ALBANY – While labor unions, environmentalists, liberal and conservative groups have banded together to oppose opening up the state constitution to revisions, several personal injury and labor law firms also have helped fund a campaign against holding a constitutional convention, records show.
New Yorkers Against Corruption, a campaign opposing the constitutional convention mainly funded by labor unions, also has received contributions from the legal community, a review of campaign contributions by the New York Law Journal found.
On Nov. 7, voters will have a chance to decide on the referendum question “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” The question is posed every 20 years to voters, which last rejected the proposal in 1997. If the referendum is approved, voters in New York would elect delegates in 2018 to a convention, which would meet the year after. At the convention, delegates would get to propose amendments to the state constitution for voter ratification. Then, in November 2019, the electorate would get a chance to vote on each proposed amendment.
Proponents of holding a constitutional convention, including the New York State Bar Association, have said that it provides a unique opportunity to reorganize the state’s court system and to address several issues that the Legislature hasn’t, such as reforms to campaign finance law. The state constitution was last revised in 1967, when the last constitutional convention was held.
The Committee for a Constitutional Convention, managed by Evan Davis, who is senior counsel at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and the former counsel to Gov. Mario Cuomo, has received contributions from individual attorneys, but the campaign apparatus significantly lags behind New Yorkers Against Corruption.
Opponents of a constitutional convention argue that opening up the state constitution for revisions and change could be influenced by outside “dark money” and similar donors that aided in the election of President Donald Trump. Opponents have also argued that several provisions already existing in the state constitution could be threatened, if not entirely undone.
Opponents, including Newburgh-based Fine, Olin & Anderman, which serves the “legal needs of union members” donated $12,500 to the campaign in early October, campaign disclosures with the state’s Board of Elections show. Also among the law firms who contributed the most to defeat the ballot measure are Kennedy, Jennik & Murray, which represents unions and employees, who donated $5,000 last week; Weitz & Luxenberg, a personal injury litigation firm; Colleran, O’Hara & Mills, a labor law firm; and Levy Ratner, a labor advocacy law firm, which each donated $2,500 to New Yorkers Against Corruption last month, disclosures show.
Various personal injury and labor law firms also contributed roughly $41,100 since New Yorkers Against Corruption became politically active in the summer, campaign contribution records show. But the contributions by the law firms pale in comparison to the ones donated by labor unions, which have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in the days leading up to next week’s election.
Tom Kennedy, a partner at Kennedy, Jennik & Murray, told the New York Law Journal Tuesday that the law firm believes holding a constitutional convention “would be dominated by right- wing billionaires and their cohorts in an effort to destroy hard-won rights.” The pension system for public employees would “be under assault” and collective bargaining could be removed, Kennedy said.
The Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York also has voted to oppose the convention, which would be the first in 50 years. The next referendum on a convention would be in 2037.
Voters also appear to be against holding a constitutional convention. A poll of likely voters released by Siena College Research Institute in Albany Wednesday morning found that only 25 percent of likely voters support holding a constitutional convention, while 57 percent of likely voters in New York oppose it.
“While a small plurality of likely New York City voters opposes ConCon, strong majorities of downstate suburbanites and upstate voters oppose it,” said Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg. “Democrats and independents oppose ConCon by about 2-to-1, while Republicans oppose it better than 3-to-1.”