The Suffolk Legislature voted to override County Executive Steve Bellone’s...

The Suffolk Legislature voted to override County Executive Steve Bellone’s veto of a bill to end public campaign financing. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The irony of the Suffolk County Legislature’s battles over public campaign financing is that there are many decent reasons to oppose using taxpayer money to fund the office-seeking ambitions of politicians, just as there are some good justifications for supporting it.

But the reasons for killing public campaign finance reform that opponents in the legislature leaned on most, the $2.6 million cost and the other priorities that supposedly could be addressed only if the money for public financing were saved, aren’t among them.

Suffolk’s got 99 problems, but $2.6 million ain’t one.

In March, telling the legislature that 2021 sales tax receipts had come in a mind-blowing $413 million over what was budgeted, Suffolk’s budget review director said, “We’re really in the best position we’ve been in in years. The future, in terms of county finances, looks rock solid.”

County officials say significant surpluses in revenue are being generated this year, too.

And Jake’s 58, the slots casino whose profits were to fund the public financing, was recently approved for 1,000 new machines. OTB officials say some will be in place and generating unforeseen revenue before the year ends.

Legislators who argue the main reason for killing public campaign financing is the need to shift the $2.6 million to renewing the ShotSpotter program and addressing shortages of 911 dispatchers and Department of Social Services caseworkers are being disingenuous. There is plenty of money, and both departments have funded unfilled positions.

But the Police Benevolent Association and other special interests that too often run the Suffolk County Legislature don’t want elections open to maverick politicians. They want pols dependent on their largesse. Tuesday, every Republican in the legislature, and Democrats Thomas Donnelly and Al Krupski, did the PBA’s bidding, overriding County Executive Steve Bellone’s veto of the bill that killed the program.

It would have provided a 4-1 match to legislature and county executive candidates who agreed to certain fundraising parameters, like size limits on individual contributions.

Such funding makes it possible for newcomers to leverage sweat equity and grassroots support into getting their message heard more broadly. It also offers a fundraising path for candidates who could garner money from special interests but would rather avoid such a pitfall-laden practice.

But public financing makes taxpayers fund candidates they might despise — folks who support fascism, communism and witchcraft, or alternately, other ideals currently despised in some corners, like kindness, courtesy, courage and nobility.

“If I don’t want to fund this candidate personally, why should I have to do it through taxes?” the argument goes.

Public financing also opens doors to abuse. Former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin has been charged in a scheme that allegedly included trying to game New York City’s 6-1 public financing match in a run for city comptroller last year. And former State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith was convicted of public corruption in 2015 after trying to game the city with a matching-fund scam.

A few legislators who opposed public financing cited taxpayer rights and such abuses as contributory reasons for their vote Tuesday, but the argument that the money was instead needed for public safety was the big artillery in the fight.

Because the winner was the special interests, and because the reasons the legislators relied upon were so disingenuous, the end result was that the way public campaign financing died in Suffolk County is now by far the most powerful justification for why it is needed.

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.

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