Greens call for full public campaign financing to end political corruption
The Green Party gubernatorial ticket called today for full public campaign financing in order to end what they called the "pay-to-play corruption” and “legalized bribery” they say pervades private funding of election campaigns and leads to public corruption. They said Governor Kathy Hochul exemplified this problem.
Hawkins and Mattera proposed a system of full public campaign finance called Clean Elections. Clean Elections systems are in effect in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine. Candidates for state office who are ballot-qualified then qualify for public campaign grants by raising a modest amount of money in small donations to demonstrate support. All the qualified candidates receive equal grants to run their campaigns.
A partial public funding system based on matching funds was enacted in 2020 and takes effect during the 2022 to 2024 elections cycle. The Green candidates said that Governor Andrew Cuomo used the matching funds program as a smokescreen for enacting in conjunction a highly restrictive ballot access law for third parties. Cuomo claimed that the state could not afford to publicly finance smaller independent parties. The Green candidates said Cuomo’s rationale for eliminating independent political competition from his left is nonsense because the matching funds go to candidates, not parties.
“Hochul is even more brazen then Cuomo in handing out pay-to-play favors to big campaign donors,” said Howie Hawkins, the Green candidate for Governor who in the televised 2014 gubernatorial debate called former Governor Andrew Cuomo a hypocrite for shutting down his Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption when it began to focus on his own administration.
“We need a system of full, not partial, public campaign financing. We need a system where qualified candidates receive equal public campaign grants and must forgo private financing. The partial public finance system based on matching funds that New York is about to implement places no limits on private funding of campaigns, which leaves in place the old corrupt system dominated by wealthy big donors,” said Hawkins.
“Private campaign funding is a system of legalized bribery. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows most elected officials owe their political careers to rich donors. And those politicians know it, too. They make sure the special interests of their big donors are taken care of at the expense of the public interest. The matching funds system just makes the old system look better than it is. It just adds public money on top of the same old stinking pile of private money. The fat cats will still dominate campaign financing,” said Gloria Mattera, the Green Party candidate for Lieutenant Governor.
“New York is in the middle of a politician crime wave,” Hawkins said, noting that Hochul’s appointed Lieutenant Governor, Brian Benjamin; two former Governors, Elliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo; a former Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman; a former state Comptroller, Alan Hevesi; a former Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver; two former Leaders of the Senate, Joe Bruno and Dean Skelos; Cuomo’s top aide and campaign manager, Joe Percoco; and more than three dozen other state politicians have been driven from office after being caught up in various campaign finance, bribery, kickback, and sexual misconduct scandals in recent years.
Governor Kathy Hochul had raised over $34 million by June and aims to raise as much as $70 million. The bulk of her campaign funds have come from big donors in the real estate, health care, cryptocurrency, and gambling industries, many of whom are exploiting loopholes to the legal limits on campaign donations from corporations. By January 2022, Hochul had raised $22 million in just her first four months in office, more than triple what former Governor Andrew Cuomo had ever raised by the beginning of an election year, with an average donation of $3,113.
The Greens candidates said these big donations are corrupting. They called out Governor Kathy Hochul for a number of apparent pay-to-play favors for her big donors.
They also condemned Hochul’s support for another $1.2 billion for another billionaire, developer Steven Roth. The $1.2 billion comes in the form of tax breaks from the state’s Empire State Development Corporation for Roth’s “PENN District” plan to redevelop Penn Station and its surrounding neighborhood in Manhattan. Roth has given the Hochul campaign the maximum legal individual donation of $69,700 for her current campaign. Roth and many other big Hochul donors in the real estate industry had previously contributed large campaign donations to former Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Roth and other major donors to Hochul have also been major donors to Donald Trump. In the current election cycle, Roth has contributed half a billion dollars to Republican efforts to take control of Congress in this year's midterm elections.
“That’s what these fat cats do. They give to candidates of both corporate parties. So no matter which ones win, they’ve got their bought-and-paid-for politicians working for them. Political corruption is bipartisan,” said Mattera.
The Greens said only pay-to-play corruption can explain why the governor is supporting Roth’s plan that they say is destructive of the Penn Station neighborhood and fails to significantly upgrade Penn Station and public transportation. Roth’s plan would demolish 55 buildings (over 40 of which are landmark eligible), destroy 1,296 businesses and thousands of jobs, and eliminate 2,371 apartments. All this demolition is to make way for 10 high-rise office buildings in a city suffering from excess office space and a decline of the affordable housing and neighborhood businesses that engender decent urban living.
Hawkins and Mattera castigated other apparent pay-to-play corruption schemes in which Hochul approved contracts worth hundreds of millions to donors who gave her campaign hundreds of thousands.
In one case, the family of Charlie Tebele gave nearly $300,000 to the Hochul campaign while the state paid $637 million to Tebele’s Digital Gadgets company to provide the state Department of Health — an agency controlled by Hochul — with at-home COVID-19 test kits. The payments were made without competitive bidding. California paid 45% less for similar tests at the same time.
In another case that the Greens decried, Hochul’s Department of Health awarded a five-year contract worth over $5 billion to Syracuse-based Medical Answering Services, whose owner, Russ Maxwell, and his husband, Morgan McDole, have given $81,000 to the Hochul campaign and $30,000 to the state Democratic Party, which is heavily supporting Hochul. These contributions follow their donations of $54,000 to Hochul while she was Lieutenant Governor and $236,000 to Cuomo, who appointed Hochul to be Lieutenant Governor. Maxwell also donates to Republican candidates, including the Republican candidate for Governor, Lee Zeldin, to whom Maxwell has given $2,000.
Eight different gubernatorial tickets attempted but failed to qualify under the new independent nominating petition requirement of 45,000 signatures in 42 days, which is three times more than the old standard of 15,000 signatures in 42 days. The result of this new law is that only Democratic and Republican candidates are on the ballot for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller. 2022 will be the only time since 1891 when government-approved ballots were first issued that only Democratic and Republican candidates will be on the ballot for Governor, with the single exception of the post-war 1946 election.
Without a ballot line, the Green candidates are running a write-in campaign in 2022. They estimate that about 150,000 write-in votes will be needed to meet the 2% threshold for ballot qualification for the next two-year election cycle.