Campaign finance reform was a hot topic on Wednesday night at a forum for candidates vying to represent parts of Schenectady County in the state Legislature.
The Schenectady High School was the site of 30-minute debates between candidates in the 110th, 111th and 112th Assembly districts and the 46th and 49th Senate districts. The Chamber of Schenectady County, the League of Women Voters of Schenectady County, and the American Association of University Women organized the event.
Reforming the way campaigns are financed was a major point of contention for the candidates in the 46th Senate District – Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and Delanson Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk. They accused each other of taking large contributions from downstate interests and for not being genuinely interested in reforming this system.
Downstate contributions had been mostly one-sided until this week, when two political action committees announced they would be spending at least $500,000 on behalf of Tkaczyk. Before this infusion of money, it was Amedore who had dominated in the out-of-district fund raising, mostly from New York City business interests.
“It’s impacting this race,” Amedore said. “They have no interest in the 46th Senate race.”
In response to these new players in the race, Amedore has started calling for new campaign finance regulations, which would feature tougher disclosure policies and more enforcement power for the state’s Board of Elections. He has previously opposed campaign finance measures, but in a release on his new plan, Amedore said other legislation hasn’t done the job.
For her part, Tkaczyk seemed genuinely amazed that Amedore would attack her two new benefactors. She said that he has billionaires from New York City supporting him, while these independent groups have backed her because she is a genuine reformer.
Tkaczyk argued that campaign finance reform is a top priority for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but it won’t stand a chance in the Republican controlled state Senate, so she said her election would help turn the chamber and make the reform possible.
She called for matching public funds for candidates. These funds would be applied to low-level donors and would amplify their contributions. The program would be paid for by eliminating waste, like the state Legislature’s political mailing privileges and the consolidation of primary elections.
Amedore countered that this idea would force an increase in taxes.
A public financing of elections was also opposed by the candidates in the 111th Assembly District, Republican Thomas Quackenbush and Democrat Angelo Santabarbara, the 112th Assembly District, incumbent Republican James Tedisco and Democrat Michele Draves, and the Republican candidate in the 110th Assembly District, Jennifer Whalen. Democrat Phil Steck, who is running in the 110th, supports public financing of elections.
All the candidates endorsed the principle of campaign finance reform. Tedisco, R-Glenville, also revealed that he is working on a package of campaign finance reforms with other local state legislators that will likely be printed in the near future.
The reforms include one inspired by disgraced former Sen. Pedro Espada, which would send a candidate to jail for up to a year if they failed three times to report their campaign contributions in a timely manner. According to the New York Public Interest Research Group, this reform would apply to more than 2,000 campaigns that could be sitting on more than $31 million.
Tedisco is also advancing stricter disclosure laws and restrictions on bundling contributions.
Video from Wednesday night's forum and additional coverage of the other races addressed at the forum can be found at the Capital Region Scene political blog.