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State may revisit campaign finance reform

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Governor Cuomo says he’s starting  a new effort to push campaign finance reform in New York’s elections.

Governor Cuomo pledged during his election campaign that he would work toward reforming the state’s campaign finance system, which contains loopholes that permit nearly unlimited amounts of money to be given to candidates.   The governor listed public financing of campaigns as a goal in his State of the State message in January, but then failed to actively pursue the topic. The governor says there was a reason.

“The legislature  did not want to pass campaign finance reform,” Cuomo said.

Now that the formal legislative session is over, Cuomo says he will renew his efforts, and try to “raise awareness” with the public. He’ll be working with a coalition of groups that includes Facebook founder Chris Hughes and his husband Sean Eldridge, who worked with the governor to coordinate the efforts to pass same sex marriage in New York. The governor says, like the gay marriage issue, he has to convince the public that campaign finance reform is important, before legislators will agree to it.

“We have to get the people of the state to demand campaign finance reform,” Cuomo said. “Which they are not doing today.”

Cuomo says campaign finance reform often scores low as a priority in voter surveys. The governor says he thinks the “excessive” spending and “exploitation” of loopholes, like Super PACs ,already occurring in the 2012 elections may also help raise public awareness.

“I think people are really going to get the sense that the system is out of control,” Cuomo said.

At the same time the Governor is speaking out against excessive spending he’s making use of the current laws. The blog State of Politics reports that hours after Cuomo spoke in favor of campaign finance reform in a news conference, he attended a $20,000 a plate fundraiser at the home of his sister and brother in law, Maria and Kenneth Cole.  And the governor has made use of a legal campaign loophole. He’s worked closely with the business funded Committee to Save New York, a not for profit entity that runs TV ads to promote the governors’ agenda.

The group does not have to publicly disclose its donors. Cuomo says while he does not think the Committee should have to reveal who gave them money so far, he is instructing the state ethics commission to set up new rules going forward that will force the not for profits known  as 401 C 4’s under the IRS code, to disclose donors.

“We are the only state in the nation that will require this disclosure,” the governor said.

Karen Scharff, with Citizen Action, who has long advocated for campaign finance reform, welcomes Cuomo’s initiative, but blames Republicans in the Senate for holding reforms up. She says many Democrats are in favor.

“There is a lot of strong legislative support,” Scharff said.

There’s speculation that Governor Cuomo could push a public campaign finance bill in a special session later this year, and perhaps trade the issue in exchange for granting law makers a pay raise. The governor won’t commit to a specific time table right now, saying he’ll “strike when the iron is hot”.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.