Small Donor Empowerment
Small Donor Empowerment
Citizens United: Consequences and Solutions

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"The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process." Adlai StevensonDemocratic candidate, 1956

Cuomo on his use of Party Committee housekeeping accounts, which can receive unlimited contributions, to provide $6 million for his campaign: 

"Those aren't loopholes. Those are the laws that are written," he said. "So yeah, I live within the laws of the current campaign finance system. I would very much like to change them."

“The problem is this: You have someone who is trying to lead—that we want to lead—on getting money out of politics in Albany … and at the same time he’s cynically taking major money from corporations,” Bill Samuels, Jon Campbell, "Bill Samuels Jabs Cuomo on Campaign-Finance Reform,", July 26, 2012

"Gambling Group Gave $2 Million to a Cuomo Ally"
“Aid as Governor Worked on Casino Push, He Denies Link”
New York Times, June 5, 2012

Overview by Bill Samuels, Founder

If we think money in politics corrupts how laws are made in Washington, Albany is equally bad.. I ought to know having served as finance chair for the Democratic State Senate campaign effort in 2008.

If one thought the influence of money was bad  before the Citizens United decision now it borders on the absurd.

It wasn't always this bad in statewide elections or in the Presidential election. The reform movements of 1969 to 1972 are partly to blame. We said “Power to the People” and led marches on Civil Rights, The Vietnam War, began the Woman’s Movement and the Environmental Movement.  But we forgot Campaign Finance Reform.  

Presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and Hubert Humphrey in 1968 didn’t even have to run in a primary.

The Presidential Conventions in 1968 gave only 20% of the vote to primary voters and 80% to the professional political delegates. In 1972 it was flipped to 80% primary and hence our never ending state by state Presidential campaigns and huge TV expenditures.

Same happened in New York State. Party primaries only became the rule in 1968. Before conventions of professionals selected Rockefeller, Javits, Keating, Harriman, Roosevelt, Smith. It wasn’t until 1970 that we had a gubernatorial Democratic Primary where Arthur Goldberg defeated Howard Samuels.

Again we forgot Campaign Finance Reform and basically gave power to the money and TV. A Carl Paladino never would have been the 2010 Republican Gubernatorial candidate under the old system.

It is now time to fix that historical mistake and New York must take the lead.

What can we in New York do?? The Governor has stated in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 that it is a priority. That is an important step that could allow New York State to be an example for the nation.

But the watered-down, 2011 ethics bills, LATFOR redistricting veto threat than was never real, and the badly-flawed constitutional amendment that followed are unacceptable.

We in New York want permanent and major change. That will not happen without a demanding movement all over New York State.  We need a NYC matching-donor system that empowers small donors.

The case must be taken directly to the people and the governor. It should have been done with independent redistricting, where a vast majority of our state representatives said they would vote for change and then did not.

Like was done successfully for Marriage Equality, the redistricting fight should have been taken to the people. It wasn't. 

We cannot let this happen to Campaign Finance reform. No statute full of holes can or will be acceptable, nor will small improvements by the governor, like lowering donation limits or having real-time disclosure, be sufficient.

Currently there is nothing in New York State Constitution on point. The same is true nationally. Dylan Ratigan and others are leading a fight for a new 28th constitutional amendment nationally. New York should not wait for Washington. We must lead and not pass some new statute with compromised holes in it.

I make the following challenges:

   1. The Governor should set an example by refusing corporate donations and calling for a constitutional amendment that prohibits donations by people who do business with the state.

   2.  New York State should adopt a matching system like New York City's.

   3. All corporate and LLC donations should not be allowed for candidates that opt into the New York State small donor empowerment system.

We must encourage  voters around the state to form a Coalition of Opposites, debate views, and maybe to everyone surprise there may be agreement that it is time to force change in Albany and give courage and support to those in Albany that want change but are not sure they will be commended for standing up.

Those that stood up for marriage equality--a coalition of opposites, ..were recognized. Those that lead in Campaign Finance reform will have a real place in our history.



