What do you get when you’re a citizen of a state that’s 49th out of 50 in voter participation? You get legislative scandal after legislative scandal, with no end in sight. You get the ethical swamp that is Albany, where news that two state legislators have been wearing wires has put everybody at the Capitol into a defensive crouch. You get yet another recommendation for yet another lame oversight committee. This time, it will surely fix all the problems.
We naively continue to vote for incumbents, as if our own representative has nothing to do with these problems. It’s time to stop accepting their perennial claim that “it’s just a few rotten apples.”
It’s time to face reality that the whole barrel is constructed to allow and even encourage rot.
Since 2000, state legislators have been four times more likely to be arrested than ordinary citizens. More have been removed by running afoul of the law than by losing an election. Given that several of those indicted have been legislative leaders, it could be argued that Albany actually rewards corruption.
New York’s laughable campaign contribution limits, toothless enforcement and arcane ballot access laws undermine real democracy. Campaigns are dominated by big donations from individuals and groups who want favored treatment from state government. If you want to run for office, the first question you will be asked is “How much money can you raise?” Once elected, you will spend a major fraction of your time asking for money and incurring obligations that may run counter to the interests of the constituents you are pledged to represent.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Campaign finance reform, including public financing of elections, could remove many of the conflicts of interest that underlie our chronic scandals. The New York State Assembly has passed the Fair Elections Bill, but the State Senate has no plans to act on it, and Gov. Cuomo is not using the full power of his office to support it. We need to raise our voices and force the legislature to act.
In 2005, Connecticut enacted public financing of elections, after the arrest and resignation of its governor for influence peddling. Do we really want to wait for our state’s already alarming level of scandals to escalate? One former Connecticut legislator says that the nature of who can run and how they run for statewide office has changed dramatically. Legislators in both parties say they appreciate being able to spend more time on constituent services and not having to cozy up to the lobbyists and special interests that used to fund their campaigns.
In a few weeks the current legislative session will be over. If we don’t speak up, we are by default giving our consent to the status quo. Call your state senator and tell him or her that you want the Senate to cooperate with the Assembly to pass real campaign finance reform. Call the governor’s office and tell him you want his help in bringing clean elections to New York.
Page 2 of 2 - Reg Neale lives in Farmington.