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GOP chair slams scheduled Thanksgiving Eve release of public campaign finance plan

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

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

"And they're hoping, as always, to sneak this through in a news cycle while people are busy preparing for their holidays," Langworthy said. "This is how Third World countries run their governments."  

Under the rules of the commission -- decided in the budget in late March -- the Legislature has until Dec. 22 to act to override the commission's recommendations, or they automatically become law.

Jay Jacobs, the head of the state's Democratic Party, was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be on the commission, and has acted as its de facto 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 on the commission. 

"He's obviously orchestrating and puppeteering every damn bit of this behind the scenes," Langworthy said.  

The commission also has been given the power 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, last year.  

"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 Sept. 10.

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

Cuomo senior adviser 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." 

And Azzopardi took a shot at Langworthy, saying his party's record of winning elections is "poor." He said maybe that's why the GOP chairman, 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 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.