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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

O'Reilly: Can't separate money from politics


Money. Credit: iStock

The hard left in New York is aggressively pushing taxpayer-funded state campaigns again. That should ring alarm bells throughout New York. If the socialist Working Families Party is so hot on the idea, watch out! This probably isn't an exercise in altruism.

The WFP rhetoricians argue that bringing a matching-fund program to the state, like the one in New York City that gives candidates six public dollars for every dollar raised, would clean up politics in New York because it would further limit the size of campaign contributions. That sounds good in a political ad, but it's complete and utter nonsense in the full light of day.

The WFP website hasn't changed much since I wrote a piece about the party's effort to push through public financing a year ago. Here's what it says under the banner of "Clean Elections."

" . . . .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. Like the system that the WFP helped pass in New York City in 1998, a statewide public campaign finance program would cap big-money donations and match low-dollar contributions with public money -- if a candidate can demonstrate genuine support in their community. It would mean you wouldn't need a Rolodex full of wealthy contacts to serve in public office, and politicians could spend their time legislating instead of fundraising."

What it doesn't tell you is that the biggest donors in New York are typically the unions themselves. It also doesn't tell you that the extraordinary dollar value of union campaigning on behalf of its preferred candidates would not be touched under its proposed campaign finance law. Unions could still provide millions of dollars worth of door knockers, phone banks and other campaign activities for candidates who support their agendas, while candidates who do not would be limited in what they can accept from donors. Advantage goes to the unions -- obviously. It's why they're pushing it.

But that's actually become a minor point. The larger point is about money in politics in general. It's not going away. Not in New York. Not anywhere. When you shut one spigot in politics, another one opens, necessarily. Money is speech, the Supreme Court has ruled, and freedom of speech will never be stifled, nor should it be.

The only thing campaign finance laws have done in this country is drive large donations underground to independent expenditure organizations that are a. less accountable than candidate committees, b. have no caps whatsoever, and c. increase the amount of negative messaging in the political spectrum. IE's, as they're known, aren't trying to get themselves elected. They don't care about viewer backlash.

Wouldn't it be better to take caps off candidate committees? They take ownership of hard-hitting ads, and disclosure requirements allow the public to find out who's giving money to whom. That's what New York should do if it wants the most transparency in politics.

To suggest that public financing has been some type of panacea against political corruption in New York City is preposterous. The shenanigans that go on using "free" matching funds are well known to anyone who has worked in New York City races. Uncles, aunts and cousins become well paid "political consultants" in campaigns that aren't remotely competitive and candidate kick-back schemes with vendors are almost impossible to track.

William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant who is working on the Rob Astorino campaign for governor.


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