Opinion Editorial on Small Donor Empowerment
Alarm Bells in Albany
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who promised to clean up state government in his 2010 campaign, has now become so alarmed by the latest scandals in Albany that he has issued a threat lawmakers ought to take seriously. If the Legislature does not pass a package of electoral reforms, including public financing, before the session ends in June, he says he will consider appointing a Moreland Act Commission that can investigate and subpoena government officials suspected of misconduct. The commission would be able to make public its findings and pass those findings on to local or federal investigators.
If legislators find that idea disturbing, they could change the culture of Albany in a very basic way by enacting public financing of campaigns and making their own elections competitive. Far too many lawmakers are re-elected without competition, with their campaigns financed by special-interest groups. The recent arrests of two state senators, John Sampson and Malcolm Smith, and the sentencing of former State Senator Shirley Huntley on corruption charges should be reason enough to increase electoral choice. Public matching funds for small contributions would encourage more candidates to run.
The Senate Republicans have been outspoken in opposing public financing. They held what was supposed to be a public hearing last week that was mostly missing the public. The invitation-only hearing by the Senate Committee on Elections not only violated the state’s Open Meetings Law; it violated any sense of balance. It was clearly designed to spew criticism of public financing.
Critics of public financing routinely charge that the cost to taxpayers is too high and that such a system invites corruption. But New York City’s public finance system has worked because the city’s Campaign Finance Board has been a diligent watchdog, in glaring contrast to the feeble Board of Elections, which oversees state races.
The Assembly last week approved a workable bill that includes a state public financing system, first applying to the comptroller’s race next year and then legislative races in 2016. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his Democratic majority cannot celebrate after this one vote. They will need to force Governor Cuomo and State Senate leaders to agree on a sound public financing law.