The Clean Air Coalition on Tuesday called on the Western New York delegation to the State Legislature to support a full package of campaign finance reform measures aimed at leveling the playing field between the public and corporate entities that run afoul of environmental protection laws.
The brief demonstration was held in Aqua Lane Park off River Road in the Town of Tonawanda, not far from Tonawanda Coke, and came on the heels of guilty verdicts last week on 14 of the 19 federal criminal charges against the plant for pollution.
“After 10 years, Tonawanda Coke was found guilty by a jury of its peers for violating the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ... and for obstruction of justice. That happened because ordinary citizens organized and made Albany listen to them, but it shouldn’t take 10 years,” said Erin Heaney, the coalition’s executive director. Heaney was joined by other coalition members, as well as members of Citizen Action and the Sierra Club and Tonawanda residents who charged that the state’s campaign finance laws are rigged against ordinary citizens and in favor of corporate interests.
“Our members today are holding up signs with how much corporations in the Town of Tonawanda have donated to politicians over about the last five years,” she said.
“Tonawanda Coke has given over $50,000. Noco has given nearly $200,000. Dunlop has given about $1,000. NRG Huntley, the coal plant right behind us, has given over $100,000,” she said.
“If we’re going to continue to make change here in the Town of Tonawanda, we need our voices to be heard in Albany just as loud as corporate polluters who can afford to pay to have their voices heard,” she added.
Heaney and the coalition called on state Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, whose districts include Tonawanda Coke, to support reforms. These include public financing of elections, rules limiting the size of campaign donations and laws that promote transparency so that the public may know from whom elected officials are receiving campaign donations.
“We need your support on this bill so we can take back people power,” said Tonawanda resident Ron Malec.
“New Yorkers can no longer afford to allow big corporate polluters to undermine our democracy,” said Jim Anderson, vice president of Citizen Action.
“We keep paying for the bad choices from politicians who serve corporate interests. It’s time to fix our broken campaign finance system with publicly financed elections this legislative session,” he added.