Joke is on us when Albany wears fig leaf - The Buffalo News

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Joke is on us when Albany wears fig leaf

When someone starts a really bad joke, you can usually predict the punch line. But who saw this one coming?

In hindsight, though, it’s easy to see: Of course, Albany would “reform” campaign finance by limiting changes to the office nobody cares about, and then sabotaging even that minimal effort. This is, after all, the same government that used to solve budget problems by selling stuff to itself.

So instead of real reform that would have the public fund all state races – and take control of government from lobbyists – we get a one-year plan for the office with the least amount of public policy clout: state comptroller.

No wonder one reformer calls it “a bad April Fools’ joke.”

Who even knows who the state comptroller is?

I asked 10 people downtown during lunch hour. Responses ranged from “I have no idea” to “I don’t, either.” Not one could ID Albany’s bookkeeper.

With all due respect to what’s-his-name, limiting reform to that office ignores the fact that the governor and legislators decide how government will be sliced, diced and parceled out to those with a special interest in public policy and the dollars to buy “access.” The graft of former comptroller Alan Hevesi notwithstanding, those are the offices where public funding of campaigns should start.

Good-government groups add that even this limited attempt seems set up to fail by relying on the patronage-laden state Board of Elections instead of an independent board for enforcement, and omitting any limits on how much the political parties can lavish on candidates.

In offering his office as a test run for public financing a few years ago, the current comptroller – his name is Thomas DiNapoli – addressed both problems. This deal solves neither.

“This, we feel, is not a genuine effort to do something real,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York, one of six watchdog groups that coalesced to protest the faux reform. “This feels like a bad April Fools’ joke on the public.”

Lerner dismissed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s excuse that this was the best “compromise” that could be achieved with Republicans.

It strains credulity to think that a powerful governor who could twist arms on hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage and gun control suddenly lost his mojo when it comes to campaign finance reform.

But if I could raise $33 million for re-election under the current system and swamp a little-known opponent, I might sign off on fig-leaf reform, too.

“We need to call it for what it is and not allow them to pretend they’ve done something when they haven’t,” Lerner said.

Cuomo insists he will keep pushing for a more comprehensive public funding program to empower small donors and neuter big-money influences. That is what’s needed in a system in which new scandals emerge regularly while special-interest laws that gouge the public remain sacrosanct.

But aside from good-government groups, who really is going to push this? Obviously not incumbents who make out just fine now – as long as they don’t get arrested.

And the victimized public? The system works just fine for voters, too. After all, hush money – small tax rebate checks – will be in many mailboxes shortly before Election Day.


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