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'Let the People In!': NY Senate GOP Bars Public From Public Hearing

Senate blocks entry to hearing on campaign finance reform

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Protesters chanting outside an open window interrupted a 'closed-door public hearing' Tuesday at the New York Senate. (Photo: @MissFleck)A Republican-sponsored New York State Senate hearing on campaign finance reform was disrupted by protests Tuesday morning after guards blocked the door, preventing the public or anyone for free and fair elections from entering the 'public hearing'.

Anti-big money groups have been calling for New York to adopt a system of small-donor-empowered campaign finance, similar to that of New York City, to curtail some of the rampant corruption associated with state electoral politics.

Senate Republicans announced the hearing to "investigate" the alleged costs associated with the city's system. According to a local news source, the state GOP has spent a "great deal of time attacking the city's financing system" with claims of egregious costs and corruption, which groups such as the Brennan Center for Justice and Fair Elections for New York have issued reports refuting.

Campaign finance reform experts and advocates, however, were unable to reveal their findings at the public hearing today when Senate Republicans barred the doors to those critical of their opposition to campaign finance reform.

One local news outlet reported that "security was so tight at the hearing that six Senate sergeants-at-arms were guarding the room, even temporarily barring credential members of the press from entering the public proceeding."

“With the recent spate of arrests and polls showing keen public interest in reform issues, members of the public ought to at least be able to observe and listen to the proceedings, in accordance with the law,” wrote Bill Mahoney, author of a New York's Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) report released Tuesday, which revealed over 100,000 incidents of campaign finance violations in the state since 2011.

Mahoney, along with other anti-big money groups including Common Cause/NY, The Brennan Center, Citizen Action New York and Center For Working Families, issued a formal letter of complaint to the state Committee on Open Government, regarding the closed-door public hearing.

“The failure to open up a 'public' hearing to the public today is a new low for democracy and open government in New York,” they continued.

“The failure to open up a 'public' hearing to the public today is a new low for democracy and open government in New York.”

Outside the doors of the Senate hearing, the castigated experts were joined by open government advocates and protesters in an impromptu rally. A number of protesters interrupted hearing proceedings chanting outside of an open window, "Let the people in,"—until it was closed in their faces.

Reporting on the scene, one protester wrote:

The Republicans refused to allow any of those experts in, but they also prevented members of the public from having access; they brought staffers to occupy all the seats that were available and told security to prevent anyone else from entering. (I think we numbered 75 people at this point!)

Our folks, including of course many from Occupy Albany and supporters of Fair Elections from the faith community, good government groups like Common Cause, Citizen Action, and Strong Economy for All, held an impromptu press conferences outside the barred doors of the hearing. Following that, we chanted about wanting to get corporate money out of politics and of course "Fair Elections Now!"

Many of our folks had dollar bills stamped with our slogans affixed to their mouths, to represent out corporate cash polluting our system silences the people's voice, as well as the fact that Republicans were trying to hold a one-sided hearing that barred entrance to the most knowledgeable people in the state when it comes to campaign finance reform.

"Oral testimony is by invitation only," Mahoney added. "I suppose they are not interested in hearing from actual New Yorkers who have been effected by the system. They just want to hear people criticize a system that works better than ours."

"Senate Republicans are protecting the status quo rather than bringing real people's voices into the process," said Jessica Wisnewski of Citizen Action New York. "Report after report shows massive corporate donations benefit the Senate Republcians. Big money goes where power is."

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