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By a 10-point margin, the majority of respondents to this week's RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll oppose instituting public financing of political campaigns in New York.
Last week, the state Commission to Investigate Public Corruption issued its long-awaited preliminary report. The panel, known as the Moreland Commission, said it had found "more than enough information to warrant sounding the alarm for immediate legislative action to help stem the tide of corruption" in the state.
The commission said it had uncovered a "pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks, anemic enforcement of the weak laws we have on the books, and loopholes and workarounds that make those laws weaker still."
While the commission is continuing its inquiry, it urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers to enact several reforms. Most controversial is one to institute public financing of political campaigns. The panel's majority recommended a system modeled after one in New York City, where there is a 6-to-1 public funds match on small contributions up to $175. The system would apply to all statewide elections and to elections for the Senate and Assembly. The estimated annual cost to the state would be $62 million, or roughly $3.20 per New Yorker.
"Public funding is the only constitutional means of balancing the impact of big money on our elections," the report states.
However, seven of the commission's 25 members dissented, saying that "public financing has done little to stop the importance of large sums of money from politically and financially powerful groups." Echoing the dissenters, Unshackle Upstate issued a statement saying "there is simply no persuasive evidence that public financing of political campaigns will reduce the kinds of public corruption that led Gov. Cuomo to appoint the commission."
Roughly 580 readers participated in this week's poll, conducted Dec. 9 and 10.
Do you favor or oppose instituting public financing of political campaigns in New York?
It would be fine if the public funds were actual caps on election spending, but what is the sense of public financing when special interests, individuals and corporations can simultaneously spend vast amounts of money in support of candidates, or at least the positions of the candidates, outside of the publicly financed realm? Our tax dollars are better spent in areas that will result in benefits to our citizenry.
This program has to be designed smart so that it cannot be abused. I believe that this is currently not being done.
About the best investment we as a people can make. It will reduce corruption and bring back the voice of the people.
Taxes are too high already.
It works in the few states that have public financing, so why not have it in New York? How about a statewide referendum on the issue?
The government already uses too much of my money for things I don’t support. Only individuals should be allowed to contribute; no other entity whatsoever should be allowed! No political action committees of any kind! Like-minded people individually only may contribute.
No system is perfect, but public financing would be better than the current system dominated by “Big Money” and gerrymandering.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results
This is a very difficult question without an easy answer. Having said that, I don’t buy the argument that public financing would not help to curb corruption in political campaigns. The emphasis is on “curb,” not eradicate. I believe there is nothing we can legislate that would totally wipe out corruption. Those who say, “Public financing has done little to reduce corruption in campaigns,” what do they suggest we try? I think if the law is written with appropriate strength and language that requires full disclosure and transparency, it could cause those who abuse the current system to think twice before they send that check.
Regardless of who is funding political campaigns, there seems to be an inherent component of corruption linked to the campaigning process. Why should the taxpayers be burdened with another system that is broken and corrupt? Perhaps the oversight agencies should step up and monitor the process more closely and assess penalties to those who don’t play fairly in the political area. Taxpayers have already paid enough to the legislators that brought these ineffective laws to the process. Clearly it is time for them to actually earn their paychecks and properly enforce what is already in place or to toughen up the laws and penalties for those politicians that do not abide by the rules!
—L.S. Decker, MVP Health Care
A limit must be established per candidate. No blank checks. Spending related to communication is acceptable; no funding for travel, storefronts, personal salaries.
It’s not just a New York phenomenon; look at Washington. The absence of campaign finance reform is why the government no longer represents the people in any reasonable manner. If you remove big money, you remove the destructive incentives.
Public financing of elections will not fix corruption. Corrupt individuals cause corruption! A better idea is term limits, to assure that elected officials don’t feel somehow entitled to the position. Former Rep. Barber Conable of New York never would take a donation of more than $50 from anyone, period. That discipline, along with his moral composition, made it impossible to “buy” him.
—George Thomas, Ogden
They will figure out how to get both. The question is, why are we letting them get away with it, since they do not work for us taxpayers?
Every aspect of political campaigns needs to be reformed: financing, length of time candidates can campaign, political advertising, full disclosure of candidates’ financial portfolio, etc. We have lost our democracy, and this is the only way to restore it.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design
There are so many ways to scam that system and defraud the general public, it is sickening. However, I am sure the lemmings will love it.
The special interest groups and unions will get their money to the right pockets in any event. Our tax dollars really will just be wasted.
Handing over taxpayer money for politicians to run and re-run for office is like throwing gasoline on the fire in an attempt to douse the flames! Cuomo knows this; so does (Assembly Speaker) Sheldon Silver. Don’t trust them! Money begets corruption. Keep ours out of it. The public campaign laws in New York City have created a culture of “anyone can run for office” (see Anthony Weiner) and then use taxpayer financing to pay off old debt. Attorneys general need to go after public corruption and start at the top with Cuomo and Silver.
