Now that Governor Cuomo is in midst of the second year of his first term, people are pointing to his success as a manager and as an executive. His popularity rating is 68% (according to the latest Quinnipiac poll) and while there are certainly disputes over specific measures he proposes to eliminate the perennial state debt, one would have to say that he is well-poised to make the effort.
The next challenge Cuomo tackles should be campaign finance reform. A new coalition of business, civic, and philanthropic leaders called New York Leadership for Accountable Government (NY Lead) has formed in response to a line uttered by Cuomo in his State of the State address this year expressing his desire to enact campaign finance reform on the statewide level. The group, whose members include David Rockefeller, restaurateur Danny Meyer, and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, was described in The New York Times last week in an article entitled “Wealthy Group Seeks to Reform Election Giving”.
In the article, Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., chief counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, one of the organizations that helped put together the NY Lead coalition, says, “It’s a double victory. You have lower amounts of money that can be given, and No. 2, ordinary people become engaged in political campaigns and candidates change their approach to campaigning.”
While no bill has yet been submitted in Albany, it appears likely that the proposed statewide campaign finance system would be modeled on New York City’s Campaign Finance Board. While the CFB system has deficiencies, the advantage of mirroring the city’s approach is that it is well-tested and one that is already familiar to a large portion of the legislature’s members, many of whom have run for office using matching funds.
Governor Cuomo’s strong words in favor of campaign finance reform are a comfort to the civic warriors who were so recently defeated on redistricting. The legislative leaders in March refused to honor the pledges made, oral and written, to Mayor Koch and New York Uprising.
Like independent redistricting, campaign finance reform is a worthy effort. If the legislature blocks his proposals, it only shows how they belong to their donors. Cuomo is in a no-lose situation. If he prevails in his efforts to reform campaign finance and to provide public spending for statewide campaigns he will be regarded as herculean for cleaning the Augean stables. If he fails, he will be praised for having tried to grab the Cretan bull by the horns (another one of the twelve labors).
One of Andrew Cuomo’s gifts is his ability to achieve successful political results without the appearance of having degraded himself or incurring major obligations to other politicians in exchange for their support. The legislature largely has been forced so far to swallow this.
The next few months, April to June, will give time for the reform proposals to be considered by the legislature. Even though the Republicans’ paper-thin majority in the State Senate is artificially augmented by a small conference of independent Democrats who are not beholden to their party leaders, the Republicans are under no obligation to reform anything, at least until 2022 when redistricting will beckon again.
The Democrats, whose self-interests also lie in maintaining the status quo, deserve equal suspicion in regard to their sincerity in addressing this issue. It is in the interest of good government and fostering legitimate competition both between and within the political parties that incumbents be contested by credible candidates who will give voters the opportunity to make choices that they have so long been denied.
When Cuomo tries to influence the political hacks of both parties, he is clearly acting in the public interest. Of course, it is also true that Governor Cuomo did not follow through on his oft-repeated promise to veto the lines which he did not find satisfactory.
The basic tilt of the legislature at this time is toward moderation and common sense. The difficulty is achieving that result without pretending to yield to every pressure group that arrives in Albany with more than a dozen members.
One fascinating aspect of Albany politics is the widespread practice of people publicly supporting policies which they personally believe are ruinous and unsupportable. We would compare it to trying to solve a crosswords puzzle in which the answer to each clue is an antonym.
One response is that they deserve it. Our response to that is that the legislature may deserve it, but do we?