NY corruption: IDC drums up support for campaign finance reform

State Sen. David Carlucci speaks with the media

State Sen. David Carlucci speaks with the media during a visit to Franklin Elementary School in Pearl River. (April 5, 2013) (Credit: Susan Stava)

Eager to pass campaign finance reform by the end of the legislative session in June, members of the Independent Democratic Conference are making their rounds throughout the state, holding public hearings and hoping to drum up support in Albany.

But while some state Democrats have expressed their support, IDC member Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) said Republicans aren't as responsive.

"We're working to build that support right now. We don't have solid confirmed support," Carlucci said of Senate and Assembly Republicans. "We know that the governor's been extremely supportive."


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The IDC -- a breakaway group of five Democrats in the state Senate that formed an alliance with 30 Republicans to form a "majority coalition" -- released its campaign finance reform package last month.

On Wednesday, Carlucci, along with IDC Leader Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) and Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), met with residents and heads of grassroots groups like Citizen Action of New York at the Valley Cottage Library to discuss the possible reform measures.

"That's the purpose of these hearings: to find, maybe we're missing something, or maybe there's a better model out there," Carlucci said. "That's why we have experts here. We have residents from the community to make sure that their voice is heard."

The group met in Manhattan a week earlier and plans to another hold public hearing in Buffalo on Monday, with another in Albany the following week.

CORRUPTION CASES BOOST REFORM BID

The reform package was spurred by a sweeping federal corruption arrests of six politicians -- including former IDC leader Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), along with Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret -- on April 2. All have since pleaded not guilty.

"I believe that our package is the most comprehensive of any of the ideas that you've seen out there and that's why I'm hopeful that when we do this, it shouldn't just be a window dressing," Carlucci said. "We should use this opportunity to get real, meaningful reform done."

The plan includes new campaign contribution limits -- set at $2,600 for all state office candidates -- as well as the elimination of "housekeeping accounts" that are not currently subject to funding limits. Corporate contributions would be banned altogether.

A statewide database would also be set up to keep track of those who have business before the state, whose donations would then not be eligible for public matching funds.

The IDC is also pushing to repeal the Wilson-Pakula provision, which allows party chairmen to select candidates across party lines for elections rather than the need for each candidate to petition their way on to a ballot.

Carlucci, who invoked Wilson-Pakula in the November election to run on the Working Families and Independence party lines, said he would still seek the backing of those parties in future elections, despite his push for repeal.

"Right now, there's so much power in these party chairs," Carlucci said. "The problem is, the way society has moved and we've tried to be more democratic, we've tried to limit that power of the chair and give that power to the people."

NO REFORM FOR LOCAL POLS

The sweeping legislation, if passed, would also prevent the use of campaign funds for legal fees for those who opt in to the public financing system.

But since the bill only applies to officials seeking or holding state office, local elected officials like Jasmin, who is sitting on $60,000 in her campaign coffers, would still be able to put the money to use.

Using campaign funds for legal representation, especially for a crime allegedly committed while sitting in office, has long been controversial.

"The election law . . . is fairly broad," New York State Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin said.

Desmaret, who raised about $5,600 in 2007, has not had any fundraising activity since that year, records show. His attorney, Ken Gribetz, said Desmaret is not using any public funds for his defense and will not solicit money through a legal fund.

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