William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
"Beware of false Prophets who come to you in lambs' clothing; from within they are plundering wolves." -- Matthew 7:15
Hide your wallets, New Yorkers. The reformers are coming.
They're going to save us from those crooked politicians. All we have to do is hand over a few hundred million dollars in public campaign funds every couple of years, cap election spending, and trouble will be purged from River City.
Can someone say hallelujah? I'm feeling saved already.
And who are these purveyors of ethical largesse hoisting the banner of election reform? Why, the Working Families Party of course -- that paragon of political virtue spawned by ACORN and backed by the New York public employee unions.
The WFP and its cohorts are here to clean up New York politics. It says so right on the WFP website.
Under the headline, "Clean Elections," it reads: "The only way to make sure politicians put working people first is to kick the big-money crowd out of political campaigns. That's why the WFP is fighting for public financing of elections, a bold idea that would radically level the playing field between working families and powerful corporate interests."
Translations: "Working families" are public union households; "powerful corporate interests" are anyone who opposes giving away the store in New York union contracts. "Clean elections" means clean-sweep elections for the WFP and liberal Democrats, and "radically leveling the playing field" means putting the unions in control of both legislative houses in Albany.
No one's ever accused the WFP of being dummies.
Its "reform" strategy seems simple: Stack the deck against candidates who disagree with union demands by drying up their money and force taxpayers to foot the bill for incumbency campaigns with 4-1 matching funds on small political donations. The WFP and its affiliated unions can push its candidates over the top in close races with pure organizational strength, which is constitutionally protected.
Here's the laughable part. The WFP-led coalition, calling itself the Fair Elections for New York Coalition, would have us believe that so virtuous are its intentions, that between $750,000 and $1 million has rained down on the group in the past few weeks to advance its high-minded cause. That money, which fell from the sky like manna from reform heaven, will be used on television ads beginning next week attacking "the big money crowd."
You can't make this stuff up.
Under the WFP plan, spending would be capped at $18 million per gubernatorial candidate; $9 million per attorney general and comptroller candidate; $700,000 per state senate candidate, and $300,000 per Assembly candidate. The public would pick up the lion's share of the bill.
If taxpayers think that's expensive, just wait and see what it will cost if the WFP pulls this thing off.
There's an old Italian saying that comes in handy in New York politics: "Watch the hands, not the lips."
Can I hear an "Amen"?
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.
This is a corrected version of the column. An earlier version referred to "near constant federal investigation" of the Working Families Party for election fraud. The federal investigation, into campaign activities by a for-profit affiliate of the party, was closed in 2010 with no charges filed.