THE BLOG
06/17/2013 03:13 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

NY Election Reform: America Is Watching

I'm not a big gambler. But if I ever need make a quick buck, I'll try to find a bookie who takes bets on how politicians will vote on particular bills. Other than the sun coming up every morning, few things are more predictable.

Want the inside secret? All you have to do is follow the money.

Statisticians say that "correlation doesn't imply causation" -- but in politics, it definitely points us in the right direction. That's because if you want to figure out how legislators will vote, the best place to look isn't at what their constituents believe, but at what their campaign donors want.

Time and again, during the Sierra Club's fights for clean energy and climate action, we've seen politicians side with the fossil fuel companies that stuff their campaign coffers instead of with the people that they are supposed to represent. Just look at Congress. The House recently considered a bill to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Keystone XL is Big Oil's dream project, but it's a nightmare for everyone else. It threatens our air, water, and climate with some of the most toxic fuels on Earth. But you look at who voted for it, and you'll see that my betting tip is right on.

The House members who voted for the bill took, on average, $57,000 in campaign cash from oil and gas interests in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Those who opposed it? They received an average of only about $6,000 in fossil fuel money.

It gets worse. Last month, several U.S. senators didn't show up to a confirmation hearing for Gina McCarthy, President Obama's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, considerably delaying her appointment. Were they too busy? Nope. On the very same day, the same senators found time to collect checks from the oil lobbyists who oppose the EPA's work.

Our system of elections is broken -- and the situation was only made worse by the Supreme Court's absurd Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unlimited and unaccountable corporate cash. Now, a very small cadre of very rich people is spending a very large amount of money on politicians who will push their agenda without question.

The Sierra Club's 2.1 million members and supporters understand that in order to clean up our environment, we must also clean up our elections. That's why we are proud to be a part of a broad coalition fighting to get corrupting corporate money out of politics for good. And that's why we are excited to be engaged in an effort in New York that has a real chance to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform.

New York State has not been immune to the gridlock and inaction caused by political money. For years, big polluters have poured big bucks into political campaigns -- and it's paid big dividends for their CEOs. In 2012, pro-fracking interests pumped nearly $400,000 into the campaigns of politicians in New York's Southern Tier -- the heart of the fight against fracking. And while all this toxic money was flowing, legislation to protect citizens from toxic fracking waste was stopped dead in its tracks.

The good news is that committed citizens and elected officials like Governor Andrew Cuomo are fighting back. A diverse coalition representing thousands of New Yorkers -- from members of the NAACP to the Sierra Club to the Communications Workers of America to the Working Families Party -- is supporting Fair Elections legislation that would put voters back in the driver's seat.

The provisions are straightforward -- big corporate donations would be out and small dollar donations matched by public funds would be in. Result: Those who are elected would be accountable to everyone -- not just to a handful of billionaires who paid for their political consultants and TV ads.

Fair Elections would begin to return government to being one that is of, by, and for the people -- instead dominated by a handful of wealthy special interests.

The Sierra Club is in the middle of this fight because we know we won't be able to fight for healthy communities and a healthy planet until the voices of those affected by pollution and threatened by climate disruption are no longer drowned out by the cynical roar of dirty-energy cash.

Sierra Club members and supporters in New York have been hard at work, calling lawmakers, recruiting volunteers, and rallying across the state because they know this legislation gives them a shot at a government that works. They also know that when we win, it won't be a victory for just the Empire State but for our whole country. A victory in New York -- the first real policy victory since the Citizens United decision -- would send shockwaves across the country, right to the Koch brothers' doorsteps.

The legislative session in New York is in its final week. The Assembly has passed Fair Elections legislation. Gov. Cuomo has introduced his own legislation. The Senate now needs to act.

America is watching.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, Public Campaign, and Fair Elections for New York in an effort to raise the voices of everyday people in New York State through comprehensive reform of the way elections are financed. For more information on Public Campaign, click here; for more information on Fair Elections for New York, click here.

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