By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Since my friend and colleague
Henry Stern penned his column below, more questionable issues have arisen
concerning the potential politicization of the change of Campaign Finance
Sadly, we are again faced with
an elected official trying to manipulate the system and change the law to
enhance his own political future.
It has happened before; itíll
happen again. When it does, we must ignore whether or not we support that
candidate, and demand that election rules not be changed for the benefit
or detriment of any single candidate. When election rule changes impact
those voting on them, those changes should be put into effect after the
full election cycle is over. That would in effect make those participating
in the changes evaluate the proposal based on public benefit and not their
Just as we led the fight to
prevent elected officials from overturning term limits for themselves, we
condemn any elected official involved in a rule/law change to benefit him
Elected officials should not
be allowed to change the law to limit their challengersí ability to use
funds, raise funds or to increase their own ability to access money. If a
legislative body believes that such change is necessary, let them make the
effective date of the law change far enough into the future so as not to
impact present election contests which they may be involved in. This is
not a cute statement of language. This is as strong a position of advocacy
as I can make: it is wrong for elected officials to participate in a
process of law or rule change that will improve their own chances of
getting elected to the detriment of their opponents.
At last weekís Tribune holiday party, (clockwise from top left): Trib Publisher Michael Schenkler with three of the leading Democratic candidates for Mayor: Congressman Anthony Weiner; labor leader/Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin; Council Speaker Giff Miller. Comptroller Bill Thompson, a fourth contender, arrived after the photo.
Tribune photo by Ira Cohen
Let me explain. In Henryís column below, he refers to the proposed
change of campaign finance board matching funds from 4:1 to 8:1 if the
opponent does not participate in the program. This would double the amount
of money that the Democratic candidate would get against Mayor Michael
Bloomberg. Henry clearly states the case against this. Me, even if I
believed that such a reform was necessary to level the playing field
against the wealthy, I would not accept the change while the upcoming
election seems clearly to be between a participant in the program and one
who intends not to use matching funds but his own resources. To do so
would allow the Democratically controlled City Council to cast a vote that
would promote the candidacy of the Democrat over the Republican. Not fair,
not democratic, not acceptable ó even though Iím a Democrat.
Now, I donít have a
candidate for Mayor ó Iíve met them all. I consider quite a number of
them as friends. I have been a strong supporter of the administration of
Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and just last week had four of the five leading
Democratic candidates for Mayor celebrating the season with me at the Tribuneís
annual Holiday Party.
Basically, there are five
viable Democratic challengers and one Republican incumbent in the Mayoral
mix, and this City is blessed to have such a quality crop of candidates.
They all wonít make the race and watching the process play out from my
box seat is one of the perks that this political junkie gets from writing
this column and publishing this paper. It is an exciting time for those of
us who find government and politics as exciting as Monday night football
or Yankee (I wish I could say Met) baseball.
But as the game of politics is
played, it is real important not to let those folks who can lose
perception of right and wrong, stray from the principles of fairness and
Iím afraid that Council
Speaker Giff Miller is about to stray ó again. Miller, the 34-year-old,
very bright Councilman from the Upper East Side, became Speaker two years
ago, after term limits ousted all but a couple of handfuls of senior
Councilmembers. With the support of a united Queens delegation, Miller,
the best man for the job, won. He immediately and skillfully pushed
through a change in term limit law that allowed him and six others to run
for an additional two years. He is about to begin those "final"
In passing that term limit
"tweak," Miller as boss of the Council changed the law passed by
referendum of the people in order to extend the number of years he was
allowed to serve in the Council. The same law denied other former
Councilmembers the right to run. Miller was a masterful salesman and sold
his "tweak" to most good-government groups and editorial boards
in spite of the fact that it was clearly a self-serving piece of
This newspaper was almost
alone calling attention to and opposing this initial self-serving
manipulation by Miller.
Well, the City didnít stop
him them, and heís trying it again.
He is placing before the
Council new campaign finance law changes. Thereís the lead item, the 8:1
match to fill his own coffers with City tax money (or the coffers of the
winner of the Democratic Primary) for the showdown against Mike Bloomberg.
