I was pleased to see Newsday's quick post about the public finance bill that had passed the Assembly last week. With all of the bills being pushed onto the senate by Governor Paterson, this has to be at the top of the list. Our system of electing people to represent us is fundamentally broken and the power of money has far too much influence on how things work (just ask Pedro Espada). However, the bill...and Newsday's backing of it, hardly goes far enough.
Last week, the Assembly - that half of the State Legislature that is still at work - passed a bill that would create public financing for state elections. The bill is modeled on the New York City system, which has succeeded in opening city elections to many new faces. Participating candidates would receive a 4-to-1 match for individual donations up to $250, and donors could give just $2,000.Yes, those benefits are incalculable. I'm 100% with you that we need to get money out of politics, but if Newsday wants to see that as much as I do, then we need to push for real reform. Now I understand that Albany isn't going to do this willingly but proponents must talk about the benefits to get more people on our side and the political will power to not only limit the size of donations, but to make large contributors irrelevant. It already works in Arizona and Maine, it can work here too, but only if we fight for it.
The bill would phase in public financing beginning with the 2010 race for state comptroller. A widening pay-to-play probe of the Alan Hevesi years demonstrates the high stakes; the $154-billion pension fund should be far better insulated.
A phase-in is best, too, when state coffers are this empty. Full public funding would cost $100 million to $125 million over a four-year election cycle. Of course, the potential savings in reduced public corruption are incalculable.