On October 24th a federal appeals court ruled that a conservative group supporting the Lhota campaign for mayor of New York City could legally begin accepting unlimited campaign contributions. In a nation where the corrosive impact of money in politics is on display on a daily basis, New York sets a particularly low bar with some of the weakest campaign finance laws in the country and some of the lowest voter / donor participation rates in the nation. So poor is the state of affairs that the "pay to play" politics of Albany is a phrase that has entered into common usage among everyday New Yorkers.
Although many compelling policy arguments could be made against this ruling, the clearest demonstration of the flawed thinking of the court can be found in statements released to the press by the New York Progress and Protection PAC, in which Alabaman Shaun McCutcheon pledged to contribute at least $200,000 to the PAC. You will find no such statements from everyday New Yorkers. You will find no pledges by middle class families of New York to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to unduly influence their political process. This decision by the federal appeals court ruling amplifies New York's money in politics problem by making it easier for an out of state millionaire, like Mr. McCutcheon, to influence elections and wield more influence than middle class families of New York.
Yesterday the Moreland Commission released it's preliminary report on public corruption in New York. The commission has indicated that it has "discovered criminality", but that the real crime is that much of the corruption they have discovered is completely legal. The commission notes in the preliminary report:
“What we can describe, though, is deplorable conduct, some of it perfectly legal yet profoundly wrong; some of it potentially illegal — and, indeed, this Commission will make appropriate criminal referrals at such time as it deems appropriate,”
As one Moreland Commissioner put it, "We're talking about thousands and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in unspecified reimbursements" which are completely legal. Fitzpatrick also notes that the party housekeeping accounts are "a sham" and that in no uncertain terms "The housekeeping accounts are used for partisan political purposes, which is not legal."
We are pleased to hear that an overwhelming majority of the Moreland commissioners has reached the same conclusion that the majority of New Yorkers have already reached, that a Fair Elections system that gets big money out of our political process is the only way to end the systemic corruption. We applaud Mr. Fitzpatrick's conclusion that "based on what I've learned over the last couple of months, I'm now a proponent of public financing."
We hope that the Governor will heed the advice and the findings of his Moreland Commission and end both the Albany Pay To Play corruption and the "Super PAC era" in New York before it begins. By supporting robust reform and a statewide citizen funded Fair Elections system in 2014 the Governor and our state can go from worst to first and become a leader in the fight to end systemic government corruption nationwide. As one report studying the costs of such a system noted, for just a penny a day it would be money well spent.