With certain agreements: The government sets the limits to spending (by) all lobbyists, and special interest groups are forever banned from contacting public officials. Set term limits for the candidates. No lifetime employment, no padding of benefits for pensions and other benefits.
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield
I favor public financing and elimination of all lobbying and corporate and individual funding of campaigns. The very fact that organizations such as Unshackle Upstate and unions are concerned about this law makes it worth consideration. Let’s let the people’s voice be heard for once, instead of big business, big union or the special interest lobbies.
Although it will not happen in my lifetime, public financing is the only way to both level the playing field and reduce corruption. The culture of corruption is so ingrained in downstate politics that it will require a tectonic change to alter the political landscape. That said, we should start somewhere and maybe local elections should lead the charge.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
As much as I would favor the public financing of elections locally, statewide and nationally, the Supreme Court has always come down on this issue against restrictions and limitations on private groups and lobbying groups’ contributions as restrictions to freedom of speech. In turn, members of those lobbying groups get preferential treatment when it comes to jobs and contracts. Stricter enforcement of the laws we already have on the books usually makes more sense than empowering a whole new commission. Some recent local political scandals have led to some serious charges.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services P.C.
You gotta be kidding. Trusting public officials with funding political campaigns is like putting the hens in the fox’s lair!
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
So public financing would mean $62,000,000 of our tax dollars go for advertising for politicians instead of worthwhile and needed projects? Now that is a waste of money!
—Tom Walpole, CPA
Assuming there will be dollar limitations and impartial control over allocating funds, I think it is a good idea.
I am strongly opposed to public funding of political campaigns. However, if all campaigns were publicly funded, with no outside assistance, then I would change my vote.
—Al Schnucker, Schnucker Packaging Inc.
New York government has become so corrupt that election money needs to be accountable and not mainly in the hands of the corporate and connected. Without public funding, the same few receive the majority of favors, perks and crony deals. Money is the root of all campaign evil, and if these corrupt politicians continue to raise campaign money the old-fashioned way, the same dishonest and often illegal practices will continue. Spending $3.20 per person is much better than politicians robbing much more from New Yorkers by offering cushy, no-show jobs, favored no-bid contracts, suspect tax breaks and other costly favors to the fat-wallet campaign contributors. As a result, the representative will be beholden to the voter and not the crony special interest. Public funding may also have the side benefit of real people getting into the election process instead of the current crop of dishonest and unethical Albany and statewide politicians.
—Michael Thornton, Rochester
Public funding of elections sounds nice, but con men make their scams sound nice, too. Even with the creation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (otherwise referred to as McCain–Feingold), special interests and “super PACs” have become abundant. Ways to skirt the law were devised and have been successful in getting their people elected. For example, consider 527 groups, tax-exempt organizations organized under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. These organizations have been widely used because they are not regulated under state or federal campaign finance laws. These groups supposedly do not advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate or a party yet that money is used for just such actions. Consider the many millions George Soros has spent in “donations” to groups that seek the downfall of our American society. Though he himself does not directly “give” the money to his favored candidates, the money does finally end up helping those he agrees with pay for their political campaigns. McCain–Feingold, actually H.R. 2356 by Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) since the Senate version was not enacted into law, has been a failure in that it has failed to bring about the controls it was intended to do and thus has opened the doors to what I may refer to as camouflaged donations to political parties. I do not believe that instituting public financing of political campaigns in New York will perform as it is being sold as capable of doing. Regardless of its intent, vast sums of money will be raised by one side or another through loopholes in the law; those loopholes not becoming apparent until after passage of the law. (Though I suspect that the members of the committee endorsing such reform may well be aware that there will be “workarounds” inherent in the law.) These loopholes, or workarounds, will further distance individuals from monetarily assisting candidates whom they support. There is another consideration to keep in mind. Upstate New York residents are outnumbered by those persons living south of Poughkeepsie. So long as there is such a disparity in numbers, no matter what may be done to supposedly control campaign spending, will still result in upstate and western New York being governed by the downstate population. Keep in mind that most of the ethics violations that Gov. Cuomo’s Commission to Investigate Public Corruption has been tasked to identify seems to be centered in the downstate region. It appears to me that in the upstate region, voters can still take care of corrupt politicians by voting them out of office instead of seeing them re-elected due to the availability of large sums of money provided by special interests and super PACs located downstate. So take heed, things such as “public funding” of elections may sound nice, but like any other thing that sounds too good to be true, buyer beware. New York State does not need public funding of elections.
—Michael F. Kloppel, chairman, Ontario County Conservative Party
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