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New York state commission examining campaign financing and fusion voting spars over process during first meeting

2019-08-22

The State Capitol Building in Albany (Atlee Mercer/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A newly formed commission tasked with reforming how state elections are run and financed agreed to hold five public hearings in the coming months — even as the group sparred over how they will ultimately propose legislation that could shape campaigns across New York.

The Public Campaign Financing Commission will decide if state candidates can get taxpayer-backed matching funds for certain campaign donations and how that system would function. The nine-member group is also determining whether to end fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on more than one ballot line and gives third parties more influence in elections.

The disagreement at the commission’s first meeting Wednesday came after one of Gov. Cuomo’s appointees proposed that any recommendations they ultimately make be lumped together and approved by a single vote – which some suspected was an attempt to sneak in a “poison pill” ending fusion voting.

Jay Jacobs, a Cuomo ally who also chairs the state Democratic party, put up the resolution mandating that the commission’s final plan be voted on as a package — not individual recommendations — at the end of their term.

“The idea being, that this is a package and we have to all agree on the components of the package…can’t pick it apart à la carte,” Jacobs explained.

The problem? The law establishing the commission mandates they have multiple votes.

“That’s…directly countering to the enacted legislation,” said commission member Kimberly Galvin, who was appointed by the Assembly’s Republican Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

“I just worry about making sure we’re not causing inconsistencies,” added member David Previte, who was appointed by the Senate’s GOP Minority Leader John Flanagan.

“This is the very first time that we’ve seen this resolution,” Galvin noted. “How do we know we can put them all in one ‘big ugly’…and not need separate votes, depending on what the issue is?”

The resolution was still approved by seven of the nine members, with Galvin and Previte voting against.

Jacobs and other commissioners insisted that the group would still hold multiple votes on various aspects of potential legislation throughout the process before one final vote. They also said the resolution could be revisited at future meetings.

“Much like they did it with the Constitution – they had a lot of different elements and some people agreed with some things and other people agreed with other things,” Jacobs said.

But several stakeholders attending the meeting in Manhattan saw the measure as a way for Jacobs – and Cuomo by proxy – to eliminate fusion voting.

“It’s a reasonable resolution in that all the pieces of a public financing program are interconnected and should be considered together, but the resolution could easily be an attempt to link fusion voting to end it,” said Alex Camarda of good-government group Reinvent Albany.

“It’s a transparent effort to tie public financing and ending fusion voting together,” charged Bill Lipton, the state director for the Working Families Party. “This is Cuomo’s poison pill to eliminate fusion voting.”

Fusion voting lets the Working Families and Conservative parties to back Democrats and Republicans without putting up their own “spoiler” candidates. The two parties already sued to block the commission’s work on fusion voting.

Lipton said that ending fusion was Cuomo’s “retaliation” for the WFP’s efforts to defeat of the governor’s allies in the former Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Dems in the state Senate who would caucus with Republicans, giving them the majority.

“Cuomo has put fusion in the cross-hairs to attack us,” Lipton said.

Rich Azzopardi, as senior Cuomo adviser, denied the governor had an ulterior motive.

“The charge of the commission is to develop the strongest public finance system possible," he said "I have no reaction to the latest rant by the WFP or the craven political motivations of boss Bill Lipton and his new buddies, the Trump-lovin’ Conservatives.”

The commission has to make recommendations by Dec. 1.

Four public hearings on public financing of elections and fusion voting were set by the commission, which decided to add a fifth “by invitation only” to allow for more comprehensive input from experts.

The first hearing will be held Sept. 10 at 4 p.m. at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Others are set for Sept. 18 in Albany, Oct. 10 in Smithtown and Oct. 29 in Buffalo. No date was decided for the fifth invitation-only hearing.