Critics may lampoon Andrew Cuomo’s call for public funding of campaigns after the governor has raised more than $33 million – and counting – to scare off challengers.
But that’s no different from gun-control advocates who nevertheless believe in having a gun: Common sense says you don’t disarm until you’re sure that everyone else has, too. Cuomo wouldn’t be smart enough to be governor if he didn’t recognize that and raise all he can under the current system.
No, his fundraising prowess is not the issue. The issue – with every politician under the present corrupt system – is where the money comes from.
Most likely, it didn’t come from you.
The governor’s call for a public matching fund – at a $6-to-$1 ratio, for donations of up to $175 – comes after a New York Public Interest Research Group analysis of his own fundraising illustrates just how much this state needs public financing of campaigns.
Like forensic accountants, NYPIRG scoured campaign records for clues such as similarly named entities making huge contributions on the same day or from the same P.O. box to find out how extensively donation limits are evaded in the bid to buy government.
The results will not surprise, but they should shock: Nearly 81 percent of the money Cuomo raised in the last cycle came from donors who gave aggregate totals of $10,000 or more. There were 242 donors who gave $40,000 or more.
On the other hand, less than 1 percent – 0.0069, to be precise – came from individuals giving less than $1,000. And $1,000 is still a pretty high bar that leaves out most New Yorkers.
Given who’s funding campaigns, is it any surprise that the Democratic governor put forth a 2014 vision so heavy on tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations that a GOP leader joked – I think – that Cuomo has become a “good moderate Republican.”
And whether you think the donations influence politicians’ positions, or their positions attract the donations, the result is the same: A confluence of dollars and interests that relegate your concerns to the political trash bin.
If you want to know why public policy is skewed, just paraphrase JFK: Ask not what your government officials are doing for you, ask what you have done for your government officials. If you haven’t given, what do you expect to get?
Public funding would change that by making politicians depend on taxpayers and small donors instead. “They won’t just be getting six-figure checks from real estate developers in New York City,” said Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG research coordinator.
He estimated such a plan might cost about $50 million, which is an infinitesimal 0.036 percent of the $137.2 billion budget Cuomo just proposed. It’s a rounding error compared to the amount being spent on what Mahoney calls “pork and waste going to campaign donors who’ve already bought access.”
Public funding is the cost of snatching government away from those donors. It’s a small price to pay, unless you think the current system is working for you. If you believe that the bundlers of multiple donations to evade contribution limits are thinking, “How can we help the little guy?” – then you have nothing to worry about.
If not, then don’t judge Cuomo by how much he raises. Judge him instead by how hard he pushes his GOP buddies to end the legalized bribery.