Democrat and Chronicle
October 9, 2013
Disclosure that an Albany lobbyist created a last-minute PAC through which he poured more than $40,000 into last month’s Rochester mayoral primary is yet another in a long list of examples of why New York needs tighter restrictions and oversight of campaign financing.
The lobbyist, Robert Scott Gaddy, set up a political committee called Rochester Rising in late August, deposited $40,000 in its coffers in early September — past the deadline for pre-primary financial filing disclosures — and funneled the funds toward advertising in support of Democratic candidate Lovely Warren.
It’s all legal. And that’s the problem. New York’s campaign finance laws are so flimsy that even such an obvious end-run around the normal $3,335 limit Gaddy would have faced had he donated directly to Warren’s campaign is allowed.
Not only does such spending tilt the playing field, particularly in lower-cost local elections, it can take control of a campaign from a candidate — even one it intends to support.
Further, there’s more at stake than equitable elections, though they are certainly important. Lax campaign laws leave the door open for monied interests to attempt to unduly influence public policy.
Just look at the money the gambling industry is funneling to New York lawmakers and committees: $3.2 million in the past two years, including more than $360,000 to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. All as the state moves toward legalizing casinos. Such donations ought to be well documented and well regulated.
Cuomo must finally show progress on campaign finance reform — an issue he ran on as a candidate in 2010 but has paid scant attention to since taking office. His late-in-the-session proposal last spring, for example, gained little traction, despite a spate of scandals early this year tied to Albany’s notorious pay-to-play culture.
With the Supreme Court hearing arguments Tuesday in a case that could further loosen the amount that individual donors can pump into the political system, it is vital that the governor finally act.
The examples are numerous; the need is profound; the time has long since passed: Put some much-needed spine into New York’s campaign finance laws.