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Opinion

A novel proposal for public campaign financing

Credit: James Carbone

Daily Point

Let the people be heard

Roger Meadows says he’s new at this activist thing.

But he managed to thrust himself this week into one of the state’s hottest political issues — public campaign financing.

Meadows, a 48-year-old Hempstead resident who is a full-time Uber, Lyft and Juno driver, attended the Suffolk County hearing Tuesday of the state commission charged with implementing a campaign financing system.

“This was a chance for me to put my two cents in,” Meadows told The Point Wednesday. “If these guys are going around taking suggestions, I was, like, this is it, I’ve got to be there.”

His two cents, as it turned out, was a proposal to match donations only from people within a candidate’s legislative district and, more important, to do it on a sliding scale. Donations of up to $10 would get a 50:1 match. From $10 to $50, a 20:1 match. From $50 to $100, a 10:1 match. From $100 to $150, an 8:1 match. And from $150 to $200, a 6:1 match.

Meadows said he’s concerned that people with lower incomes don’t have a voice in the political process. His plan, he said, would “give people at the bottom of the economic scale incredible leverage to be heard.”

Commission members clearly heard Meadows. The debate over out-of-district/in-district matches has been heated, and the commission decided Tuesday to reverse an earlier decision and focus on matches for in-district donors only. The formula, commission chairman Jay Jacobs said, is under discussion.

“It caught my attention,” Jacobs said of Meadows’ suggestion. “Everyone seemed amenable to it. I’m working on a couple iterations of that...I think it will definitely be along those lines.”

Meadows described his political interests as “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” and said he has no formal association with any interest group. He said he made his first trip to Albany in May to protest on behalf of the climate change bill and since traveled to the state capital three or four times for hearings and meetings. His job, he said, gives him flexibility in that he doesn’t have to ask anyone but himself for time off.

His activism might be new but it’s always been a part of him, he said. “I guess the best way to equate it is like when you’re friends with a girl for a very long time and one day you wake up and realize you’re in love,” Meadows said. “It’s more like an evolution.”

An evolution that led him to a committee hearing room on Tuesday.

“Out of all the things I’m concerned with, whether it’s public banking, climate change, doing something about income inequality, all that type of stuff, nothing is going to get done until we can get politicians that don’t have to depend on big money interests to finance their campaigns,” Meadows said.

Not that he has any interest in campaigning himself. His evolution hasn’t gone that far yet.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Talking Point

Ad(ding) to the debate

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was on the hot seat again Wednesday morning while testifying about cryptocurrency program Libra on Capitol Hill, but that’s not the only reason the social media giant is under congressional scrutiny.

Democrats have ramped up criticism about Facebook’s policy that allows political ads with factual inaccuracies to circulate. In particular, former Vice President Joe Biden has pressured the company to take down ads from President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign that claim “Joe Biden promised Ukraine a billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company.”

The assertion has been repeatedly debunked as a conspiracy theory. CNN refused to air the ad, but Facebook declined to pull it, citing the importance of free speech.

But in a sign of how fraught this subject is, Facebook appears to have removed at least some versions of a Trump ad with the false Biden claims. The removal of the inactive ad is logged in Facebook’s political ad archive. Facebook did not immediately respond to The Point’s request for comment. 

It’s unclear why the ad was removed. The company’s advertising policies include this catch-all sentence: “Where appropriate, Facebook may restrict issue, electoral or political ads.”

While that fight continues, Trump’s campaign is making major use of the platform. Not only is his Facebook page spending far more than those of Democratic presidential candidates, there is also a dawning hypothesis that Trump is doing it better.

That includes running many versions of the same ad to test how the ads land. 

One current example: the ad archive shows hundreds of versions of ads encouraging users to click and buy the 24x36 inch “Official Donald J. Trump” poster. 

The posters all have the same depiction of Trump smashing his fist into the air, red tie aflutter, but there are subtle changes to text, background, and placement of the “$24” figure, among other tweaks. And the ads also are microtargeted to different places and demographics, allowing the campaign to reach small groups and — crucially before November 2020 — perhaps learn more about potential voters. 

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Not ok

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/opinion

Final Point

A tale of two board meetings

At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board spent nearly two hours hearing from mostly angry people.

Many of the 39 speakers were members of the Transport Workers Union, upset at MTA leadership as thorny contract negotiations wear on behind the scenes. At times, the rhetoric got heated with some speakers targeting MTA chief executive Pat Foye with nicknames and personal attacks. One union representative suggested that if Foye showed up to the union’s planned rally on Oct. 30, they’d “have some tar and feathers for him.”

Then there were the threats of what else might be coming.

“Do you want a strike? Is that what you really want?” asked one shop steward. “Because that is the message you are sending by your actions to transit workers.”

That could be enough to worry straphangers, including the 50 percent of Long Island Rail Road riders who take the subway.

Once Foye took the microphone, a different tone took over. Foye first praised outgoing managing director Ronnie Hakim, who was attending her last MTA board meeting.

Quickly, the accolades came from all sides, as MTA executives, board members and even Long Island Rail Road union representative Vincent Tessitore applauded Hakim’s leadership.

Then Foye relayed the MTA’s improving statistics. He particularly noted that subway ridership is increasing, and that on-time performance reached above 80 percent for the fourth month in a row – the first time in five years that has happened.

“I want to thank TWU Local 100 for their hard work because these gains in subway performance wouldn’t be possible without their partnership,” Foye said.

By then, however, many of the workers who had spoken earlier had left the room.

While Foye wouldn’t comment on the status of contract negotiations, he noted during a news conference after the meeting that both sides “share a mutual interest which is having a fair contract and getting it done.”

As for the name-calling and verbal attacks?

“If I wanted a job where I was universally loved, I would’ve done something else,” Foye said. 

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

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