavily used public parkland."

"Fair elections involve strict contribution limits, public financing for candidates who adhere to those limits and aggressive enforcement, thus resulting in increased voter participation and limitations on the influence of big money," concludes the report.

NYLead, a newly formed, well- funded, "bipartisan group of New York business, civic and philanthropic leaders," according to their website, also wants to see the system reformed.

In addition to the "multiple match" system the city employs, NYLead wants to see lower contribution limits, significantly lower limits for corporations and individuals who do business with the state and a new enforcement unit within the Board of Elections to investigate violations of policy.

Although their full membership list is included on their website, some of their more prominent members are William Donaldson, the 27th chairman of the SEC, Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, Ed Koch, former New York City mayor, and Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York state chapter of the NAACP.

Calling the system in place for campaign funding an "arms race" that "fuels cronyism" and requires lawmakers to focus on "the demands of a handful of big donors and entrenched special interests," the NYLead website takes the stance that while it can benefit big business to throw money into the political ring, this system almost requires it to get ahead.

"[Campaign finance reform] will end the wasteful arms race that forces so many businesses and business owners to siphon more and more money into politics," reads the website.

Also, prominently displayed on their frontpage, NYLead reminds viewers of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's words from his State of the State Address on January 4.

"We must reconnect the people to the political process and their government New York City's public financing system provides a good model for statewide reform. The system has helped to increase the number of overall contributors and especially the number of small donors in city elections," said Cuomo.

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