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OpinionEditorial

Dems selling themselves out in Albany

The drive to adopt public campaign financing might be on the skids.

The NY State Capitol Building and reflection in

The NY State Capitol Building and reflection in the pond at the Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany on July 21, 2017. Photo Credit: Getty Images/aimintang

In astronomy, when the stars align, they align.

But not in Albany.

Reform-minded folks were giddy in November when Democrats took over the State Senate, giving the party full control of state government. And, that alignment has produced some sweeping changes.

Now the drive to adopt public campaign financing might be on the skids. On the surface, this is mystifying. Public campaign financing is in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget. The Assembly approved it often in the past and Senate Democrats always said they favored it. Advocates for such reform say their nose count shows favorable majorities in both chambers.

So what’s the roadblock for this good idea?

Republicans long opposed campaign financing as a giveaway of taxpayer dollars. It’s not. The principle remains: Candidates relying on many small donors are less likely to get corrupted than when they rely on a few large donors. In 2018 state elections, the 137,00 small donors (defined as those giving up to $175) were outspent by the 100 biggest donors. Donations from small donors only added up to 5 percent of total contributions to state candidates. Using public funds to match small donations allows more people to run for office because good community support can compensate for having no wealthy benefactors.

Cuomo proposes a 6-to-1 match. That’s a good start. Contribution limits must be lowered to further reduce outsized influence. Any enforcement agency must help candidates understand and comply with the rules, not merely serve as a “gotcha” body. And state lawmakers should learn from NYC’s example. Its largely successful public campaign financing system was adopted in 1988 and has been tweaked several times since then in an effort to make it better.

The Senate and Assembly are preparing their own one-house budget bills. Public campaign financing should be part of them. Democrats in both chambers have wanted it in the past. Now that they can make it happen, to stop short would be nothing short of hypocrisy.

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