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Union donations drive anti-constitutional convention campaign

ALBANY — The group that opposes a constitutional convention spent $1.1 million in the last three weeks to promote a “no” vote in a Nov. 7 referendum and still has $1.2 million left to spend after receiving large donations from public worker unions, state records show.

The group, New Yorkers Against Corruption, collected $1.8 million in donations in the last two weeks, including $500,000 from the New York State United Teachers union, $350,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, $250,000 from the Civil Service Employees Association, and $140,000 from the New York State AFL-CIO.

Nonunion donations included law firms and other lobbying groups. For example, New Yorkers Against Corruption received $10,000 from the Pharmaceutical Industry Labor-Management Association based in Virginia, according to state Board of Elections records made public Monday.

The two leading groups that are pushing to hold a constitutional convention are the New York People’s Convention and the Committee for a Constitutional Convention. They reported far less spending in the Board of Elections reports.

The New York People’s Convention raised $85,361 since the last state financial filing on Oct. 11. Of that, $78,000 was donated by the group’s founder, good-government advocate Bill Samuels, who has donated more than $400,000 to the effort.

The New York People’s Convention has $30,613 left after spending $55,000 to hold and attend forums and for radio and TV production, records showed.

The Committee for a Constitutional Convention has $12,404 after spending $42,051 since Oct. 11. It collected $28,666 in contributions during that time.

Its biggest donors during the period included $2,000 from former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch.

“We expected it, but I was hoping not to see the massive amount of money by NYSUT in particular — just massive,” Samuels said. “It makes the ‘yes’ vote a struggle, but the fact is it’s pretty simple: It’s the status quo vs. real change and reform in New York . . . I’m very disappointed the unions are not taking a leadership role for reform.”

“The vote-no campaign continues to build momentum,” said Jordan Marks, campaign manager for New Yorkers Against Corruption. “We are meeting voters where they are — at their doors, in their mailboxes, and on the airwaves.”

Opponents, including legislative leaders, say a convention could erode the constitutional guarantee of a public pension and other worker rights as well as ease or eliminate restrictions on development in forest preserves in the Adirondacks and Catskills. Convention backers disagree, noting that the U.S. Constitution prohibits weakening of labor contracts (https://nwsdy.li/2gndDMa) and that only a constitutional convention could force term limits and other reforms on Albany blocked by the Legislature and governor.

Any changes would require voter approval in separate referendums.

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