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Republicans criticize public finance commission

Republican leaders in the New York Legislature are speaking out against a commission that is creating a public campaign financing system for state elected offices, saying the panel is fatally flawed.

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, on a rainy fall day, stood outside the public campaign finance commission's hearing on Long Island and said the panel is “unlawful” and creates a dangerous precedent.  

“It’s a sham,” Flanagan said. “It’s a hoodwinking of the public in so many different ways, shapes and forms.”  

Flanagan, a Republican, was in the majority party in the Senate for most of his tenure, until Democrats picked up several seats in the 2018 elections. GOP senators blocked bills to design a public campaign finance system, saying that taxpayers should not have to subsidize political campaigns.

Flanagan has not changed his mind about that. 

“They want you to pay for robocalls,” Flanagan said. “They want you to pay for negative mailings.”  

Polls show a majority of New Yorkers agree with Flanagan on the issue, with two-thirds of them against a public financing system.  

Republican Sen. Phil Boyle slammed Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic leaders of the legislature, who appointed the majority of the members of the commission. Boyle said the Democrats are shirking their law-making responsibilities to unelected commissioners who will decide on how $100 million in funds allotted for the public campaign system will be spent.

“They have the majority in the Senate and the Assembly,” said Boyle, who said the Democrats should have debated and voted for public campaign finance during the session in Albany.

“They created an unconstitutional commission, which should not be in place,” he said.

Boyle and Flanagan say they are also wary of a rules change when the commission was created that allows the head of the state’s Democratic Party, which Cuomo controls, to serve as the de facto chair of the commission. Previously, party chairs were not permitted to serve on policy-making panels. 

The commission is also looking into whether to end fusion voting, which is the ability of candidates to run for election on multiple party lines. Flanagan and Assembly Republican Minority Leader Brian Kolb have joined lawsuits brought by the Conservative Party and the left-leaning Working Families Party that challenge the commission’s authority to change the rules on fusion voting.

Flanagan said ending the practice would limit voter choice.

“I believe that is violative of the constitution,” Flanagan said.

The commission has come under fire from government reform advocates as well. They are also against the commission changing the rules for fusion voting, saying it’s a distraction from the main task of setting up a campaign finance system. 

Alex Camarda with Reinvent Albany said his group disagrees with the commission’s decision to release its final report on Thanksgiving Eve.

“Which is obviously not ideal because the public won’t be paying attention,” Camarda said.  

Reinvent Albany and other groups, including Common Cause, labor unions and the Sierra Club, have asked that the commission release a draft report on Nov. 1.  

If the Senate and Assembly do not act by Dec. 22 to change the report’s recommendations, they automatically become law.

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.