With the Citizens United ruling one year ago, Chief Justice Roberts and the Koch Brothers’ allies on the Supreme Court made an already lousy US campaign finance system much worse. In the 2010 midterms, we saw the floodgates open to unlimited corporate funding of candidates, and the facts on issues—as well as the voices of ordinary Americans—were often drowned out by record-breaking covert and corporate money. Bill Moyers got it right when he said this Big special interest money “is a dagger directed at the heart of our democracy.”
Now we’re seeing conservatives use the Supremes’ decision to challenge strong public campaign financing laws in Arizona and Connecticut. Also, the wholesale changes in governorships and legislatures may well bring attacks on good clean election laws in North Carolina, Maine, Wisconsin and New Mexico.
“Between the conservative legal attack and the forces of big money attack, there are a lot of defensive battles going on,” said Nicholas Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign.
This dramatic assault on American democracy makes the positive signals on campaign finance reform coming out of New York State all the more striking. In his State of the State address, newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo said plainly, “We need public financing of campaigns. We must once again become the progressive capitol of the nation.” The Governor also included public finance as part of an “ethics package” in the official agenda his Administration is pursuing.
For Governor Cuomo, this is a moment when he can clearly establish his reform credentials with activists and elected officials nationwide.
“It’s very significant that Governor Cuomo has laid this out,” said Nyhart. “Because it’s a direction he’s been supportive of and the question was—once he was no longer a candidate—would he still be supporting it as Governor? Also, when it’s clear that this is something on the Governor’s agenda, it makes it much easier to get people engaged and build a formidable campaign.”
Marc Caplan, program officer of the Piper Fund—the primary funder of state-level campaign finance reform work in the country—agreed. “This is a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “New York by far would be the biggest plum to date of any state that’s enacted public financing and would be a great boost in states around the country and nationally.”