State Sen. Malcolm Smith didn’t exactly play fair with his bid for the mayoralty of New York City. But elections there are usually fair, and elected officials less beholden, because New York City has something most places don’t: publicly financed elections. It’s time New York state did, too.
Polls show strong support among New Yorkers of all types — upstaters and downstaters, Republicans and Democrats, businesses and unions — for comprehensive campaign reform. That includes greater disclosure and enforcement, but also, importantly, publicly financed elections.
That’s because people have seen scandal after scandal in recent years, many of them related to money, and realize that even when things are done legally, too many important political decisions are based on who contributed the most. The process is distorted by money, with politicians not having to talk to the little guy if they can get what they need from some well-heeled individuals, companies or groups.
A new coalition called Fair Elections for New York has just launched major advertising push for publicly financed elections. It proposes a system in which individual donations of up to $175 or $250 would be matched by taxpayer funds. The Democrat-dominated Assembly has long favored publicly financed elections. Gov. Cuomo is also a proponent, and spoke out forcefully on a couple of occasions early last month.
The obstacle is the Senate, where Republicans control in a coalition with five Democrats who caucus independently of their party. While most of the five have expressed support in the past for publicly financed elections, the Republican leadership opposes them on the grounds that they cost too much money and reforms like greater disclosure and enforcement are more important.
Publicly financed elections would cost money, but not that much — $25 to $40 million a year. And think of the money they would save, in the prosecution and jailing of corrupt politicians, and the everyday taxpayer-funded waste and pork that goes to keep major contributors happy. They'd also start restoring public confidence in the system. At this point, they are the most important campaign finance reform.