Campaign finance is protected as "freedom of speech" by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and as "liberty of speech" by Article 8 of the Bill of Rights of the New York State Constitution.  The First Amendment reads in part "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ..." while New York State's "liberty of speech" can be read on the right.

The United States Constitution, including the First Amendment, is the law of the land and trumps any state constitution or law that might violate its provisions.  However, state constitutions and laws that violate the United States Constitution remain on the books until they are specifically challenged in Court and ruled to be unconstitutional.  Additionally, even freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution like "freedom of speech" can be restricted by the states where there is a compelling state interest among other factors.

Restrictions on freedom of speech that the Supreme Court has upheld on a federal and state level include contribution limits, disclosure requirements and public funding of elections.

In a landmark 5-4 decision on January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court lifted a 100 year old federal ban on direct corporate spending on candidates in Federal elections.  At the core of the Citizens United decision is the question of whether the rights to free speech, afforded by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, are afforded to corporations, or entities other than "people."

In the Citizens United decision a majority of the supreme court justices determined that yes, corporations may exercise opportunities to engage in electioneering using a variety of methods and venues previously unavailable.  In many states across the United States, including New York, there is no mention of campaign finance or political spending in state constitutions, except for the free clause, which prohibits any law restraining or abridging "liberty of speech." Thus, with the exception of the state of Montana, which as of this writing is the only state to mount a challenge to Citizens United, all states will experience the consequences of the decision.

The impact of the decision means that independent expenditures, that is money or effort used to support or oppose a candidate, is not subject to spending limits by Congress as it would infringe upon "free speech" rights.  It is only the "independent expenditure" component of electioneering that is impacted, independent meaning that the money or effort is not "coordinated" with the campaign.  Limits on the amount of money or effort directly contributed to campaigns continue to be limited. 

Although New York State does not have a statute limiting independent expenditures by corporations or individuals, this decision may prevent New York from enacting a statute limiting such expenditures that could survive constitutional challenge.  The Supreme Court's decision does not bar the state from enacting a law regulating independent expenditures to the extent of requiring disclosure of the amount, nature or source of political advertising for or against a candidate, but may prevent any limit being placed on the amount in state elections.

The state's campaign and political contribution limits do not appear to be affected by this decision.

Topics in Campaign Finance include:

  • Corporate Spending (Citizens United)
  • Contribution Limits
  • Public Funding
  • Disclosure


In the three years since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, the consequences have been extensive.  Corporations are making massive contributions to "Super PACs" running "uncoordinated" efforts for or against candidates, flooding the airwaves and mailboxes with mostly negative information.  Super PACS are out-raising and out-spending the candidates themselves.  While this activity is "uncoordinated" between the Super PAC and the campaign, any reasonable person can see the lack of direct coordination is specious at best, and frankly irrelevant.

Two former aides to Newt Gingrich, started a Super PAC and ran millions of dollars of advertising against Mitt Romney in South Carolina.  One wealthy colleague of Mitt Romney's, organized a corporation for the expressed purpose of making a one million dollar contribution to a Super PAC clearly supporting Romney and then disbanded the corporation shortly thereafter. 

More troubling still is the fact that corporations can make these massive contributions tilting a campaign in favor or against a particular candidate using dollars that are undisclosed, or laundered through third parties.  Corporations can contribute unlimited amounts to third parties like Chambers of Commerce or professional associations, which in turn can spend on campaigns.  This action provides "cover" for a corporation that may in fact imperil the bottom line.  One recent example of this hanky panky was sourced by a reporter researching the passage of health care reform in 2009.  The reporter found that while the CEOs of five large health care insurance companies were inside the Whitehouse promoting passage of reform, those same CEOs had contributed a total of $86 million to the Chamber of Commerce who used the money to run television commercials opposing passage.  

Lack of transparency and disclosure doesn't only impact voters, it is risky business for the bottom line as well.  Research done at Harvard University reveals that corporations engaged in political operations are less profitable than corporations that don't engage in politics.  Polling reveals that shareholders overwhelmingly believe they should be informed of their investments efforts in the political arena.

