This editorial was first published in the Times Herald-Record (Middletown, New York), a fellow GateHouse Media publication. Guest editorials don't necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger's opinions.
Before you consider the ideas the state comptroller has for making elections in New York more democratic with a very small d, consider his background.
Tom DiNapoli was about as entrenched in the Democratic Party power structure as you can get, an aide to Democrats in the Assembly and Congress, a member of the Assembly and chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee.
When Alan Hevesi resigned in disgrace for crimes that eventually put him in prison, the job of naming a new comptroller fell to the Assembly. It convened a panel of experts and politicians which went through the motions of interviewing candidates, recommending three. The Assembly, more accurately the speaker, Sheldon Silver, said effectively, "thanks, but I prefer my guy" — Tom DiNapoli.
To say that his performance in the crucial job has surprised his critics is the political understatement of the decade in New York. He has won deserved praise from all sides, promoted ethical behavior in a system that too often ignores it and after one close election has been returned to office twice more by wide margins.
So when he says, as he did in an opinion piece in The Daily News, that the state needs public campaign financing now, you might want to listen.
To start, he knows how to follow the money and where it leads, to the kind of abhorrent behavior that has landed so many legislators and others in court and eventually behind bars. Take away the opportunity for those with a lot of money to buy access to the people we elect to do our business in Albany and you remove the single biggest corrupting influence in our government and politics.
He started with some alarming numbers:
"In 2018, the Brennan Center for Justice found that big donors dominated New York’s state elections. The top 100 donors gave more to candidates than all the estimated 137,000 small donors combined. Small donations made up only 5 percent of all money given to New York state candidates.
"And consider this: Contribution limits for statewide offices now are $22,600 for a primary and $47,100 for a general election. That’s a total of nearly $70,000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median annual household income in New York State in 2017 was $65,000."
And he stressed the obvious point that public financing, which in a state as large as New York is a minor expenditure, opens up the political process to many who now have no hope of taking part.
Want more proof? In Albany on virtually every night of the legislative session, there are half a dozen or more fundraisers where members of the Assembly and Senate hold court for lobbyists and donors who pay thousands of dollars to attend.
Legislators like that system so much that they cannot even bring themselves to limit such activity during the session as many other states have.
Some of those gladly accepting this cash have voted for some reform measures, but as DiNapoli concludes, "... without adopting a voluntary, small donor public campaign financing system that empowers more everyday New Yorkers to participate in our electoral process, true reform will be lacking."