Senate Republicans to Hold Hearing on New York City Public Finance Abuses

April 18, 2013

Senate Republicans today announced they will hold a public hearing within the next few weeks to examine New York City’s often abused public finance system amid calls by Democrats and good-government groups to replicate the system statewide.  The hearing will be led by Senate Elections Chair Thomas O’Mara and will include key lawmakers, experts on the City’s public finance system and good government advocates.

The City’s model, which provides candidates with a 6-to-1 taxpayer match, appears rife with abuse.

“We are deeply skeptical that providing politicians with taxpayer dollars to finance their campaigns is a solution to the recent scandals.  As we’ve seen in New York City, it can be a recipe for more wrongdoing and more corruption,” Senate Co-Leader Dean G. Skelos said.   “As we seek reforms to tighten up our existing campaign finance and electoral laws, it’s important that we know more about the New York City experience and what it has meant for hardworking taxpayers.”

"It's important to be as deliberate and as thorough as possible in examining the potential benefits and pitfalls of a statewide system of taxpayer-financed campaigns and any other comprehensive reforms," said Senator O'Mara.  "This hearing is a good place to start.  The New York City experience with public financing deserves a close look before implementing any widespread system based upon that model."

State Senator Malcolm Smith, who was arrested recently on charges he attempted to bribe his way onto the New York City Mayoral ballot, was reportedly  interested in qualifying for matching funds so he could keep the taxpayer dollars flowing to support himself and his allies.

Some city politicians, including the New York City Comptroller’s campaign, have also been accused of creating “straw” or fictitious donors to maximize the amount of taxpayer dollars they would receive.

In addition, dozens of council candidates have spent millions of dollars in public funds to “defeat” token opposition or have used taxpayer money inappropriately.

A 2011 report by the Center for Competitive Politics outlined the many incidences of abuse and identified the New York City public finance system as one of the worst in the nation.

Senate Republicans have opposed taxpayer-funded political campaigns, and estimate that a statewide system could cost as much as $220 million.  With limited state resources, there are much better uses for that money.

“The Senate Republican conference will work with our partners in government to respond to the public’s call for action, but we must do so in the most effective way possible.  This is too important to get wrong,” Senator Skelos said.

The date and time of the public hearing, to be held in Albany, will be announced in the coming days.