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NY GOP Chair Slams Scheduled Release Of Public Campaign Finance Plan

Karen Dewitt

New York state’s Republican Party chair is angered over the news that a commission to create a public campaign finance system for the state plans to issue its report on Thanksgiving Eve — traditionally a time when politicians release items that they want to downplay.

The commission, which last held a meeting on a state holiday, is scheduled to release its final report the day before Thanksgiving on how to structure a public campaign finance system for statewide-elected offices, including governor, attorney general, and State Senate and Assembly seats.

State Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy says it’s a deliberate attempt to hide the results of the report by releasing it when the vast majority of New Yorkers will be preparing for a major holiday.

“They are hoping to sneak this through in a news cycle while people are busy preparing for their holidays,” said Langworthy. “This is like how third-world countries run their government.”

Under the rules of the commission, decided in the budget in late March, the Legislature has until December 22to act to override the commissions’ recommendations, or they automatically become law.

The head of the state’s Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs, was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to be on the commission, and has acted as its defacto chair. The Albany Times Union recently reported that Cuomo and the Legislature changed rules that prohibited party chairs from serving on policy-making commissions. Cuomo controls the Democratic Party in New York. Langworthy says the governor is pulling the strings.

“He’s obviously orchestrating and puppeteering every damn bit of this behind the scenes,” Langworthy said.

The commission has also been given the powers to make other changes in election procedures, including banning fusion voting, or the ability of major party candidates to run on multiple minor-party lines. The GOP supports the cross-party endorsements — Langworthy says it has often benefited Republican candidates to also run on other lines, like the Conservative Party line. He accuses Cuomo of trying to get rid of fusion voting because the governor has feuded with the left-leaning Working Families Party, and is trying to get back at them. Working Families endorsed Cuomo’s primary opponent, actor Cynthia Nixon, in last year’s elections.

“This is to settle scores from 2018 with his enemies in the Working Families Party,” Langworthy said.

The governor has said that he’s neutral on whether fusion voting should end. Cuomo said he's going to let the commission exercise its own "independent judgment."

"I'm not going to tell the commission what to do," he said on September 10.

Democratic Party Chair Jacobs is an opponent of fusion voting, and in a recent commission hearing called the practice “unpleasantly corrupting."

Cuomo's Senior Advisor, Rich Azzopardi, maintains that the governor is committed to a true public campaign finance system.

"The governor proposed public financing every year and with this commission it's going to get done once and for all.” Azzopardi said. “Its charge is to create the strongest system possible and the members appointed all bring their expertise and experience on this subject matter.”

Azzopardi took a shot at Langworthy, saying his party’s record of winning elections is “poor," and he says maybe that’s why the GOP Chair, unlike Jacobs, was not appointed to serve on the commission.

The Republicans are not alone in their concern about the Thanksgiving Eve release of the commission report. Government reform groups expressed dismay as well. Alex Camarda, with Reinvent Albany, says the planned release date “does not allow for adequate review." Reinvent Albany and other reform groups have been pressing the commission to release a draft report for the public to see in early November.

Langworthy says he and many Republicans are philosophically opposed to using taxpayer dollars to fund campaigns, but he did not rule out GOP candidates using a public campaign finance system if it “becomes the law of the land."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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