Albany Times-Union: Gov. Cuomo Should Ante Up Election Reform [Editorial]

Ante up on election reform

Albany Times-Union
January 19, 2014

Our opinion: The governor’s budget offers the opportunity to turn his promises on campaign finance reform into reality.

Public financing of campaigns. Independent enforcement of election law. Greater disclosure of elected officials’ outside business clients and associates. Stronger enforcement of ethics rules for legislators.

Those were the ideas Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered as he wrapped up his 2014 State of the State address, the annual speech in which governors lay out their vision in broad strokes. Now it’s time to fill in the outlines.

We’ll be looking to Mr. Cuomo to do that on Tuesday, when he is expected to release his budget for the next fiscal year. That’s where rhetoric becomes reality. It’s also where proposals are presented in a way that the Legislature can’t just ignore in the hope that they will go away.

It’s critical to see the funding for these reforms in the budget. On more than one occasion when rejecting a late legislative initiative, Mr. Cuomo has used the added cost of a new program or law as his reason for saying no. If it involves spending money, he oftoen says, the budget debate is the time to talk about it.

So, Mr. Cuomo, let’s start talking in earnest about it on Tuesday.

Talk about how much it will take to turn the state Board of Elections into an independent watchdog that will go after corruption and won’t bend over backwards trying to help politicians justify using campaign contributions for cars and show tickets and criminal lawyers — a practice that turns donations into bribes, and campaign accounts into personal slush funds.

Talk about what it will take to lower New York’s sky-high limits on political contributions, and to create and fund a program for public financing of campaigns. (A realistic estimate is about $60 million a year, which can be mostly covered by the savings of condensing New York’s multiple primary dates into one.)

Talk about what it will take to require greater disclosure of independent expenditures by non-candidates looking to influence the political system.

Talk about the cost, if any, to close loopholes that allow people to get around campaign donation limits by creating limited liability corporations, and to eliminate or at least rein in political party “housekeeping accounts” and their limitless donations,

And this: Talk about how you want to work with the Legislature on this, not create a plan that’s all about consolidating yet more power in the governor’s office. That’s a design that’s ripe for its own kind of abuse by governors who could use the power to go after political opponents and protect allies. So leave the door open to negotiation — with the understanding that the goal is to get the best system possible, not the most watered-down one, and not just a set of talking points.

Mr. Cuomo showed he hasn’t forgotten this issue when he spoke so passionately about ethics and campaign reform at the climax of his State of the State. It made for an encouraging end. Let Tuesday’s budget be a real beginning.




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