Cuomo huddles with W.F.P., reformers on campaign finance

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ALBANY—As he re-engages negotiations to expand a system of public campaign finance, Governor Andrew Cuomo has met with good-government advocates and a top Working Families Party official to gauge support for a possible compromise.

A 90-minute meeting occurred Wednesday afternoon in Cuomo's Manhattan office, the day after the governor wrote a Huffington Post essay affirming his commitment to a broader system of public campaign finance.

Four people who attended or were briefed on the session said Cuomo stressed many of the points in his essay: Republican acceptance of a pilot program of public campaign finance, Cuomo said, was an indication that they might be open to something more ambitious.

Reportedly, the potential points of compromise include a lower-level of matching funds than is currently in place in New York City (3:1 or 2:1, as opposed to 6:1), a system of regional caps and a multi-year phase-in.

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“We talked through how to handle all of the significant details that are currently being discussed, and getting a sense of what is possible to attract broad-based support and make the program workable,” said Citizens Union executive director Dick Dadey. “Our discussions with the governor and Senator Klein have moved from the need to get campaign finance reform, to specifically how it can get done, and what needs to be in the legislation to ensure both its appeal to legislators and a level of success. We're dealing in a level of legislative detail that shows there's a real real path to victory.”

A Cuomo spokesman declined to comment.

The governor attended the meeting along with his top counsel, Mylan Denerstein. Other attendees included Susan Lerner of Common Cause, Sally Robinson of the League of Women Voters, Larry Norden of NYU's Brennan Center, Working Families Party executive director Dan Cantor and Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Cuomo is facing pressure from the activists who control the W.F.P.'s nomination to enact a broader system of public campaign finance, after his previous effort—the pilot program proposed in the budget that would only apply to the comptroller's race—was roundly criticized by reformers and editorial boards (to say nothing of the comptroller himself) as a weak gesture. 

The governor is seeking the party's ballot line for his re-election, and hopes to prevent a left-flank challenger from moving forward there.

Some Democrats and advocates on the issue are already criticizing some of the leaked proposals.

State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from the Upper East Side, said Cuomo's current course “seems like Act II” of the “farce” that was enacted in the budget. She called the differing regional caps a “Republican incumbent-protection plan.”

The attendees said they saw an opportunity for reform, at least. 

“I think this is a unique, historical situation where the possibilities of meaningful campaign reform are as good as I've seen in 30 years,” said Horner. “But that doesn't mean there will be action.”