Public Finance Resurfaces

Public finance resurfaces

Albany Times-Union

Casey Seiler

May 7, 2014


Have reports of the legislative death of a broad-based public financing system for New York’s political campaigns been greatly exaggerated?

It’s too soon to tell, but with less than 20 session days left before state lawmakers head back to their districts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has found a renewed burst of enthusiasm for the concept.

In a commentary published Tuesday on theHuffington Post website, Cuomo called the establishment of a public campaign financing system “the last meaningful reform left undone” in the state’s attempt to clean up its ethical house.

And on Wednesday, Onondaga County’s Republican Comptroller Bob Antonacciannounced he’ll be running for state comptroller as New York’s first taxpayer-funded statewide candidate.

Many good-government advocates expressed disappointment at the end of March when the governor revealed that his original plan for an “opt-in” public financing system for all state races would be reduced to a single contest, the 2014 comptroller’s race. That bargain was struck with legislative leaders as part of negotiations on the state budget.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, like Cuomo a Democrat and an advocate for campaign finance reform, complained that the midstream change in his fundraising was unfair and the pilot program “designed to fail,” and announced he would not opt in.

Progressive groups and Cuomo want to see a system that would match small-donor contributions 6-to-1, similar to the funding machinery that has been in effect in New York City for more than two decades. Candidates who opt in must also agree to strict spending limits.

Republicans, including those who co-control the state Senate with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, describe public finance as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Administration sources said that one idea on the table is to allow for public matching in races beginning with any special elections in 2015. Another negotiating point is the size of the match, which could drop below 6-to-1 in order to mollify Republican complaints about cost.

In his Huffington Post piece, Cuomo said the matter was “in the hands of the Senate Majority Coalition,” along with two other progressive agenda items blocked by a lack of Republican votes: the Women’s Equality Act — including a controversial abortion plank — and the Dream Act, which would make educational funding available for the children of undocumentred immigrants.

“Those issues will need to be resolved in the next election cycle and I plan on bringing my case to the people,” said Cuomo, who heads to the state Democratic convention later this month.

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