Our money should not be used for campaigning

The Times Herald-Record on public funding for political campaigns

March 18

Should public money fund political campaigns?

Wrong question. It already does.

The real question facing legislators in Albany is whether they will let challengers in on the deal.

Whenever the question of public funding for campaigns comes up, somebody is bound to bring up the hard-earned dollars of the hard-working taxpayers with the understanding that there are better uses for that money than paying for political campaigns.

So if a majority in Albany is really looking out for all those hard-working folk, let’s see if they will be consistent and make sure that those already in office do not use as much of our hard-earned money as they do now and have done for ages.

The first, most direct example comes in your mailbox during the late summer and fall every other year when legislators are campaigning for re-election.

Some of the flurry of fliers and letters comes from campaign committees, most of them coordinated by the major parties. But you pay for a lot of it and a lot of it comes just at the time when you might be considering who to support on Election Day.

As the Empire Center calculated this month, “state lawmakers spent $7.8 million on postage for campaign-style mailings to constituents in the six-month run-up to last year’s elections. … Senators spent $4.2 million and Assembly members spent $3.5 million on bulk postage and newsletter mailings between April 1 and Sept. 30, 2018. The figures do not include the added cost of paper, printing equipment or of legislative writers and graphic artists who work on the mailings, which typically feature photographs of lawmakers and flattering language.”

They didn’t spend quite so much the year before with no election in view, but they did spend more than $7 million the same way two years before when they were campaigning.

If they are really opposed to public spending on campaigns, this is a good place to start trimming the budget. And there’s an easy fix. Ban such expenditures when the legislative session ends in June. If they need to communicate, they all have email and websites.

But there is an even more despicable example, one that might finally change if proposed legislation advances.

You know all those young people who knock on doors every fall to support candidates. You’d be surprised, more likely horrified, to find out how many of them work full-time for legislators during the year, pile up uncompensated overtime and decide that instead of being paid time and a half or heading off for a well-earned rest, they will take all that compensatory time off and instead of taking a vacation they will “volunteer” to help the campaign.

This is a practice the late Assemblyman Tom Kirwin from Newburgh despised and tried to make illegal. He got nowhere with his fellow Republicans or with the Democrats who controlled the Assembly now and then.

It would be a tribute to Kirwin if his successors would honor that legacy and make sure that our hard-earned dollars in all forms no longer support the re-election campaigns of New York’s incumbents.