Democrat & Chronicle: Final push needed on campaign finance reform [Editorial]

Final push needed on campaign finance reform

Democrat & Chronicle

March 21, 2014

As he prepares to seek reelection this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has more than $33 million in his campaign war chest and not much to show for his pledge to overhaul the state’s campaign finance laws. The governor can fufill that promise this month — and he should push hard to do so.

By including a package of much-needed campaign finance reforms in his state budget proposal, Cuomo has made the issue impossible for lawmakers to ignore. To its credit, the Assembly hasn’t. That body’s one-house budget also includes Cuomo’s campaign-finance proposals. Not so in the Senate, where power-sharing Republicanscontinue to balk.

Why should taxpayers be forced to pay for political campaigns, is their chief argument. As if taxpayers had a choice about the myriad other areas their dollars are directed. The truth is, campaign finance — especially a system of public matching funds, as has proven successful in New York City — opens the door to more potential candidates (particularly those who aren’t wealthy). Thus, the opposition.

Cuomo — and, for that matter, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — must fight forcefully to ensure campaign reforms do not fall victim to backroom budget negotiating. Nor should they be watered down.

Here’s what’s needed, at minimum:

• Realistic contribution limits. New York’s cap of $60,800 for individual donations to statewide candidates is the highest in the nation among states that set limits. Sky-high limits for state senators ($16,800) and Assembly members ($8,200) as well explain why, in 2012, more than 28 percent of campaign contributions came from donors giving $10,000 or more. Too, there’s no limit for state parties’ use of so-called housekeeping funds. Tighter caps and better oversight is needed across the board.

• Legitimate enforcement. The state’s oversight of how campaigns collect and spend donations is laughably lax. More rigid disclosure requirements are part of the solution. Add to that an independent body with real teeth to hold loophole-diving lawmakers accountable.

• Public financing. A voluntary system that would see smaller donations matched at something like the 6-to-1 ratio used in New York City would encourage more participation among potential candidates and smaller donors.

New York is poised to be the first state to pass meaningful campaign reform since the Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United ruling. Cuomo’s reforms wouldn’t reverse that decision but they would bring long-sought fairness and oversight to Albany. He must not back down.

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