COLUMN: Public dollars should not determine candidates

— Putting aside the potential costs, there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that our tax dollars could go to candidates that some of us would never support at the polls. To put it plainly, if you are a registered Democrat and typically vote Democratic in election, your taxpayer dollars could be given to candidates who meet certain criteria regardless of their political agenda. That is, a Democrat taxpayer's dollars could go to a Republican candidate and vice versa. I understand that taxpayer money very often goes to programs and projects that any individual citizen may not support. However, electing representatives is at the very heart of our democratic system. It seems to me that an individual should run on his or her merit and we should not use public money in effort to "level" the playing field for other candidates.

Even if one could get past these issues, the question remains whether publicly financed campaigns address the problems that proponents of such a system say they would – namely, low voter and candidate participation and the influence of private money in campaigns. We need to look no further than to New York City to realize that this campaign system is far from anything we would want to emulate on the State level. NYC's system of campaign financing has not accomplished any of the goals that supporters of the system said it would.

Since instituting public financing of campaigns in NYC races in 1989, voter turnout in NYC is has dropped to its lowest level since 1969. These levels are lower than Upstate where no such public financing system exists. Nor does it seem to have made races any more competitive. Last year, almost half of NYC council candidates faced no serious competition. Further, while not entirely fair to attribute corruption to a campaign financing system, it is clear that NYC's system hasn't ended corruption. For example, one New York City candidate accepted more than $1 million in taxpayer money and then threw victory dinners costing more than $20,000, according to reports. Another received $2.2 million in tax dollars and used campaign funds to pay more than $1,000 in parking tickets as well as travel to Puerto Rico. Finally, it would be hard to argue that the influence of private money has decreased in NYC elections when Mayor Bloomberg spent a record $102 million on his last election.

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