Gov. Cuomo’s Actions Show Why New York Needs Fair Elections Now More Than Ever

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“I can tell you that in private meetings with the speaker, the Senate majority leader and the governor, our past efforts to maintain a personal and supportive relationship was critical in shaping the outcome” of legislation, wrote Steven Spinola, president of the powerful Real Estate Board of New York, in a memo asking his members to donate to State Assembly candidates.

“Our future ability to adopt favorable legislation, stop terrible legislation or modify legislation to limit the pain to our industry is directly tied to our continued positive relationship,” he continued.

The memo -- and its use of ‘continued positive relationship’ as a fantastic euphemism for ‘cold hard cash’ -- was uncovered by the Moreland Commission, which was created by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to investigate corruption in both the legislative and executive branches. The memo is evidence of exactly the kind of pay-for-outcomes corruption the commission was charged with uncovering, publicizing and ending. So why didn’t it make it into the commission’s first and only report?

As the New York Times reports today in a scorching account of Gov. Cuomo’s questionable influence on the panel, it’s because the memo would have implicated the governor himself, so his office pressured the commission to pull it from the report.

According to the Times, despite the governor’s insistence that the commission was independent and could investigate the executive branch, when the commission even approached the idea of issuing subpoenas that might implicate the governor, Cuomo’s office worked fervently to stop them or claw them back.

Is it any wonder that two out of three New York state voters agree that their lawmakers “do what’s best for them and their political friends and it never surprises me when another one gets indicted”? This kind of paid access and total disregard for citizens shown by the governor is what leads to apathy, distrust and cynicism of government.

Gov. Cuomo created the commission after the legislature failed to enact a series of campaign and ethics reforms, most notable a small donor public financing system.  While working publicly in support this “Fair Elections” bill in New York, the Times uncovers that the governor’s office was simultaneously pressuring commission members to downplay the impact of the reform on cleaning up corruption.
The Real Estate Board memo, along with other examples that tie the governor to special interest money and its preferred outcomes, were ultimately not included in the commission’s report. But these examples are exactly the reason New York needs Fair Elections: to put influence and power back in the hands of everyday voters, not the wealthiest campaign donors.

It’s why, even though the governor downplayed it, a small donor public financing system was strongly recommended by the commission in its only report released last December. At Public Campaign Action Fund, we have been working closely with citizen groups to press for small-donor-driven, public financing for all New York elections (and we’ve held Gov. Cuomo accountable for falling short of his promises). We believe — and citizens agree — that a comprehensive reform plan that includes small donor public financing is the first step to cleaning up this mess. In fact, it’s the only real way for him and for Albany to rehabilitate their reputation. They need to get the job done.