New York Times: New York Waits for Campaign Finance Reform [Editorial]

New York Waits for Campaign Finance Reform

New York Times

February 16, 2012

New York is a shamefully easy place for a state politician to raise money. Gov. Andrew Cuomo knows this all too well and has repeatedly promised to reform the state’s scandalously lax campaign financing laws. Until that happens, however, Mr. Cuomo is taking full advantage of the system.

The fund-raising operation for his 2014 re-election campaign has $14.4 million in the till and is growing daily. He has support from ordinary New Yorkers, but as the New York Public Interest Research Group reported recently, Mr. Cuomo enjoys the support of big donors who take advantage of extremely high contribution limits — $60,800 to a candidate in a statewide race. Of the 127 top campaign donors in the state in the last year, 79 of them contributed about $2.96 million to Mr. Cuomo.

The sky-high limits for donations also worked well for donors who contributed their private planes for the governor’s use. As one example, Stephen Green, a real estate executive and brother of Mark Green, the former New York City public advocate, offered his plane to the governor. He figured the free flights were worth $59,843, just under the state contribution limit.

Mr. Cuomo has the right under state law to milk this system, as his colleagues and competitors do. But, as governor, he has the obligation to end this corrupting mess, as even some of the wealthiest New Yorkers made clear in a press conference on Wednesday in Albany. He also needs to get the Legislature engaged on this issue and pass necessary reforms.

State campaign finance reform should, at a minimum, make these fixes:

¶Cut contribution limits. The state limit is more than 20 times the federal limit of $2,500 for individual donations per candidate per election.

¶Make public financing for campaigns available for all state offices, much like the system used in New York City.

¶Prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal expenses.

¶Ban contributions to so-called housekeeping funds for political parties, which have become nothing more than slush funds for candidates and their parties.

In his State of the State address last month, Mr. Cuomo noted that a smaller percentage of New Yorkers contribute to candidates running for state office than anywhere else in the nation. He called for a better campaign system to get more people invested in their politicians. He can start right now.

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