Governor Cuomo is about to ramp up the pressure on state lawmakers to come clean, creating a special panel to investigate corruption in Albany and campaign contributions.
In a legislative session that just sort of petered out like a dying engine last month, lawmakers and the governor were unable to agree on a strong plan to create public campaign financing. And while this is hardly a substitute for overhauling a broken system, it's a good first step. The plan to form the commission is already spooking the Republican leader of the State Senate, Dean Skelos, who is worried that the group which is going to be chock-a-block with prosecutors will be engaged in a "witch hunt."
Regardless of Cuomo's motives, something needs to be done with a system where someone can legally donate up to $60,800 to a candidate in New York State. (The limit for a federal candidate is $2,600 while it's $4,950 for the mayoral candidates.) On top of the sheer size of the donations is the Wild West aspect to the state's Board of Elections, which doesn't really monitor campaign expenditures. Unlike the city's Campaign Finance Board which painstakingly audits filings, the state does little to look at what candidates put down on paper. It takes either the media or federal prosecutors to get lawmakers to come clean.
Opponents of public financing of campaigns are pointing to this year's arrests of a small quorum of lawmakers on a variety of corruption charges, saying that the temptation to steal taxpayer money would be too great for a rapacious crew in the State Capitol. But what's clear to me is that some politicians will always try to game whatever system exists. A system with teeth is the solution. Cuomo's commission will be trying to take the first bite.