Editorial: Sky’s the campaign limit

When New York reformed its election rules two years ago, it left one big thing only partially fixed: the rules surrounding campaign contributions.

Sure, plenty of people give money with the purest of intentions — to help a candidate they believe in, with no expectation of special treatment from government. And plenty of candidates, no doubt, accept checks with no strings attached, other than to try to keep their campaign promises.

And some folks’ motivations are less than pure. For them, there’s a well-designed system of legal bribery known as campaign finance.

Even with the lower limits enacted in 2019, candidates in New York can accept eye-popping sums of money that can’t help but get their attention. Between a primary and general election, contenders for governor and other statewide elected posts of attorney general and comptroller can collect up to $69,700 from an individual and up to $465,940 from a family. Supreme Court candidates can accept as much as $150,000 from a family, depending on the judicial district. Candidates for Senate top out at $110,278 in family donations; those for Assembly can take in as much as $47,204.50.

You may not have heard those numbers back in 2019, perhaps because the politicians and political operatives who flourish in this system prefer to cite the minimum individual limits, which are far lower than the family maximums. And even the lowest state limits are higher than those for, say, U.S. Senate.

All this comes to mind as we learn of how Gov. Kathy Hochul mixed official business with campaign schmoozing, if not outright fundraising, in a pair of events last Wednesday in Manhattan.

That morning, the governor, in her official capacity, appeared at the Museum of Jewish Heritage to announce nearly $25 million in state funds to help nonprofits guard against hate crimes. As the Times Union’s Chris Bragg reports, she was introduced by Maury Litwack, managing director of public affairs at the Orthodox Union, a nonprofit that represents more than 400 synagogues nationwide and has been pushing for funding to combat anti-Semitic violence.

Later that day, Ms. Hochul met with potential donors from the Orthodox Jewish community in an event organized by Mr. Litwack and her campaign. Her campaign manager insists it wasn’t a fundraising event, just a “meet and greet,” but won’t say whether any checks were collected from campaign donors. Mr. Litwack also won’t answer that question.

Surely Ms. Hochul knows how unseemly it looks for the governor to hand out tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and then meet with beneficiaries of that money privately to at least troll for contributions, all in the same day, no less. But then consider how huge any checks written at that event, or as a result of it, may have been. And substitute any number of other constituencies — business owners looking for tax breaks, developers seeking state grants, companies seeking state contracts — and it’s clear how much further the state has to go in reforming campaign finance limits.

If Ms. Hochul really wants to restore faith in government, she would propose a substantive plan to reduce these obscene limits to something more wholesome. She should clean up a system that reeks of corruption, not wallow in it.



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