Citing Bloomberg Donation, Good-Government Groups Target Soft Money

Four of New York’s good government groups wants state political parties to voluntarily disclose more information about “soft money,” or funds that are held in the party’s housekeeping committees. Although that money isn’t supposed to be used to promote individual candidates directly (and sometimes it is), it frequently goes indirectly to electoral races through various channels, such as get-out-the-vote operations.

In explaining the importance of the issue, Executive Director Dick Dadey of Citizens Union told me just now, “It’s not just a spigot of money. It’s a fire hydrant on a summer’s day, in terms of the forcefulness of the water.”

For example, Michael Bloomberg’s $500,000 donation to Senate Republicans created a stir, but as the law stands, “details of this transaction will not be public until July.”

Soft money has been an ongoing issue with advocates of campaign finance reform, but criticism also came to a head in 2005, when it was reported that the State Republican Party was paying the salary for Libby Pataki’s assistant.

The letter is dated today and signed by the heads of Citizens Union, Common Cause, New York Public Interest Research Group and the League of Women Voters. The groups cite a few examples on both sides of the aisle.

From the letter:

On March 1st, a front-page New York Times story reported a half-million dollar gift from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, and noted that the details of this transaction will not be public until July. Earlier that week, a number of stories focused on SEIU/1199’s contribution to the Working Families Party’s Housekeeping account (which was made public due to their voluntary filing), and their subsequent pledge of a six-figure donation to the Senate Republicans.

The letter in full:

CITIZENS UNION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
299 Broadway, Suite 700 ¦ New York, New York 10007 ¦ 212-227-0342
COMMON CAUSE/NY
155 Avenue of the Americas, 4th Floor ¦ New York, New York 10013 ¦ 212 691-6421
LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS/N.Y.S.
62 Grand Street ¦ Albany, New York 12207 ¦ 518 465-4162
NEW YORK PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP (NYPIRG)
107 Washington Avenue, 2nd Floor ¦ Albany, New York 12210 ¦ 518 436-0876
__________________________________________________
VIA FAX & FIRST CLASS MAIL
March 24, 2008
Michael Avella, Treasurer David Alpert, Treasurer
New York Republican State Committee New York State Democratic Committee
315 State Street 461 Park Avenue South, 10th Floor
Albany, NY 12210 New York, NY 10016
John Evans, Treasurer Rose Norkus, Treasurer
NYS Senate Republican Housekeeping Committee NYS Democratic Senate Campaign Committee
P.O. Box 7229 1275 Scotch Church Road
Albany, NY 12224 Pattersonville, NY 12137
Dear Party Committee Treasurers:
We are writing to urge your committees to voluntarily agree to report so-called “soft money” donations and expenditures subject to the same rules and reporting requirements as applicable to “hard money.”
Last June, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno opined
“. . . that people ought to have a right to support anybody they want to support in anyway they want to as long as they’re accountable and transparent, so that you file publicly.”
While we disagree with Senator Bruno‘s assertion that financial campaign support should be unlimited, we certainly share common ground in hoping for a more transparent filing system. With this commitment to open government in mind, we encourage you to voluntarily file disclosure reports for your housekeeping committees on March 24th, the final filing date for February‘s special election. In the future, we urge that you electronically disclose your housekeeping committees’ fundraising in the eleven days prior to an election through the New York State Board of Elections’ 24 Hour Notice capabilities.
While New York law prohibits soft money being used to promote “the candidacy of specific candidates,” it can still play a significant role in elections. For example, in the run-up to last year’s special election in Nassau County, money from your committees was spent on such expenses as renting a campaign office in Great Neck, voter polling, and staff salaries. Restaurants and hotels within the district were patronized heavily. In the summer race for the 105th Assembly District, a similar soft money spending pattern was evident. All of these expenditures clearly played a vital role in determining the outcome of the elections, so in order for the public to have a full understanding of what went into last month’s race, the release of the financial transactions of these committees is absolutely necessary.
Furthermore, a significant degree of public interest has been focused on housekeeping committees in recent weeks. On March 1st, a front-page New York Times story reported a half-million dollar gift from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, and noted that the details of this transaction will not be public until July. Earlier that week, a number of stories focused on SEIU/1199’s contribution to the Working Families Party’s Housekeeping account (which was made public due to their voluntary filing), and their subsequent pledge of a six-figure donation to the Senate Republicans.
There are no legal prohibitions to submitting a disclosure statement in between filing periods. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s personal candidate committee voluntarily filed six extra times last fall, despite the absence of any obvious legal obligation to do so.
We strongly urge you to file disclosure statements by the end of March and commit to parity in reporting for hard and soft money. We look forward to your response.
Sincerely,

Dick Dadey Susan Lerner
Citizens Union of the City of New York Common Cause/NY

Barbara Bartoletti Russ Haven
League of Women Voters/N.Y.S. New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)

Citing Bloomberg Donation, Good-Government Groups Target Soft Money