Incumbent New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has rejected public campaign financing for his fall re-election bid, although any opponents can still use it.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature authorized a test of public financing in one statewide election this year — the race for comptroller. New York's chief financial officer oversees the state's $173 billion pension fund and a large staff of auditors.
"The pilot program for public financing of the comptroller election is a poor excuse to avoid the real reforms New Yorkers deserve," DiNapoli said Monday in a statement. "I was always willing to have reform start with the comptroller's office, but I will not be a convenient sacrificial lamb."
DiNapoli has raised more than $2.1 million already from private donors. His campaign's January report at the state Board of Elections shows more than 30 donations from unions, individuals and firms from the previous six months that exceed the $6,000 limit by any contributor under the pilot program. He'd have to give some money back to qualify for the public matching funds.
"That's a big part of it," DiNapoli said. He'd have to either give back or sequester for some future election about three-quarters of the money raised so far in an election cycle that began in 2011. "The other part, which is just as important, is having an adequate lead time for fair implementation," he said.
There are no other declared candidates so far. Initially appointed to the office, DiNapoli was elected to a four-year term in 2010 over Harry Wilson, a Republican former hedge fund manager.
"We are discussing the race with more than one interested candidate and expect to have a full slate by the time of our convention," state Republican Party spokesman David Laska said Monday. The convention is scheduled May 14-15. "We're firmly against publicly funded campaigns," he added.
The pilot program authorizes $6 to match each dollar of eligible contributions, up to the first $175 someone donates. Matching funds for candidates are limited to $4 million each for the primary and general elections. The program expires Dec. 31.
DiNapoli, a Democrat like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a former assemblyman, said he was excluded from the recent last-minute budget negotiations that "cobbled together" the campaign financing piece. If his legislative proposal had been adopted it would have already been in effect with clear ground rules, he said.
"We are surprised that the comptroller is opting out, as this was the comptroller's bill to begin with," Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing said Monday. "If he has specific concerns, we will modify the proposal, unless, of course, he just doesn't want to do public financing."
Several good-government groups lobbied for public financing for comptroller, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the entire state Legislature. New York City already has a similar financing scheme.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause-New York, said Monday that DiNapoli made "the only rational and responsible choice" by refusing to participate now. "The program is designed to provide political cover for Albany's failure to enact real reform, and is so poorly conceived that it is doomed to fail," she said.
The Senate Republican Conference, which has a ruling majority coalition in that chamber along with a small group of breakaway Democrats, has consistently opposed spending taxpayer money to fund candidates' races. The pilot program money comes from the state abandoned property fund, not direct tax dollars.