Colby Hamilton, Writer, WNYC News
Colby Hamilton is a general assignment reporter. He originally joined WNYC as a political blogger. He's a proud graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s introduction of a campaign finance legislation this week marked the most significant push for the public financing of elections in New York State since Governor Andrew Cuomo unequivocally backed the issue in this year’s State of the State speech in January.
“We have a government that New Yorker’s can be proud of. Let’s build on that pride and let’s have elections that New Yorkers can be proud of also,” the governor said at the time. “Let’s have campaign finance reform and let’s do it this year.”
While the governor has indicated his support and the Democratically controlled Assembly has put forward a bill, conversations with people with knowledge of what’s happening in Senate Republican circles say there is little to no appetite to take up the issue of campaign finance.
But Cuomo didn't seem too enthused about following up on his campaign pledge when talking with reporters on Wednesday in New York, and said he hadn't seen Silver's bill:
“There’s two basic tracks," he said.You could take the public relations track of appearing to do something. I could put out my bill and rant and rave about it. Or I could actually try and get something done and I’m trying to actually get something done.”
According to one source who has communicated with Republican members, campaign finance was brought up in a conference attended by Majority Leader Dean Skelos this week. According to two Republican Senators, the bill introduced by Democratic Minority Leader John Sampson, which mirrors the Assembly version, is going nowhere fast.
“There’s no support in that conference at all,” the person said. “Nobody is saying this is going to happen.”
Brooklyn Republican State Senator Marty Golden said he had no comment on the bill put forward in the senate, but indicated that the timing of the issue was also a factor behind its poor reception among Republicans. “We’re in tough economic times. I think money can be better spent than on campaign finance, that’s for sure,” Golden said.
Senate Republican spokesperson Scott Reif said Majority Leader Skelo’s remained opposed to the idea as well.
“Senator Skelo’s position is clear: He opposes using taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns,” Reif said.
Reform advocates acknowledge the uphill battle campaign finance faces this session. A Democratic strategist advising the effort said public polling continues to show voters support the idea of public financing for elections. The issue now was to “try to go out and convert voters into citizen lobbyists."
“The average voter understands the corrosive effect of big money in campaigns and feels like there's too much pay-to-play. I think this is an easier sell to voters than maybe explaining independent redistricting was,” the strategist said.
Getting voters mobilized will be the key to changing the political math for Senate Republicans, the strategist said.
“I do think that at the end of the day, given Skelo's comments, that it's going to be a question of, can he win over his conference, can we win him over and I bet they’ve, a little bit, got their finger to the wind trying to assess how much the voters really care about this,” the person said.