Daily Messenger: Campaign-finance reform must be priority [Editorial]

OUR VIEW: Campaign-finance reform must be priority

Daily Messenger

January 22, 2014

Canandaigua, N.Y.

Donald Trump is scheduled to attend a Republican fundraiser in Buffalo on Jan. 31, and says he’d consider a run for governor. Given the money needed to conduct such a campaign, Trump’s one of the few who could afford it.

One thing is certain: Whoever decides to take on Democrat Andrew Cuomo in November had better have a sack full of loot. At last count, the governor had $33.3 million in his campaign chest. Since last July, Cuomo raised $7 million and spent $1.5 million, a filing with the state Board of Elections showed.

That alone should convince anyone who believes in democracy that we desperately need campaign finance reform.

“It costs a lot of money in New York to run an effective campaign,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg, adding that Cuomo’s cash could scare off potential candidates.

Maybe not Trump. But most don’t have his deep pockets. So if your political ambition is bigger than your bank account, forget it. New York’s pay-to-play election system will keep you on the sidelines.

It shouldn’t. Public financing of campaigns could lead to fair elections by leveling the playing field. It did in Maine, where voters approved the Clean Elections Law in 1996. It stipulates that candidates who accept public funding must forego any private contributions — beyond a small amount of “seed money” and qualifying contributions — and run an entirely “clean” campaign. Today, 70 percent of Maine legislators use public financing, which has increased participation and gives voters more voice.

In a letter to Cuomo, more than 30 organizations that have led the fight to fix this broken system have asked him to advance reforms as part of this year’s budget process.

And on Tuesday Cuomo announced that his proposed budget includes a public campaign financing system based on New York City’s model.

Under the plan, contributions of up to $175 would be matched $6 to $1.

The proposal, made during his budget address, also includes new restrictions on personal use of campaign funds and other measures aimed at public corruption.

Until the deep pockets are emptied, New Yorkers’ trust in state government will suffer. Let’s hope Cuomo and the Legislature — where Republicans have stated opposition to the initiatives — can make this happen.

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