Niagara Gazette

Local News

May 7, 2013

Shut out of the process|Protesters blocked from NY campaign funds hearing

Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — Protesters and good-government advocates were barred from a public hearing Tuesday in which Republican senators bolstered their opposition to using public money to fund campaigns.

Federal corruption cases against four Democratic state lawmakers in the last four weeks among 32 over the last seven years intensified both sides of the issue as lawmakers face the final seven weeks of their legislative session.

"What began as a few bad apples has become a bushel and maybe even a barrel," Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union good-government group, among the speakers at the hearing, testified at the end of the proceeding.

Senate Republicans have long opposed using what they estimate would be $200 million to create a voluntary statewide system of publicly financed campaigns when schools, programs for the disabled and other needs are seeing cuts or flat spending in hard fiscal times. Republicans also note one of the recent corruption cases involves a Democrat accused of trying to bribe his way into the New York City mayor's race, where his campaign contributions could be matched 6-to-1 with public money under the city's public financing system.

After senators, staff, speakers and news media were allowed in Tuesday's hearing, others were told there was no more room, a move that may have run afoul of the state Open Meetings Law.

Robert Freeman of the state Committee on Open Government said in an interview that a public body must have a room of reasonable size for an event and must let people in on a first-come, first-serve basis. He said attendance could be reasonably restricted to limit disruptions.

If a big crowd is expected, the event should be moved to a larger room if one is available, Freeman said.

The hearing, run by Republicans, focused on what several speakers said are flaws in New York City's campaign financing system.

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