2013-04-19 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

Public Campaign Financing Stinks!
By Peter Stubben

Despite the obvious, the world is not flat and the sun does not revolve around the earth. This was all figured out thousands of years ago by the Greeks and Sumerians. But from observations even today - isn't it obvious that the sun rises every day in the east and isn't it clear that the earth is not round, it is flat...as far as we can see. The obvious sometimes is obviously wrong.

With the disgusting, despicable and devastating news on the front pages of all the NY newspapers these days over the corruption in Queens...quiet, comfortable, sensible, serene, hard-working Queens...there is great discussion on new and needed reforms to prevent this thievery on the part of our politicians.

The dumbest and worst of these suggestions is the public financing of campaigns. Let me get this straight: today, we pay these crooks to run for office; and once in, they steal blindly from us - and now the great pooh-bahs are saying what's needed is more public financing!!! Isn't that like the Beach 116th Street Cap One Bank not only dropping its security systems, but - worse! - unlocking the bank vault!

What am I missing here, and why do so many people think public financing is good...in full view of the facts that thievery and corruption among our local politicians are up, just as public financing is escalating. For every one dollar a local candidate raises, you give him $6...now, what's your return on those six dollars?

This insanity has three (at least three) startling drawbacks.

First, public financing means that 'just about anybody' around NYC can run for local office. Is that what we aspire to...'just about anybody' representing us in City Hall. Isn't that the problem - we get what we pay for...scheming nobodies with a resume bereft of accomplishment, accompanied by a warm smile, engaging personality and a commanding voice. Sure, anybody can run for office, but why should we finance their ambitions; and why should we unlock $65 billion yearly to these people. The $65 billion NYC budget is one of the largest in the world. Does anyone newly hired have access to the Apple budget, or the Xerox budget, or the General Motors budget, or the Estee Lauder budget... without awesome credentials? Yet that's what we've been doing...financing the campaigns of 'ethically challenged' people with limited experience and no record of accomplishment. That makes no sense to me...and I don't think that's what ole Tom Jefferson and James Madison had in mind either. They expected their neighbors... tradespeople, farmers, printers, attorneys, school teachers etc., etc...to take some time off to enter local politics for the greater good, then return to their professions.

Second, public financing, while reducing the financial burdens of the individual candidate, escalates campaign costs not incrementally, but exponentially. Anyone who wants to run has to compete with an opponent who can spend wantonly on their campaign because the city gives them $6 for every one dollar they raise. Election costs go up one year, then in the next election cycle they go up even more - and campaign costs wind up spiraling into the millions.

My third reason...the city and state spend sufficiently already. Our New York City budget is $65 billion (the largest by far in the nation), and our NY State budget is $143 billion (second only to California). NY spends more than $15,000 per person...California $12,500 per person. There are lots of sensible services the city and state should and must provide, but the feelgood financing of political campaigns, returning the city to the Tammany Hall days of public corruption, is counterproductive to good government and should never be one of them.

Stewardship for the politicians, not courtship of the politicians.

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