In­ac­tion breeds cyn­i­cism

The Buffalo News - - CITY & REGION -

sup­posed to fight cor­rup­tion?

As former Se­nate can­di­date Ross Barkan noted on cityand­, cre­at­ing such com­mis­sions “is a Cuomo spe­cialty, and should raise doubts about how earnestly he ever em­braced pub­lic fi­nanc­ing.”

Barkan’s not the only skep­tic, though Cuomo at least was on record sup­port­ing the idea. But he could af­ford to be, know­ing Assem­bly Democrats got cold feet and thus the idea wasn’t go­ing any fur­ther than a study group. No won­der cyn­i­cism and re­al­ism are syn­onyms in Al­bany.

Now ad­vo­cates will have to keep push­ing to make the com­mis­sion de­liver what the gover­nor and leg­is­la­tors wouldn’t.

“It will take a lot of mon­i­tor­ing and par­tic­i­pa­tion by the Fair Elec­tions coali­tion, of which we’re a part,” said Alex Ca­marda, se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst for Rein­vent Al­bany. He was re­fer­ring to Fair Elec­tions for New York, a coali­tion of more than 200 or­ga­ni­za­tions that has long pressed for a small-donor match­ing sys­tem and lower con­tri­bu­tion lim­its.

Rein­vent Al­bany has raised a host of con­cerns about the Democrats’ com­mis­sion cop out, rang­ing from the fact that the plan doesn’t ad­dress the “sky-high” con­tri­bu­tion lim­its for can­di­dates who opt out of pub­lic fund­ing to the fact that it also doesn’t create an in­de­pen­dent en­force­ment en­tity out­side of the ane­mic state Board of Elec­tions.

Ca­marda pointed to two po­ten­tial pit­falls in par­tic­u­lar.

For one, state lead­ers could fail to agree on a ninth com­mis­sion mem­ber. The panel is to have two mem­bers each ap­pointed by the gover­nor, Se­nate and Assem­bly ma­jor­ity lead­ers and one mem­ber ap­pointed by each mi­nor­ity leader. But Ca­marda noted that if all of the ap­point­ing par­ties don’t agree on the panel’s ninth mem­ber, there is no com­mis­sion.

That means cal­cu­lated grid­lock could be one means of killing the whole thing.

Not­ing that the nine-mem­ber panel will re­quire a ma­jor­ity vote to pass any­thing, he also ques­tions how the votes for any re­forms will be struc­tured. Will there be sep­a­rate votes on each pro­posal, or a sin­gle vote on a re­form pack­age?

Call me cyn­i­cal, but if it’s the lat­ter, it’s easy to en­vi­sion a pack­age with some­thing ev­ery­one could op­pose while still claim­ing to be a re­former.

Speak­ing of re­form­ers, the com­po­si­tion of the com­mis­sion re­mains the big­gest un­known. If Cuomo and leg­is­la­tors were un­will­ing to en­act pub­lic fund­ing on their own, how likely are they to name real re­form­ers to this panel, peo­ple who will do what the politi­cians ap­point­ing them were loath to do?

Re­form­ers like Ca­marda say they will keep the pub­lic pres­sure on to en­sure that the com­mis­sion is both di­verse and com­mit­ted to re­form as well as knowl­edge­able about the is­sue so that mem­bers “are not learn­ing about it on the fly.”

The fact that the Leg­is­la­ture would have to vote to re­ject the com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions may in­still some mea­sure of con­fi­dence. But that, again, de­pends on who the com­mis­sion­ers are and what they come up with.

Granted, Cuomo and the leg­is­la­tors did pass a se­ries of other mean­ing­ful re­forms, in­clud­ing early vot­ing, con­sol­i­dated pri­maries, pre-reg­is­tra­tion of young peo­ple and shrink­ing the LLC loop­hole. They de­serve credit for each of those.

But none would have as much im­pact – or be as much of a threat to the very ex­is­tence of in­cum­bents – as fun­da­men­tally re­form­ing the way cam­paigns are fi­nanced.

And if Democrats can’t do that, they might as well be Repub­li­cans.

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