As discussion of the state’s $138 billion budget wends through its final course, Senate and Assembly leaders must take time to block action on a campaign finance reform plan that falls woefully short of any real reform goal. Good governance groups have called the plan “fatally flawed.” They are correct. There are so many flaws that it makes this attempt, if it can be called one, a laughingstock. The governor and Albany leaders can and should do better.
To begin with, the reform plan centers around the coming elections in seven months and affects only one office: state comptroller. Current occupant Thomas P. DiNapoli and any opponent should dismiss out of hand this inadequate and ineffective plan.
It wasn’t just campaign finance reform that disappointed New Yorkers hoping for an improvement in Albany’s ethics. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s willingness to disband the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption in exchange for compromise by the Legislature is another serious blow.
The section of the budget implementing a “trial run” for a public financing system creates a voluntary system solely for the position of state comptroller and only for this coming election. It attempts to have the Board of Elections instantaneously set up a matching fund system during the 2014 election cycle, which is already in progress. This is the same board with its own questionable ethics history, but more on that later.
DiNapoli, himself, has done better with a proposal to create a “campaign finance board” consisting of seven members appointed by a variety of offices and which would give the newly formed agency enough time to consider and issue regulations and develop procedures for shepherding and safeguarding public money.
Cuomo’s proposal curiously relies on the state Board of Elections to administer its newly formed matching fund program. Preliminary findings by the Moreland Commission, which the governor created, have revealed an excess of dysfunction at the board involving gridlock, patronage and bureaucratic inefficiency. Another weakness that groups point to in the governor’s latest proposal is the omission of any limits on political parties. This is something that the comptroller’s bill took into account by providing that candidates who opted in could not receive transfers from political parties of more than $250,000. This bill contains no similar restrictions.
Moreover, the plan fails to address New York’s infamous and notoriously sky-high contribution limits for nonparticipating candidates or any other loopholes found in the state’s current system.
The Moreland Commission has attempted to delve into uncomfortable areas, such as where legislators are making their outside money. By law, the Moreland Commission can investigate only executive branch agencies, but State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman deputized the commission members. Critics of its existence who challenge the commission’s authority should be made to take their case to the courts. This is important.