A Call for Candidates A Different Kind of Campaign Finance Reform By Peter Livingston

It's the end of another successful school year at my house. As is the case with many families, children are eagerly looking forward to summer vacation. Before it arrives, they have to tie up loose ends at school, making sure that they do not forget anything.

A similar story is being played out in Albany.

In the Capitol, Legislators are giddily packing their bags in between clean-up sessions, anticipating an off-election-year recess. They are going through their checklists making sure they don't forget anything. Clothes. Check. Sunscreen. Check. Golf clubs. Check. See you next year!

The problem is, they are forgetting something, or someone. They are forgetting someone who is too often forgotten, or ignored, on a daily basis. Someone who our system of government is designed to protect. Someone who cannot typically protect himself. They are forgetting the disabled.

During the budget process in March, the New York State Assembly and Senate amended Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget. Unfortunately, the amendments did not include restoration of $90 million in cuts to services for the developmentally disabled. Western New York Assemblymen Raymond Walter and David DiPietro were vocal in their opposition to these cuts. However, their pleas to restore funding were ignored.

Perhaps more insulting were majority caucus demands to restore funding, made immediately after they refused to amend the budget to restore the funding. It is unconscionable for an elected official to talk up the fight for the developmentally disabled to curry political favor while at the same ignoring their plight.

What is more unconscionable, however, is where Cuomo and Assembly Democrats have placed the developmentally disabled on the spending priority list. At the same time the Governor is refusing to adequately fund services for the developmentally disabled - people who cannot help themselves - Cuomo and his supporters are traveling the state, touting a political incumbency protection program. He tries to mask his intention by calling it "campaign finance reform," but it is anything but. The program uses taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns.

I have previously written about how this program is an affront to free speech and will encourage unethical behavior. I will not repeat that discussion. But this program is bad for New York for many more reasons.

The proposal does nothing to eliminate accumulated campaign war chests, like the $22 million that Cuomo has on hand. Advantage: Incumbent. The proposal severely diminishes a fresh candidate's ability to gain name recognition and articulate a campaign platform, especially compared to an elected official's access to news media. Advantage: Incumbent. The proposal limits the ability of a candidate to hire campaign resources, especially compared to taxpayer-funded armies of patronage workers who canvass neighborhoods on behalf of a seated elected official. Advantage: Incumbent.

State Senator Dean Skelos estimates the annual cost of taxpayer-financed campaigns at $200 million every year. Cuomo thinks it will only cost taxpayers $40 million per year. By the Governor's most conservative estimate, almost half of the developmentally disabled money will go to politicians. That should make you sleep better at night - it doesn't seem to phase Cuomo.

I truly hope this ridiculous plan does not move forward. But if it does, let's use this opportunity to make lemons out of lemonade. And while you are enjoying your lemonade, please consider my plan and become a candidate for political office.

The plan is simple. Determine an office for which you cannot possibly win. For example, run on the Republican line for Mayor of Buffalo (sorry Sergio. But it was nice meeting you at the Allentown Art Festival last weekend!)

Next, determine a charity, which you would like to support, such as the Autism Society of Western New York. Get the word out that you are running for Mayor, but you have no intention of winning. In fact, you will not even be voting for yourself. Then hold fundraisers for your campaign. Let people know that their donations will not be tax deductible, but their donations will be matched six-to-one by New York State taxpayers. Take that money and pay it to yourself as manager of your campaign. Then donate all of the money that you paid to yourself to the Autism Society of Western New York, or whatever charity for which you campaigned.

This plan would create a public-private partnership to adequately fund programs for the disabled. It would also create much-needed visibility for these programs. Unfortunately, if implemented properly, it will cost a heck of a lot more than even Senator Skelos' $200 million estimate. But, desperate times call for desperate measures. Some incumbents are so desperate to keep their jobs, they take services away from the developmentally disabled. It's abhorrent.

It is time for New York to re-examine its priorities and the motives of its elected representatives. If Governor Andrew Cuomo's incumbency protection program is adopted, I encourage you to participate in my plan. If you do, your motives will never be questioned.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com. I occasionally comment via Twitter @PRLivingston.

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