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NY impact of overturned election spending ban unclear

While Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning a ban on corporate spending in federal elections represents a seismic shift in national politics, its impact on New York State campaign finance law remains to be seen.

Lawrence Mandelker, a Manhattan election attorney who has worked for Democrats and Republicans, said the ruling could lead to eliminating separate rules for corporate and individual political contributions.

"The whole rationale for limiting campaign contributions," he said, "was that large campaign contributions give rise to corruption or appearance of corruption. The court said independent expenditures do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."

State campaign finance law allows corporations to contribute as much as $5,000 annually to political candidates, though corporations have long exploited legal loopholes to spend far more on campaigns. An individual can make up to $150,000 in political contributions during the calender year.

"Will somebody challenge the $5,000 contribution on the corporations?" asked Thomas Garry, a Democratic election lawyer in Mineola. "That's a big thing, but that restriction never really had a lot of teeth anyway."

Tom Basile, the executive director of the state GOP, said the party's lawyers are still assessing the decision's impact on congressional and local races.

"The decision is clearly a victory for those who have had the long-held belief that this ban on independent expenditures by corporations and nonprofits was unconstitutional," he said.

Good-government groups, which typically favor tighter campaign finance restrictions, reacted with outrage to the decision.

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, said future reform efforts will focus more on building public-financing systems and less on limiting corporate influence.

In general, elected Democrats assailed the decision while Republicans cheered it. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the ruling "allows special interest money to overflow our elections and undermine our democracy," and Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), on his Twitter feed, said the court "legalized corporate bribery."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) called it a "victory for free speech."

New York City's campaign finance law that forbids direct corporate contributions could also be jeopardized by the ruling, Mandelker said. The city's voluntary public-financing system is not affected by the ruling, officials said.

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