The truth is that our elections have turned into auctions, the selling of a candidate to the highest bidder.  Individual candidates become more and more irrelevant as massive corporations buy and sell candidates who will do their bidding.  Elections have become activities of commerce, but commerce that is risky for business.

We know that the consequences of Citizens United mean an ongoing cycle of noise and negativity compounded by the absence of truth and transparency.  What is being done to stop this?  A great deal.

There are several types of campaigns working hard to influence and change the reality brought upon by Citizens United:

1. The Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS) was founded by Mayor Bill de Blasio while he was the Public Advicate.  CAPS is a national bi-partisan group of elected leaders representing 90 million constituents and managing nearly one trillion dollars in pension assets. CAPS leaders use their fiduciary roles in pensions and procurement to influence corporate behavior in political spending.  CAPS has had some initial success, and will expand with the introduction of legislation across the country that mandates full disclosure of contributions by companies doing business with cities and states.

2. Amend the Constitution.  An organization called Free Speech for People, and progressive elected leaders including Senator Bernie Sanders (I) VT,  are leading efforts to amend the Constitution making clear that corporations are not people.  

3. A broad based collection of labor groups, good government groups like Common Cause and Public Citizen and socially responsible investors have joined to form the Corporate Reform Coalition.  This group is working to support a petition filed by ten academics led by Lucien Bebchuck from Harvard, with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  The petition outlines the connection between the SEC's obligation to regulate publicly traded companies and the importance of protecting the public and shareholders against risky corporate behavior in political spending.   

4. At the federal level a bill called the "Disclose Act" has been introduced.  

5. President Obama has had an Executive Order on his desk for months now that only need be signed to influence corporate political spending.  The order, which has been used as a model for the development of the CAPS legislation noted above, would require corporations paid with tax dollars to disclose political expenditures.

Ithaca Journal
Jessica Bakeman
Friday, August 3, 2012
 ALBANY — Flowers, cigars, fancy dinners and legal fees were all put on New York lawmakers’ campaign bills during the last year, according to disclosure reports filed this year. 
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The Empire
Colby Hamilton
Monday, May 7, 2012
 President Barack Obama’s visit to a microchip manufacturing plant makes sense for Obama: a chance to connect to white, rural voters similar to those in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania he’ll need to get reelected in November;...
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Dan Janison
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
 Without prompting, third-term Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer rips into the way mega-money from corporations and wealthy individuals suffuses federal elections. 
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Daily News
Celeste Katz
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Gov. Cuomo blasted the special interest money that helps control Albany -- hours before jetting off to Buffalo for a $5,000-a-head campaign fundraiser.
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Fox 23
Walt McClure
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
A new battle is shaping up at the New York State Capitol over campaign finance reform. 
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Albany Times Union
Sean Eldridge
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Statewide campaign finance reform with small-donor matching funds would kindle new excitement and renewed trust in the political process by ensuring that it is open to all, not just the wealthy and the well-connected. It would also lead to better policy...
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Friday, January 25, 2013
New York State's electoral redistricting process is a disgrace, and the current political boundaries it created are an insult to voters. But a constitutional amendment advertised as the remedy -- and likely to be approved for a voter referendum...
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New York Times
Monday, January 21, 2013
 If New Yorkers need another good reason to support a major cleanup of their state’s scandalously lax campaign finance laws, they need only look at the latest filing from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  
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New York Times
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Mr. Cuomo has the right under state law to milk this system, as his colleagues and competitors do. But, as governor, he has the obligation to end this corrupting mess, as even some of the wealthiest New Yorkers made clear in a press conference on...
The op-ed is relevant because it calls on Gov. Cuomo to realize his pledge of fixing New York's "scandalously lax" campaign finance laws.
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The Wall Street Journal
Sam Favate
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act blocks certain political speech by corporations;  plaintiffs in the case sought to have the century-old law declared unconstitutional. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, who represented...
The Montana decision demonstrates a state's power to restrict political speech by corporations on a local level.
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A selection of relevant solutions from other states.



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