By Brian Sampson and Dottie Gallagher-Cohen
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption recently released its preliminary report, which recounts Albany’s recent history of corruption and suggested numerous reforms. There is no doubt that Albany’s political culture needs to be fixed, and Unshackle Upstate has no objection to many of the commission’s recommendations.
But where we strongly disagree is on the issue of taxpayer funding of political campaigns. The commission’s report proposes a system under which the state would “match” certain donations to political candidates at a rate of 6 to 1. Donate $100 to a candidate, and the state will give that candidate an additional $600.
Like the dissenting commissioners who called this proposal “significantly flawed,” our view is that the Moreland Commission’s claim that taxpayer funding of political campaigns will clean up Albany’s culture of corruption is wrong.
If, as advocates claim, New York City’s program will serve as a guide, then such a program will create new opportunities for political corruption. In one recent instance, an incumbent New York City councilmember received $64,000 in public funds, while paying her son $55,000 to work on her campaign. This is just one example.
While there’s been much discussion about the fiscal impact of taxpayer-funded political campaigns, we are still waiting for the proponents to provide a reliable estimate of what their proposal will actually cost taxpayers. Hard-working New Yorkers should not be forced to hand over a blank check for the creation of an expensive new program to pay for attack ads, robo-calls and the myriad of other political expenses.
Despite being pitched as a panacea for cleaning up Albany, a system of public financing will be subject to manipulation via the political process. Under New York City’s program, for example, certain groups have carved out loopholes that favor them, further increasing their already significant political influence.
The big winner in New York City’s recent election was the Working Families Party, which is now seeking to increase its influence in Albany. The party and its coalition members spent more than $1 million in 2013 to promote taxpayer-financed campaigns. Does anyone think that this politically connected union supports this program because it is “fair”?
Cleaning up Albany is a monumental challenge that must be addressed in a way that restores the public’s trust and protects taxpayers. In reality, using public money to fund political campaigns will only make overburdened taxpayers feel used and abused.
Brian Sampson is executive director of Unshackle Upstate. Dottie Gallagher-Cohen is president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.