Editorial: Study casino fees to reform campaign financing

Bill Samuels of the New Roosevelt Initiative, left, Bill Samuels of the New Roosevelt Initiative, left, and Sen. Liz Krueger, D-New York, talk before a news conference on campaign finance reform at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. A proposal aimed at limiting the influence of special interest money in politics would use some of the revenue anticipated from the expansion of casinos in New York to finance campaigns. (AP Photo/Mike Groll) Photo Credit: AP Photo Mike Groll

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The financing of political campaigns in New York State is ugly. The contribution limits are so high and the rules so loose that grassroots campaigns not backed by big money rarely have any hope of succeeding. And now, the growing influence of gambling concerns, as the state considers a constitutional amendment to legalize non-Indian casinos, is likely to make it even worse.

Seen in that light, a proposal to dedicate some of the money gambling brings in to campaign finance reform is worth exploring. The proposal, to be put before the State Legislature by Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), would dedicate $56 million per year in casino licensing fees to matching funds for political candidates, under limits similar to those in place in some New York City elections.

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Gambling revenues are often earmarked for education, as is the case with lottery proceeds in New York. But experts say that rather than increasing overall school aid, such revenues often allow politicians to cut education funding from nongambling sources. So education funding might not be bolstered with more gambling revenues -- although arguing that it will is a main tactic of those in favor of gambling expansion.

Krueger's plan would still send the vast majority of gambling revenue to education, anyway, but it would divert this chunk to try to do a different bit of good. It's too early to say whether her plan is ideal, but the core concept behind it is certainly a good one.

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