Published in AM New York.
The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption is due to issue recommendations on Dec. 1 that could help beat back corruption in state government. The arrests of more than 30 state officials in the past seven years demand that New York adopt new rules.
We’ve seen lawmakers hauled off in handcuffs on bribery and corruption charges. But often what is most scandalous in Albany is what is legal: From jobs at state agencies to earmarks for contributors, big money greases the skids in Albany.
The commission, appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, should seize the opportunity and argue for comprehensive reform and a switch to public financing of state campaigns.
Research shows that in City Council elections, which are public financed, there are fewer uncontested races, more candidates tend to run, and the incumbent advantage is smaller, as compared to state legislative elections in New York City districts. This public financing system encourages politicians to depend less on a few wealthy donors and more on average voters. Candidates can combine fundraising with voter outreach, giving them more contact with constituents.
The commission’s recommendations should include a blueprint for a similar statewide system. Combined with reasonable contribution limits, robust disclosure, and independent enforcement, public financing can change how how New York elections are conducted.
Right now, the system does not work. Take, for example, the slew of special interest state tax breaks. Regardless of whether the breaks are sound policy, the process for examining and renewing them is broken. Too often, when a tax break is about to expire, affected interests donate to political campaigns of candidates who would support temporarily renewing it. A few years later, threatened expiration leads to more donations. The practice may not be illegal, but at best it looks bad. Sky-high contribution limits, as well as a lack of disclosure and enforcement, erode public trust.
The corruption scandals have created an opportunity for the commission. Its members should remember that public financing helped clean up NYC elections.
And it can help clean up Albany.