You’re a state official — sayyyy, the governor —running for re-election.
You have someone in a state Department of Transportation truck handing out placards with your name on them at a major public event.
That event is the New York City Pride March, a popular LGBTQ parade attended by thousands of people.
The signs are rainbow-colored, the colors of the LGBTQ effort, and happen to state a position that mirrors your political support of LGBTQ rights.
One of your prime opponents for re-election is a gay woman and an active supporter of LGBTQ rights.
The signs were purchased by your political campaign.
What are we supposed to think?
If you’re like most people, you think Gov. Andrew Cuomo exploited his position as governor by using a state vehicle and his own status as governor to boost his campaign for re-election.
But if you’re the governor, you see it as nothing more than any other public event the governor regularly attends as part of his job. Technically, his spokesman says, it was perfectly legal.
He wasn’t campaigning for re-election, after all. He was reaching out to his constituents like he does all the time.
He wasn’t actively trying to get the people at that parade to vote for him instead of opponent Cynthia Nixon. He was just reminding people that the state supports LGBTQ rights.
He’s the governor; he travels around in state vehicles all the time. A DOT truck is a state vehicle.
And he didn’t spent taxpayer money for the signs. His campaign bought them.
So what’s the big deal, right?
The big deal is that incumbency has enough advantages without the governor or any other public official exploiting their position by blurring the lines between official duties and efforts to keep their jobs.
Ask yourself this. Could Cynthia Nixon or Marc Molinaro, Cuomo’s Republican opponent, have commandeered a state vehicle to distribute campaign flyers, even if they paid for it with campaign money?
This incident is symbolic of how government officials, not just Cuomo, abuse the powers of their office to further their own political ends. And it’s evermore reason why the state needs to toughen its ethics and campaign laws.
The state needs to get rid of the LLC loophole that allows companies to donate above campaign finance limits. It needs to limit outside income for lawmakers, impose term limits on leadership positions in the Legislature, require more disclosure and transparency in the awarding of state contracts, expand the scope and power of state ethics commissions, expose more state agencies to the state Freedom of Information Law, and many other actions to prevent this kind of conduct.
Passing out campaign signs from a state truck isn’t the least of our worries when it comes to government ethics.
It’s the tip of the iceberg.