Advocates for publicly financed elections are taking aim at New York’s longest-tenured state senator, claiming a bill he sponsored but never moved out of committee is evidence of the “pay to play culture in Albany.”
Republican state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, is the subject of a mailer being sent throughout his district this week, identifying him as a reason why New York’s campaign finance system needs an overhaul. In specific, the mailer accuses Farley of proposing a law that would allow check-cashing businesses to issue loans to low-income borrowers after accepting $14,600 in campaign contributions from the industry’s lobby.
“Senator Hugh Farley took nearly $15,000 from loan sharks and check cashers, then sponsored a bill that would make it legal for them to exploit low-income borrowers who often have few options for a loan,” states the mailer funded by Working Families Organization and the Citizen Action of New York. “Taking money from his loan shark cronies and helping them rip off working people — that’s what’s wrong with Albany.”
The mailer — obtained by The Daily Gazette and sent during an off-election year — urges constituents to call a toll-free number that connects to a recorded message reiterating broad points about legislation that would publicly fund elections. After the message completes, callers are forwarded to Farley’s district office in Ballston Spa.
But the mailer’s message is largely disingenuous, Farley said. The bill he sponsored never made it out of the Senate’s Banks Committee after state Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky wrote a letter opposing the measure.
“I certainly don’t intend to move a bill that the superintendent of banks is opposed to,” said Farley, who is vice chairman of the committee. “It’s going to go nowhere unless the superintendent changes his mind.”
Farley also disputed the notion that campaign contributions from the check-cashing industry prompted him to propose the legislation. He said his intent in proposing the bill was to offer low-income borrowers a regulated source to secure loans so they wouldn’t have seek out unscrupulous lenders like loan sharks or online services that charge astronomical interest.
“It had nothing to do with contributions.”
Last year, Farley received $2,000 in contributions from New York Check PAC, a downstate political action committee. Farley, who was once the chairman of the Banks Committee, said it’s common for legislators in leadership positions to get support from the industries they affect.
“Generally speaking, when you chair a committee, the people involved with that committee support you,” he said.
And that’s exactly what doesn’t resonate with supporters of publicly financed campaigns, said Michael Kink, the executive director of Strong Economy for All Coalition, which is among the organizations targeting opponents of election reform. Kink said taking special interest money out of the election process would go a long way to fight the corruption that consistently affects the legislative process.
“We have a systemic problem,” he said. “That’s why we need a systemic solution.”
Solutions like one offered recently by state Sen. Jeff Klein and the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference. Last month, Klein proposed sweeping changes that would provide public financing for state offices and curb private contributions.
Yet Klein’s legislation hasn’t advanced to the floor. Kink faulted Republican legislators like Farley for failing to advance the bill and for “protecting the status quo” in Albany.
“Farley and the Republican Conference have done nothing other than oppose this,” he said. “They say no over and over again.”
Farley said there’s a simpler reason he doesn’t support publicly financed campaigns: His constituents don’t like the idea. He said polls of his district — a sprawling swath of upstate extending from Schenectady to Tupper Lake in Franklin County — show that the majority of the people he represents don’t believe in publicly financed campaigns.
“There are polls and almost everybody I talk to doesn’t like the idea of using taxpayer money to fund campaigns,” he said. “That doesn’t sell very well in my district.”