Campaign Finance Changes Ruled Unconstitutional
All of the changes created by the state’s Public Finance Commission have been ruled unconstitutional by a state Supreme Court justice in Niagara County.
On Thursday, Judge Ralph A. Boniello III ruled that the state Legislature improperly gave the commission lawmaking power when it was created as part of the 2019-20 state budget approval votes. Boniello released decisions Thursday in two identical cases filed on behalf of the Working Families and Conservative parties — Linda Hurley et. al v. The Public Campaign Financing and Election Commission et. al, and Jastrzemski et. al v. The Public Campaign Financing and Election Commission.
“Today’s court decision confirms what the state Conservative Party has maintained since day one: Governor Cuomo’s Public Finance Commission had no constitutional right to make or amend state law,” said Gerard Kassar, state Conservative Party chairman. “This was a total overreach by an overzealous governor, and we are grateful that the court acted to protect the political and First Amendment rights of New Yorkers and the parties with which they choose to affiliate. This is a total victory for political freedom in New York, and a reminder to Governor Cuomo that he is an executive and not an emperor. Reason has won out over Machiavellism, and New York is better for it.”
The appointed Public Finance and Elections Commission recommended stricter contribution limits for statewide and legislative campaigns, while instituting a new matching funds program for candidates. Contributions for Assembly candidates will be capped at $6,000, For Senate candidates: $10,000. Statewide candidates, including the governor, would have had contributions capped at $18,000, a decrease from more than $76,000. Candidates for the state Assembly and Senate would have seen donations up to $250 matched with public dollars at a rate of 12-to-1, as long as they are raised within the district. For statewide candidates, the match is 6-to-1. There was also a cap on the public match for statewide races of $7 million.
See RULED, Page A7
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The political parties disagreed with the commission’s decision to make it more difficult for minor parties to maintain ballot status by increasing the number of votes a party must receive in the gubernatorial election from 50,000 votes to 130,000.
Much like a court case involving pay raises for elected officials earlier this year in which changes to outside pay for legislators was also limited by an outside commission, the legislation enabling the Campaign Finance Commission gave the commission the power to recommend changes to the state Legislature, which then had until late December to make changes to the recommendations. If no changes were approved, the commission’s recommendations would become law.
Boniello ruled that the vote taken by the legislature to pass the statute as part of the budget vote does not blindly ratify the commission’s recommendations into law because the commission’s recommendations were not known when the law was passed.
“In this case, the court finds that the legislature, clearly and unequivocally, empowered the commission to legislate new law and repeal existing statutes,” Boniello wrote. “The line between administrative rule-making (which can be delegated) and legislative action (which cannot be delegated) has clearly been transgressed. The legislature established the commission and delegated to it the authority to create new law and repeal law without further action by the legislature. The court notes that the fact that the legislature reserved the right to modify or abrogate by statute the recommendations of the commission does not validate the process.”
Jay Jacobs, state Democratic Party chairman and a member of the Public Finance Commission, told the Albany Times Union that Boniello’s decision is expected to be appealed.
“This was no surprise coming from this court,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, and at the end of the day, I believe the law of the land will stand.”