His own press release was
deceptive, not revealing all the advantages he planned on legislating for
himself. Last time, he hid the fact that his term limit "tweak"
denied former Council people the right to run.
This time his publicity
attempted to hide the provision which would allow Miller to transfer to
his Mayoral campaign and utilize all the campaign funds he has banked for
any office, but deny Anthony Weiner eligible funds in his Federal Account
or Brian McLaughlin eligible funds in his State account ó a move to gain
an advantage over two of his Democratic foes. Miller, McLaughlin Weiner,
and Bill Thompson have roughly the same size campaign war chests somewhere
under $2 million ó none of them raised any money for a mayoral race.
Miller (and Thompson) would be able to use all of theirs while Weiner and
McLaughlin could use none of theirs if Millerís change is adopted. Just
Miller cohort Manhattan
Councilman Bill Perkins, chairman of the Government Operations Committee,
is putting forth these proposals ó the very same route the term limit
"tweak" took as it was skillfully rushed to passage.
Expect nothing less here. I
spoke to Giff briefly about his plans to change the rules midstream. And
he rattled off a string of platitudes: we always do it; what, we should
delay justice, etc. He seems hell-bent on changing the rules to gain as
much advantage as he can.
Several Councilmembers have
told me in confidence: Itís wrong; but I canít afford to oppose the
Miller controls Committee
chairs, assignments, perks, budgets and lots of other goodies that give
him almost complete control over the Council agenda and votes.
And sadly, heís using it to
advance his own political career.
And in the end, I predict it
will not only cost him the support of this newspaper, but of many who view
politics as public service and not the use of charm and power.
Abuse By Greedy Pols
By HENRY STERN
Last week, I appeared before
the Campaign Finance Board. I had signed up to testify, before the
controversy erupted about doubling the match rate from 4:1 to a
maximum of 8:1 for candidates opposing others who are not participating in
the CFB program.
On the substance, I believe
that an 8:1 ratio is excessive for a number of reasons:
1) It does not fully consider
the non-cash contributions by public employee unions, political clubs and
others. Money, although important, is far from the only asset in an
election campaign. Volunteers, are an important part of the political
2) For the Board to suggest,
or the Council to adopt major changes in the rules at this time, when the
Speaker and the Mayor are two of the major opposing candidates, is
tampering with a race which is already underway. To the mayorís credit,
when he tried to abolish party primaries, he deferred the effective date
to 2009, so he could not be accused of promoting his own election chances.
The least the CFB can do is follow that example.
3) With the city in a
financial crisis, the new formula would add tens of millions of dollars to
the expense budget. How many police officers, teachers or park
workers should we do without in order to provide more commercials,
leaflets and tschotchkes for candidates unable or unwilling to pay their
4) The 8:1 figure is itself
arbitrary. If it a sin for Bloomberg to spend more money than the
others, why not give his rivals enough to match his spending, and abolish
some of the smaller city agencies to do it. Isnít 4:1, which comes
out to about fifteen million dollars per contender, or about $6.50 per
voter, enough to put oneís message across?
But the greater vice of the
current system of public financing of campaigns is the way it has been
misused by those who do not need or deserve its benefit.
For example: sure winners,
Democrats in overwhelmingly Democratic districts; sure losers, people who
have no chance of election, but simply manipulate the system to advertise
themselves; spurious candidates, where people of a particular ethnic group
or gender are placed on the ballot in order to split the vote. The
idea of any of these Trojan horses or straw men or women receiving public
funds for their charade of a candidacy is ridiculous.
The Board pleads that all the
abuse is carried out according to the law. There are a number of
able lawyers on the CFB staff. The brightest of all is their chairman,
Fritz Schwarz, Harvard Law School LLB í60, magna cum laude, former NYC
Corporation Counsel (under Koch), and longtime senior partner at Cravath,
Swaine and Moore.
If anyone can find a legal way
out of this mareís nest of conceit and deceit, Fritz Schwarz can. And he
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be