The governor and state lawmakers must finally act on campaign finance changes
Democrat and Chronicle
January 27, 2014
Other than Republicans in the state Senate, very few constituencies argue against the crying need for campaign finance reform in New York. Indeed, such measures are favored by some two-thirds of state residents, and have been urged repeatedly, if tepidly, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
So it was welcome news that the governor announced — albeit in drive-by fashion — funding for publicly financed campaigns in the state budget last week. Still, the question remains: Which Cuomo will push the issue this year? The one who says he wants to overhaul the system, or the one who benefits from it? If there is any hope of securing campaign finance reform in the coming year, it had better be the former.
That would require a reset. For all the talk of campaign reform from Cuomo — and he’s been talking about it since his first election bid — the needle has barely moved. What has moved — steadily upward — is the governor’s campaign chest, which is now well above $33 million following a Los Angeles fundraiser last week that reportedly raked in $600,000.
The Legislature certainly isn’t about to offer up a bill — not without the type of gubernatorial prodding that led to agreements on same-sex marriage and the SAFE Act. While the Assembly has passed reform measures, Senate Republicans, reflecting the views of public financing foes like Majority Leader Dean Skelos and area Sens. Joseph Robach of Greece and Michael Nozzolio of Seneca County, have stonewalled.
But as a recent report by a Cuomo-appointed anti-corruption commission made clear, the state’s current election laws are a joke: Oversight is an afterthought, enforcement is anemic and loopholes abound. The result was on parade in Albany last year. Scandal atop scandal saw more than half a dozen state lawmakers either indicted or resign. And this was three years after Cuomo called state government “a national disgrace” and vowed all manner of ethics, campaign and redistricting reforms.
Cuomo’s budget proposal, providing 6-to-1 matching funds for individual contributions of $175 and below, is a start. The governor also proposed $5.3 million for an enforcement arm of the state Board of Elections. That should quell some of the toothless board’s excuses.
Ultimately, if he’s serious on this front, the governor will need to prove it by making additional ethics reforms a priority this year. It will require far more attention than he gave the topic in his budget presentation.
And if reforms are not achieved, voters must hold their representatives accountable this election year. One way or the other, this should be the last year state lawmakers enjoy such unfair spending advantages.