In the coming year, the League will be conducting an update of the League's position on campaign finance to determine whether contributing to a political campaign qualifies as protected speech under the First Amendment. Specifically, the study will examine the rights of individuals and groups to express their political views through campaign contributions and how those rights can be reconciled with the League's position.
The League's current position on campaign finance, last updated in 1982, states that "the methods of financing political campaigns should ensure the public's right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office and allow maximum citizen participation in the political process."
One could view campaign contributions as an exercise of the right of free speech, but the public's right to know would be enhanced by knowing the source of those contributions. A candidate's stand on issues cannot help but be influenced by money from big donors. Publication of the names of donors and the membership of contributing organizations may allow the public to anticipate a candidate's future actions in office.
We in New York State are painfully aware that some of our elected officials are corrupt. Ethics reforms that the Governor and Legislature have proposed to either limit or disclose outside income could help curb corruption. Again, knowing the source of the money tells us a lot about in whose interests a politician is acting.
At the local level, we will be discussing an updated position at the March 3rd Board meeting on the process of delegate selection for a State Constitutional Convention.
We also have an interesting program coming up on the grand jury system on March 11th with a panel discussion presenting the viewpoints of the prosecution and the defense. The participants will discuss whether changes need to be made in light of recent events nationwide concerning the grand jury system.
Also, we will have another opportunity to hear from Rowie Taylor, Executive Director of the YWCA, at a luncheon at the Turf Tavern. We're so glad that we could reschedule the luncheon with Rowie that was canceled due to bad weather in December. We hope you'll join us on March 18th.
Cheryl Nechamen, Lead
This year there will be a Convention of the League of Women Voters of New York State on June 6-7 in Albany. The State League is looking for direction from local chapters like ours, to propose at the convention, priority issues and positions for study and advocacy, which are either not already covered by League positions or are in need of updating and change. For example, two areas proposed in the 2013 state convention, Ballot Access and Term Limits for State Elected Positions, have gone through a period of study in the last year, and we came to consensus on January 26th. In prior years, we added positions on human trafficking and water protection of the Great Lakes to allow for grass roots advocacy on these issues.
At the national LWV Convention 2014, representatives adopted a program focused on the key structures of democracy. Three committees were selected to collect and disseminate information on redistricting in the various states, money in politics and the process of amending the Constitution. Reading lists will be available shortly on the member resources page of the LWV.org website and we will participate in the study of these issues.
According to the LWVUS website (LWV.org): "The Money in Politics Committee will conduct an update of the League's position on campaign finance for the purpose of addressing the lack of member understanding and agreement as to whether financing a political campaign is protected speech under the First Amendment. The campaign finance position will be updated through a study and consensus process to consider: (1) the rights of individuals and organizations, under the First Amendment, to express their political views through independent expenditures and the finance of election campaign activities; and (2) how those rights, if any, should be protected and reconciled with the interests set out in the current position."
This is how the League functions. We want to ensure that advocacy is both well informed and consistent throughout the state or nation. We utilize this process of study, and then hold representative meetings to come to consensus before we take a position and advocate on that position. Participation in a convention is very stimulating and exciting. It gives a vivid view of how the League functions and how you can contribute. The State convention is held every other year alternating with the national convention. We hope many of you will want to attend the State convention this year for either a session of interest to you, or for the entire convention. Let one of the board members know if you are interested!
Carol Furman, Lead
According to a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper editorial, the voter turnout for this election was lower than previous recent midterms in all but 12 states, and the lowest in a New York Gubernatorial election since the 1970s. In New York, only a third of the 10.8 million voters turned out to cast a ballot.
During our registration efforts, a number of League members commented on the feelings expressed by citizens who felt their vote would not change anything. Too many citizens doubt that real change is possible. TV advertisements and mailings by well financed non-candidate PACs can mean that it is more and more difficult for candidates to compete with special interest agendas. According to the editorial cited above, about 4 billion dollars was spent by just 0.2 percent of Americans supporting candidate races in this election. When voters don't go to the polls to cast their ballot, it strengthens the effects of special interest groups. Campaign finance reform is a cause for which the League has advocated and will continue to advocate.
The League has supported early voting and other measures to increase participation by voters. There is an early voting proposal which has passed the Assembly in New York but not the Senate. Last year during our lobby day, we spoke with our Senators and Assemblymen about this bill. It is estimated by the US Census Bureau that about a third of registered voters do not vote due to illness or inconvenience. Early voting could increase the numbers participating in elections.
Proposition 1, a state constitutional amendment, passed in this election thereby changing the way new district lines are drawn. This new process will not affect our elections until after the 2020 census but it will require that lines be drawn that create compact logical districts that preserve racial, ethnic and language groupings and not favor a particular candidate or party. The process will be more transparent and the courts can be involved. This should give voters more confidence that their vote counts and that incumbents are not favored by specially created districts.
Clearly there is much ongoing work to be done by the League and others to assure that citizens have the right to vote, and have their vote count.
Carol Furman, Lead
As well as voting for US Congress, NYS Governor, NYS Assembly and Senate and city and county offices, voters in New York will vote on three propositions. Proposal One, a Constitutional Amendment on New York State Redistricting, is actively supported by the New York State League. The amendment will revise the redistricting process for state legislative and congressional districts--something that the League has been advocating for 40 years. Currently the drawing of district lines is totally partisan, controlled by the major parties in the Legislature. "Artful" drawing of district boundaries, gerrymandering, results in districts lacking population equality, compactness, or contiguous territory, but "safe" for incumbents. The present process has been called "a major form of disenfranchisement". (Wang, Sam; "The Great Gerrymander of 2012", NYT Sunday Review: Feb. 2, 2013) An examination of seven states in which one party controlled the drawing of district lines, showed that, because of the way district lines were drawn, two parties could get essentially the same number of votes, but the party that controlled the redistricting process got more than twice as many of its candidates elected. Partisan redistricting is largely responsible for the fact that New York has one of the highest incumbent return rates in the nation...close to 95%. Since 1970, in over 4000 elections, only 40 incumbents have failed to be reelected. Essentially politicians get to select their voters rather than voters choosing their politicians.
The proposed constitutional amendment will accomplish several things. It will:
Ruth Bonn, Lead