“Soft money” contributions to party and state Legislature housekeeping accounts grew by 24 percent when donations between 1999 and 2005 — $46.7 million — and between 2006 and 2012 — $58 million — are compared, according to a Common Cause/NY report released today. The figures don’t include county and local contributions because the state did not start tracking them until 2006. When county and local contributions are added to the 2006-2012 numbers, the total soft money contributions spike to $87.1 million, for a grand total for the 13 years of $133.8 million.
Donors are able to get around New York’s contribution limits — which are already higher than other states — by giving cash, or soft money. No individual can give more than $150,000 in any single year, and no corporation can give more than $5,000 in any year. Political party committees can accept up to $102,300 from an individual and $5,000 from a corporation. But the soft money loophole allows any corporation, individual, union or other special interest to give unlimited amounts of cash to housekeeping accounts set up by political parties, Common Cause’s report said.
Soft money is not supposed to be used to support candidates and their campaigns but that provision is routinely ignored, the good-government group’s report said.
“Housekeeping accounts are a notorious loophole which both contributors and committees exploit to ignore our state’s campaign contribution limits and undermine the voters,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, said in a statement. “The system of legal bribery in which Albany operates is largely responsible for the wide scale corruption we’ve seen in recent months.”
More than $45 million of the donations between 2006 and 2012 came from businesses, compared to $23.3 million for individuals, $9.4 million from political committees and $7.7 million from unions.
Common Cause, the New York Public Interest Research Group and other good-government organizations support public campaign financing. They want the state to “empower small donors through enacting a Fair Elections system of public matching funds.”
Hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote the largest single soft money checks, the report found — $1 million from Mercer to the Conservative Party in 2010 and $1 million from Bloomberg to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee in 2012.
The top twenty donors include: Bloomberg ($7.2 m), New York State United Teachers ($3.2m), the Greater New York Hospital Association ($3.0m), 1199/SEIU Healthcare Workers East ($2.0m), Cablevision ($1.6m), Verizon ($1.5m), the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America ($1.4m), Time Warner Cable ($1.2m), Philip Morris ($1.2m) and the Healthcare Association of New York ($1.1m).