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Zack Hutchins
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April 28, 2013

Don't waste public money on campaigns

Op-ed by Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council

The most recent scandals involving state elected officials have led many groups to once again call for taxpayer-financed campaigns in New York state. Campaign finance reform will be a major focus for the rest of the legislative session, but it is a complex issue that deserves a measured and well-thought-out conversation.

Although many proponents of public financing would have you believe campaign finance reform is the only way to end political corruption, the most recent scandals have nothing to do with campaign finances. Giving elected officials and candidates control over taxpayer dollars to fund their campaigns won't end corruption, and many taxpayers would be upset if their money were used this way, when the state should be putting it toward educational or community programs.

Many point to New York City's campaign finance program as one the state's should be modeled after. Public financing isn't free, however—invariably someone has to pay for it, meaning hardworking New York taxpayers wind up footing the bill. New York City residents pay some of the highest taxes in the nation, and the city has certainly seen its fair share of corruption, even after a matching-funds system was implemented for city office-seekers more than 20 years ago.

There are more effective approaches to reducing government corruption and undue influence on elected officials. New York should create stricter laws governing the use of campaign funds. Creation of an even playing field for campaign contributors is essential, as the current system is not equitable. Currently, some contributors face stricter campaign finance rules than others. New rules that promote fairness and equity among all contributors—business, labor, individuals and other sectors—are essential to moving forward.

Along with this parity, the state Board of Elections needs to consistently enforce laws and audit required filings. Holding candidates responsible for contributions received, expenses paid, on-time submissions and accurate reporting will help create much-needed transparency.

In addition to campaign finance reform, other election laws need to be examined. Party chairmen should not be allowed to control nominations for the purpose of cross-endorsements—a power granted to them by the so-called ≠Wilson-Pakula statute. It dilutes the competitive democratic process, especially for lesser-known candidates.

News of political scandal, and campaign finance reform, will continue to make headlines, but don't be fooled. Many times, one has nothing to do with the other. It's time for a comprehensive and meaningful discussion on campaign finance reform that goes beyond calling for taxpayer dollars to fund campaigns.