Albany Times Union: Upgrade NY State Board of Elections [Editorial]

Editorial: Money, politics and reality

Albany Times-Union

January 12, 2013


The push is on anew, and more creatively than ever, for tougher campaign finance laws.


New York can’t afford not to do what it takes to get money out of politics.

Governor Cuomo and like-minded members of the Legislature are determined to deliver what’s long been politically impossible: They want to rewrite the state’s campaign finance laws, so elections are won rather than bought.

We’re all for that, of course. Yet one question dogs us all the while: What if New York had genuine campaign reform, but couldn’t enforce it?

We’re halfway there already. The Board of Elections has long been either unable or unwilling, or quite possibly both, to carry out its mission.

The state agency that’s responsible for trying to see that political campaigns are contested with a semblance of fairness clearly lacks adequate staffing. The board has gone an entire year without a single investigator on staff.

Doug Kellner, one of the Board of Elections’ commissioners, says that if taxpayers want to pursue complaints about campaign finance law violations, they should go to court. That’s a terribly sad commentary on state government.

It’s bad enough while the laws regulating political fundraising and spending are scandalously lax. All that talk about tougher campaign finance laws in Mr. Cuomo’s State of the State speech last week is compromised already unless his budget proposal later this month includes a dollars-and-cents commitment to make those new regulations stick.

Meantime, you can expect calls for minimizing the role of money in politics to be deflected with the false and self-serving assertion that the state can’t afford it.

That’s especially true about public financing for political candidates. The opposition to that from Republicans in the state Senate is so predictable they could make a robo call out of it.

Now, however, a liberal Democratic state senator and a good government activist are calling their bluff. Yes, we can afford public campaign financing, argue Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan and Bill Samuels of the Roosevelt Institute.The cost, they say, would come to all of $3 to $4 per taxpayer.

But taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for the bill. The political beauty lies in how Ms. Krueger and Mr. Samuels propose paying the modest cost of protecting democracy: with money from casino gambling licenses.

The operators of the seven casinos proposed in a constitutional amendment that already has passed the Legislature once would have to pony up $8 million apiece. That’s enough money— $224 million — to pay for campaigns over a four-year election cycle. A tiny bit less, if that’s where the salaries of Board of Elections investigators come from.

How can anyone oppose that in a Legislature so supportive of casinos, and in a state so in need of campaign finance reform? For all that will be said about campaign finance laws in the weeks ahead, it will be hard to top the ingeniousness of Ms. Krueger and Mr. Samuels.

This isn’t about money. It’s all about political will.

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