As printed in the Staten Island Advance;
By ASSEMBLY MEMBERS
and JOE BORELLI
SPECIAL TO THE ADVANCE
There’s an old adage, “You don’t put out a fire by dumping gasoline on it.”
Unfortunately, for many in state government, this adage has fallen on deaf ears. Campaign finance advocates are eager to tell you that New York’s elections are “broken, corroded and polluted.”
But the solution they propose to eliminate bad money in politics is to simply add more of your money to the political system. Instead of eliminating corruption, all public financing does is increase chances of corruption, drive up the cost of elections, and further burden New York’s hard-working taxpayers.
We can all admit New York is no stranger to corruption. Since 2000, at least 30 politicians have faced legal or ethical problems. But public financing of city elections hasn’t kept us from avoiding the corruption plaguing New York.
One year ago, a potential mayoral candidate from Queens was indicted for trying to bribe his way onto the mayoral ballot. Why? Because the New York City campaign-finance system would have provided him with six dollars in matching funds for every dollar he raised.
Also last year, a Bronx City Councilwoman paid her son more than $55,000 of public money to serve as a “campaign consultant.”
However, these are just is the latest in a stream of council candidates who collected public funding and abused the system.
In 2013, the New York City public-financing system cost city residents approximately $75 million. This covered the cost of Council candidates and citywide candidates.
Under the “Fair Elections Act” proposed by the Assembly Democrats, candidates for Assembly would be able to receive as much as $150,000 for a primary and $200,000 for a general election. Gubernatorial candidates are capped at $9 million for a primary and $12 million for a general election.
In total, this plan could cost New York’s taxpayers as much as $461.8 million in as little as four years. With four times the amount of state legislative seats as there are City Council seats, the estimate for a state public finance system could be upwards of $400 million.
However, the cost of public financing doesn’t just come from the money distributed to candidates.
To operate the New York City Campaign Finance Board, city taxpayers shelled out over $20.8 million to administer the program and enforce the law. Expanded to a statewide system, this could potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Public financing advocates will tell you not to worry about this cost. They say that the cost will be covered by establishing a surcharge on securities fraud and creating a $5 tax check-off to support the program.
Unfortunately, the revenue generated by these two initiatives simply won’t meet the huge burden the system will create. Currently, the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) includes a $3 check-off box on federal income tax forms.
When the PECF was first established in the 1970s, the participation rate only reached around 27 percent. Since then, participation has been steadily declining, and since 2000, overall participation has averaged about 12 percent.
Put into real numbers, this only amounts to roughly $11.8 million. The remaining cost, potentially $450 million, would have to be made up by other revenue sources and that means a bigger tax bill for hard-working families.
Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for phone calls our friends and neighbors don’t want, mailers that fill up garbage cans and signs that blow across the roadways, we could instead be investing that money into programs that our constituents rely on every day.
Why not use some of this funding to improve transportation, senior services and education? We could also better use the millions to restore life to normal for the thousands of Staten Islanders who are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Or even perhaps, put the money back in the pockets of hard-working taxpayers.
The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to give money to a candidate because they like them and agree with them on the important issues. But it doesn’t mean New York residents can be used as an ATM to further the ambition of politicians. This is an inappropriate use of tax dollars.
Even more important, public financing won’t be the magic elixir that ends corruption. Instead, we can only hope it doesn’t make the problem worse.