Curbing Independent Expenditures and the Governor’s Upstate Economic Development Scandal
We support the governor’s call for curbing Independent Expenditures – they are as bad as he says. But the governor also needs to champion reforms that directly address the pay to play and conflict of interest engulfing his own Upstate economic development programs.
Independent expenditures are corrosive to our democracy, but they played no role in the Silver or Skelos’ corruption capers, and played no role in the deals involving state controlled non-profits, the governor’s top aides and some of his biggest donors in Central and Western New York.
Headline after headline have pointed out that some of the governor’s largest campaign contributors in Central and Western New York have gotten hundreds of millions in state contracts. At a minimum, this creates the perception of pay to play and is contrary to the governor’s stated goal of restoring confidence in government. It is a common sense measure to restrict the campaign contributions of businesses doing business with the state. In New York City, campaign contributions from people doing business with the city are sharply restricted, as are contributions from LLCs. In the state, there are no doing business (pay to play) restrictions, and millions of dollars of political donations to the governor and top legislative leaders are made using LLCs.
It is highly ironic that in the context of Independent of Expenditures, the governor mentioned some practices at the center of the probes into his Upstate economic development programs. The governor decried the use of opaque and unaccountable non-profit organizations to hide political donors. But his administration has used state controlled non-profits like Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, Fuller Road Management Corporation, SUNY Research Foundation and even SUNY Polytechnic because they are not subject to the same bidding, conflict of interest or transparency rules as state authorities and agencies.
Also ironic the governor specifically identifying the “Sharing of office space and non-public information” to show collusion between Independent Expenditures and candidates. People central to the Upstate economic development probe are alleged to have done both. Todd R. Howe, EYP and Columbia Development all had office space in a SUNY Polytechnic building – a state owned building. Columbia Development purchased land at the site of a planned state project, before that project was publicly announced.
We support measures to curb Independent Expenditures, but call on the governor to feel the same urgency to end the apparent pay to play and conflict of interest that has put billions of dollars in public subsidies in question.