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Campaign financing ruling due day before Thanksgiving; GOP cries foul

The New York State Capitol building is seen

The New York State Capitol building is seen on June 19, in Albany. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — A state commission charged with the politically dicey task of implementing state funding of campaigns has said it plans to finish its work on the day before Thanksgiving, which the state Republican Party chairman contends is calculated to hide the results from New Yorkers.

The commission confirmed Thursday that it plans to have its recommendation completed Nov. 27. The panel is charged with devising a voluntary system of public financing of campaigns at a time when voters oppose such systems by nearly 3 to 1, according to a recent Siena Research Institute poll. The recommendation is critical because it will become law if the legislature doesn’t return to Albany to reject or change the proposal within 20 days, under the process approved by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders.

The commission “is trying to bury the outcome,” Republican chairman Nick Langworthy said of the $100 million program. “It downright disrespects the taxpayers.” He said New Yorkers will be traveling that day to see relatives or otherwise preparing for the holiday, not following the news. He called the commission a “nefarious clown show” orchestrated by Cuomo, a charge Cuomo and the commission deny.

The timing isn’t to evade public attention, but to comply with the deadline to file the finished product to the legislature on Dec. 1, said state Democratic Committee chairman Jay Jacobs, a commissioner appointed by Cuomo.

“Nobody is trying to hide anything,” Jacobs said. “What I would suggest to Mr. Langworthy and others is that they wait to see the finished product … I’m sure they won’t agree with all of it, but that’s the nature of the business.”

Lawrence Norden, the director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, urged the commission to provide a preliminary report before Nov. 27. He said that will give the public a chance to comment before the recommendation is passed on to the legislature the following Sunday.

“It would be terrible if we know nothing before the day before Thanksgiving,” Norden said in an interview.

Public financing of campaigns is a longtime goal of reformers. It would provide a matching program, often 6 to 1, of state funds to a candidate’s campaign donations. The goal is to limit the influence of big-money donors and special interests and to limit corruption, while encouraging smaller contributions from individuals and allowing more people to run for office without needing to raise large amounts of donations. 

Several other states and New York City already have such voluntary public campaign financing programs.

Most New York State voters, however, don’t want their tax dollars spent to support political campaigns, including those for candidates they don’t support. An April poll by the Siena Research Institute found voters opposed public campaign financing by 63%-23%.

The commission’s most controversial task is to decide whether to eliminate or alter the state’s historic practice of fusion voting. Fusion voting allows voters to choose major party candidates through minor party ballot lines. The system of cross-endorsements can help a candidate attract voters who don’t want to cast a ballot under a major party they oppose.

The practice has provided influence to the liberal Working Families Party that works with the Democratic Party and the Conservative Party, which works closely with the Republican Party. The system also allows the Independence Party to endorse candidates from either major party. Minor parties gain input on the selection of candidates endorsed by major parties and often get a voice in patronage hiring under the system.

The commission’s consideration of ending fusion voting has prompted lawsuits by minor parties. Minor party leaders and Langworthy say Cuomo is seeking to punish the Working Families Party because of its initial endorsement of activist and actress Cynthia Nixon for governor in 2018, a charge Cuomo denies. He said he has no position on fusion voting. Jacobs in the past has opposed fusion voting, but says he will be objective in commission deliberations.

Richard Brodsky, a former Democratic assemblyman and attorney for the Working Families Party, was surprised the much-anticipated report is due to be finished the day before Thanksgiving.

“It’s not what you do when you’ve got good news,” Brodsky said.

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