Some might call it chutzpah. State Sen. Mark Grisanti, an upstate Republican, recently sent out mailers to his constituents condemning sensible campaign finance reform. Grisanti boasted he will “protect your tax dollars” from being used “to fund political campaigns across the state.”
And who paid for Grisanti’s message? That’s right: New York taxpayers.
Gisanti was taking advantage of what is commonly known as “the franking privilege,” which allows legislators to use public funds to keep their constituents informed. Elected officials tend to send out campaign-style mailers anytime they’re facing a tough election. And although this isn’t an election year, Grisanti is surely thinking about his next contest: he’s a Republican in a Democratic-leaning district who’s made controversial votes on marriage equality and gun control. He was once dubbed “the most endangered Republican in the Senate.”
Grisanti’s mailer attacks public campaign financing even though it offers the Empire State a way to systematically reform Albany’s corrupting “show me the money” culture. Reform would amplify the voices of regular New Yorkers and allow them to compete with the big money interests who currently control Albany’s agenda. By encouraging legislators to fundraise from ordinary people in their own districts, it would make our representatives work for us instead of their biggest donors.
Senator Grisanti is certainly familiar with the power of big-money donors. In last year’s election, he was the second most successful fundraiser. Only Majority Leader Dean Skelos raised more money. Grisanti was near the top of the list of candidates who received the most contributions from maxed-out donors—that is, individuals who gave as much as the law allows. In Grisanti’s case, the amount is $16,800. How many of us can afford to give that much?
And this big money didn’t even come from the people he’s supposed to represent. A 2012 report revealed that 90 percent of donations to Grisanti’s campaign came from outside his district. More than half of his money came from corporations and other organizations.
Of course, the New York State Senate is no stranger to this sort of chutzpah. The Senate is a cesspool of corruption; it has been the starting point for all Albany’s recent politician perp walks. Even so, the Senate leadership blocked reform, ensuring that the session would end without a single anti-corruption bill passed.
Many in Albany have made the current pay-to-play system work for them, and they managed to hold off campaign finance reform this year. But we need to keep fighting for fundamental changes that will make the system work for all of us.
(Photo credit: Facebook/Mark Grisanti For Senate)