By Pamela Hughes and Sara Schultz
Ask any New Yorker if he or she is pleased with our political system, and nearly everyone who has not been living under a rock will tell you “no.” The few who would say otherwise are probably those who have been profiting off the gridlock and inaction that have become endemic in Albany.
A recent Another Voice in this paper (“Taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund the political class,” June 8) did a fine job of presenting that perspective. However, it did not give a true picture of the reason why so many diverse voices are speaking up to fix our state’s broken campaign finance system.
In Albany, if you want to figure out how a legislator will vote, the best place to look isn’t at what their constituents believe, but at what their campaign donors want. Over and over again, we’ve seen politicians side with those financing their campaigns instead of the people they are supposed to represent.
The examples are everywhere. In 2012, pro-fracking interests dumped $400,000 into the campaigns of Southern Tier politicians. While this toxic money was flowing, a bill to protect New Yorkers from toxic fracking waste was stopped dead in its tracks by the same senators whose campaign coffers were expanding.
The truth is that taxpayers are paying the cost for our broken political system right now. When legislation that would protect our families from toxic fracking waste is killed, we pay the cost. When legislation that keeps dangerous pollution out of our air is blocked, we pay the cost. When clean energy investments that create New York jobs while keeping our air and water clean are attacked, we pay the cost.
Our economy, our communities and our families are imperiled because Albany is not working for us – it’s working for the corporations that can afford armies of lobbyists and thousands in campaign donations, the same corporations that comprise the Unshackle Upstate organization opposing fair elections legislation in this paper.
The provisions of this legislation are straightforward – big corporate donations are out and small dollar donations matched by public funds are in. What they mean is that those who are elected are accountable to everyone – not just a handful of special interests who pay for their political consultants and TV ads.
If you want to know what’s not working in Albany, all you have to do is follow the money. The question is whether we want fair elections legislation to make politicians answer to the taxpayers or the same broken system that lets them stand with the big polluters and corporations that have been holding the reins of the status quo for years.
Pamela Hughes is vice chairwoman of the Sierra Club Niagara Group. Sara Schultz is the group’s secretary.