Press-Republican

March 4, 2013

League of Women Voters holds campaign finance talk

By MATTHEW HAMILTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The lobbyist has it down to a science.

He leaves the Senate chambers at 5 p.m. and goes to his first fundraiser of the night.

He walks in, picks up a glass of wine and an hors d’oeuvre and makes a B-line for the politician hosting the event.

He pulls out the envelope containing a donation and hands it over with a, “It’s nice to see you this evening.”

With that, he downs the hors d’oeuvre, sets down the wine and heads off to the second stop of his nightly tour.

The scenario isn’t from a political corruption movie. It occurs when the Legislature is in session, according to Barbara Bartoletti, chairman for the state’s chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Bartoletti spoke at the Plattsburgh Town Hall Saturday afternoon before roughly 30 League of Women Voters members and community members about campaign finance reform at the state level.

Bartoletti and the League have been proponents of overhauling state regulations that allow, both directly and through loopholes, candidates with the most money to make the decisions.

Bartoletti’s talk also centered on how lobbying affects elected officials.

“No matter what is your issue ... campaign finance is the reason they are not getting done, or are getting done to satisfy the bottom line,” Bartoletti told the crowd.

CORRUPTING INFLUENCE

The campaign finance issue is not new. 

At the state and federal levels, where political funds come from has long been an issue, and one that League members have seen as corruptive.

“(Financing) brings a corrupting influence to politics without the quid pro quo corruption that lands politicians in jail,” local League of Women Voters President Sally Sears-Mack told the group during her introduction of Bartoletti.

Bartoletti reinforced that point.

“Money follows power. And power follows money.”

CITY’S REFORM

Bartoletti came from Albany Saturday to drum up support for pushing legislators for reform. In doing so, she pointed to New York City’s regulations, which have been adjusted to bring more candidates into the political arena.

The regulations force the city to match small-time donor contributions to candidates. The city also has regulations that set a minimum financial threshold candidates must reach in order to be eligible for public debates.

Bartoletti said the latter has increased the number of female and minority candidates.

REFORM IN ALBANY

But in Albany, no such regulations, especially those that help small-time candidates get their voices heard, exist.

Bartoletti said one-third of the campaign contributions came from just 127 large donors. While there are limits set for how much corporations, which make up part of those donors, can spend on each candidate, through loopholes like the one that allows subsidiaries and their subsidiaries to give additional donations, candidates can rake in thousands of dollars that add up to give them an edge.

When it comes to enforcing regulations, an audible gasp came from the group when Bartoletti said there are no investigators to enforce the campaign finance laws. Instead, State Troopers currently enforce the regulations.

“How much time do you think they will give to enforcing that?” she asked.

LEAGUE-SPONSORED REFORM

Bartoletti also spoke about the League of Women Voters’ solutions to finance issues. Among them is that candidates can bring in money from only their constituents, forcing them to go out into their districts and interact with those who they make decisions for.

Bartoletti said that would force candidates to represent constituents’ interests.

She urged local League members to hand write or type letters to their representatives to bring the campaign finance reform issue to their attention.

After the event, Plattsburgh Town Council member Tom Wood said locals need to start pushing for reforms. If they don’t, why politicians would argue with a system that helps them fund their campaigns, he questioned.

MONEY DOESN’T VOTE

Bartoletti said other issues, such as education and gun control, are often at the top of voters’ lists, then comes campaign finance. But campaign finance affects the other issues, she said.

Bartoletti wrapped up the forum with the idea that candidates need to realize money, despite its help in getting their message out, still doesn’t get them elected.

“I have never stood in line at the polling place behind a $5 bill, a $20 bill, a $50 bill, a $100 bill or a $1,000 bill,” she said. “Money does not get people elected. People are still filling out those bubbles.”

LEARN MORE For more about the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, visit http://plattsburgh.ny.lwvnet.org. There visitors can find information about the local league, upcoming events and find links to the state and national chapters. On the state chapter’s website, visitors can find the power point regarding campaign finance reform, which Bartoletti said can be used to teach others about the issue.