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Taxpayer-financed campaigns not the answer to corruption

Wednesday, May 15, 2013
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Taxpayer-financed campaigns not the answer to corruption

Gov. Cuomo is beating the drum for cleaning up corruption in Albany and he is capitalizing on the indictments of Sen. John Sampson and Sen. Malcolm Smith to boost his laudable efforts.

The former is accused of stealing money through his law practice to finance his run for Brooklyn district attorney; the latter is accused of bribing Republican officials to secure the GOP nomination for New York City mayor. Given the strength of the New York City GOP, the speculation is that Smith’s interest in the nomination focused on access to the city’s matching (6-1) campaign funds.

But part of Gov. Cuomo’s assault on Albany corruption is a proposal for taxpayers’ financing of political campaigns. Whoa! Is the thinking that poor Sen. Sampson would have never embezzled but for the need for campaign funds? Do we believe that Sen. Smith’s interest in $6 of public financing would have never tempted him to bribery but for the needed $1 of private contributions? Viewed in the context of these two indictments, isn’t taxpayer financing of political campaigns the moral equivalent of a needle exchange program for politicians?

It is an appalling idea that public money, forcibly extracted from the citizenry, should be devoted to an activity that most of the citizenry, rightly or wrongly, finds despicable. It is equally appalling that public funds be diverted from education, public safety and other necessary governmental functions, to pay for advertising that is frequently misleading and offensive.

Raising money is the most humbling thing a politician has to do. I’ve done it; I hated it. Ask any politician and you’ll get the same answer. But contributors are eager to help; they see their contributions as an investment in good government; and they define “good government” as government to which they have access.

The governor and good-government groups are correct in recognizing the danger in this. They’re wrong in seeing taxpayer campaign financing as the answer.

No economic entity — corporations, unions, partnerships, LLCs, trade associations — should be permitted to contribute to political campaigns, directly or indirectly (through political action committees or party committees). This restriction may not comport with the Citizens United decision, but that was a very stupid decision that should be litigated.

As a First Amendment issue, individuals should not be restricted in the size of their contributions, but the press and opposing candidates must do a better job identifying and publishing the interests of major contributors. The public has to do a better job of paying attention.

In New York, election law enforcement relies on the adversaries to identify violations and bring them to the attention of boards of election. That’s a good system that reduces the taxpayer’s cost of enforcement. But boards of election must have the resources, and the will, to investigate those complaints. [They] must start auditing the accuracy of selected reports submitted by campaigns and party committees and heavily fine treasurers for substantial discrepancies. I’ve twice been a candidate with a campaign fund and three times a campaign or committee treasurer, and have never been challenged to prove the accuracy of any submitted financial report. My reports were accurate, but I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that nobody’s looking.

These suggestions don’t constitute a panacea, but they would be helpful. On the other hand, in building the moral muscle of integrity, using taxpayer financing of campaigns will make us look good but at great injury to our democracy.

Chris Callaghan

Waterford

The writer is a former Saratoga County treasurer who ran unsuccessfully in 2006 against Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

Why don’t Section 8 recipients lend a hand?

Re May 12 article, “Women take up Habitat hammer”: Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful thing, I find no fault.

My question, where are the numerous Section 8 Housing recipients, many of whom are able and out of work? Maybe the people who receive charity in whatever form should do something to help others.

Complex boondoggle training programs serve those in need poorly. In many instances, the programs meant to help people enable their needs. Work is the best gift any man or women can be given. Let those in need of help, getting help, work to help others. As any good Christian or social progressive knows, the reward is in the doing.

Can the advice and put people to work.

Schenectady is falling apart as I write this letter. Rebuild Schenectady with honest labor — not government (taxpayer) handouts.

Edmond Day

Rotterdam

Student Gazette a most positive harbinger

Oh, my goodness, that Student Gazette [May 10] exceeded itself — again.

The creativity, artistic ability, knowledge of every subject going on in the world — bullying, animal abuse, video games, CPR, longer school year, sports — you name it, they knew it.

Congratulations to each and every one of you.

If this is a preview of the future, I’d say it looks encouraging to have these gifted students in our United States.

Helen Tatarek

Schenectady

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