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Dolman: Campaign Finance Board sends right message by denying funds to John Liu
New York City Comptroller John Liu likes to portray himself as a populist, a modern-day Fiorello LaGuardia—always on the barricades, fighting for the little guy, standing up for immigrants, doing whatever he can to push back against the smug one-percenters who would rather he just disappear.
Even this morning, an hour before the city Campaign Finance Board voted to withhold up to $3.53 million in public funds from his mayoral campaign, Liu’s people were out on the ramparts—in front of the board’s Rector Street headquarters—talking about “institutional racism” and claiming the board wanted to keep them away from the polls.
In an election cycle obsessed with Carlos Danger and Eliot Spitzer, it’s hard to say anything is outrageous. But Democratic mayoral candidate Liu and his true believers come pretty close to nailing it.
Scarcely three months ago a federal jury determined that the Liu campaign had raised money through “straw donors”—people whose names appeared on campaign records even though they hadn't contributed to Liu. So where was the cash coming from? My guess is that it wasn't from the Liu constituency you see in the photo ops. My guess is that wasn't from the people of Flushing and Chinatown who need a voice in the halls of power the most.
The Campaign Finance Board was established 24 years ago to do exactly what Liu claims he is doing. The system aims to encourage politicians to solicit financing—in relatively small amounts—from ordinary citizen in search of a champion. Participating candidates who can prove they’ve built a grassroots campaign win a generous supply of public matching funds. The whole idea is to give the little guy a voice and hope that this voice—once in office—speaks truth to power.
That would not be John Liu—who has spent much of the last four years demagoguing, dissembling and trying to position himself for a strong shot at the mayorality. Now the Campaign Finance Board his dealt his ambitions a serious blow. That fact alone won’t save an election season that has become an embarrassment for many reasons--not all of them involving Liu. But it helps.