An audience of close to 60 recently joined one elected official and three political consultants in a League of Women Voters forum on campaign finances.
By Bill Lawyer
An audience of close to 60 recently joined one elected official and three political consultants in a League of Women Voters forum on campaign finances. The event, moderated by Gary Zuckerman, an attorney, League member, and chair of the Rye Brook Planning Commission, was held in the Rye Middle School Multipurpose Room.
Attendees were given a handy glossary of commonly used campaign finance terms, including 501c groups, Super PACs, soft money, express advocacy, and issue advocacy. The handout also contained summaries of the three Supreme Court cases of relevance to the evening’s discussion: Buckley v. Valeo; Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission; and SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission.
The panel included newly elected State Senator George Latimer and consultants Jeffrey Binder, Laurence Laufer, and Bill O’Reilly.
In his opening remarks, Zuckerman spoke of the huge increase in campaign spending on all levels – particularly evident in the 2012 elections, where billions of dollars were spent on the presidential and congressional races. In the race for the New York State Senate 37th District, $5 million was spent.
Elected officials, he added, spend an average of four hours per day on political fund-raising. Zuckerman asked the panel members to explain why.
The next two hours were primarily devoted to the following questions: who should be able to contribute to election campaigns; how much should they be able to contribute; who should be able to spend collective funds; and, what is government’s proper role in all this.
State Senator Latimer began by saying that everyone in the audience should ask themselves, “Do you like what we have now?”
Sen. Latimer said many people feel that having no real limits on contributions or spending is “unfair.”
One thing that nearly everyone agreed upon is the importance of transparency – that voters should have timely notification of who is giving what to whom.
In response to Zuckerman’s question, “What do contributors ‘get’ for their money,” O’Reilly said, “If, at the end of the day, a candidate has lots of messages to call people back, his major donors will be the people getting the calls.”
In Binder’s view, the main advantage of more money might be for minority party candidates in an election district to level the playing field.
All the speakers deplored the extent of “negative campaigning” but seemed to agree that they are used “because they are seen to be effective.” Several speakers gave examples of how “corruption” can occur due to campaign funds or failure to enforce the laws.
Another topic that everyone agreed upon was that George Latimer is a great campaigner who has shown the importance of non-financial campaign tactics, commonly referred to as “retail campaigning.”
During the audience participation part of the program, City Councilmember Catherine Parker remarked that the Rye Republican Party had still not submitted campaign finance reports for the last contested Council elections. “People need to be able to ‘follow the money’ before the election is over,” she said pointedly.
Also in attendance was Journal News columnist Phil Reisman, who devoted several articles last fall to the Latimer-Cohen race, predicting that Cohen would likely beat Latimer due to Cohen’s huge financial advantage and Latimer’s “boxing himself into a corner” on “wonkish” tax issues.
When asked what he felt was the “take away” from the forum, Reisman focused on the negativity – “the more money that pours in, the more negative it gets.”
The event can be seen on RyeTV.