The New York Times: Little Time Left for Campaign Reforms

Little Time Left for Campaign Reforms

The New York Times

May 16, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is busy running for re-election, but he has yet to make good on a campaign promise from 2010: to clean up New York’s abysmal campaign finance system. He can do that by coaxing the Legislature into passing a reform package that provides public matching funds for small donations.

New York’s campaign laws are so lax that a few special interests can flood any race. In Albany, most of that money goes toward keeping loyal incumbents in their seats until retirement, death or, in many recent cases, incarceration. What Albany needs is competition.

Progressives and reform-minded activists who have been unhappy with Mr. Cuomo’s fiscal policies have suggested that he can firm up their support if he gets public financing of campaigns approved.

A workable system must attract plenty of candidates who agree to participate voluntarily. It must encourage small donors by matching every dollar contributed to a candidate with $6 in public funds (up to $175 per donor), like the system in New York City. The public funding cap for candidates must be high enough for them to be able to compete, and there must be an enforcement body similar to the city’s strong campaign finance board.

Public financing, which would be paid for out of unclaimed funds in the state treasury, could start in 2016 for all state elections. And donors should be able to come from anywhere in the state, not just a candidate’s district or county.

In March, the Legislature passed what members called a pilot program for public financing that applies only to the state comptroller’s race this year. The incumbent comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, has refused to participate, calling the slapdash program a farce. But Robert Antonacci, the Onondaga County comptroller and Mr. DiNapoli’s Republican opponent, has decided to participate in the program. Republicans in the State Senate, who have long blocked a comprehensive plan for public financing of campaigns, should now embrace it.

The time is exactly right to pass a healthy campaign finance reform package because Republicans have already endorsed the pilot program and one of their own is already using it. It will be up to Mr. Cuomo to talk less enthusiastic legislators into doing the right thing and perhaps threaten to campaign against them if they don’t.

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