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Publicly funded campaigns could be an upstate thing too

ALBANY -- In their first public report released Monday, the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption outlined a culture of political and ethical misuse of campaign funds. One of their several recommendations is a statewide public campaign finance system based on the New York City model.

For 24 years New York City taxpayers have been funding campaigns in the Big Apple. This past election year alone $37.5 million was taken from the New York City budget and given to hundreds of city candidates. New York City`s system is a 6 to 1 match meaning for every $1 donated $6 more of taxpayer money is given to a candidate.

Brian Sampson of Unshackle Upstate, a government spending watch group, says despite a recommendation from a majority of Moreland Commission members, New York State should not adopt a state wide system. Sampson calls the proposal "a waste of money" pointing to two specific disgraced candidates who received public funds to run an election

Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who left office after being accused of sexually harassing several female staffers, and former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who left his position after tweeting out pictures of himself, both received public funds.

Lopez, a city council candidate, received $92,350 that was public money while Weiner collected $1.6 million for his unsuccessful bid for mayor, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board

"At the end we spent a million and a half dollars of taxpayer money for him to get less than 5-percent of the vote," said Brian Sampson.

However, proponents of publicly funded campaigns say its not about winners and losers its about fairness. Those who aggressively push for a state wide system believe publically funded elections mean leveling the playing field for candidates who don`t get large donations from wealthy citizens and businessmen.

But what are the costs?

In New York City they make an estimate every year to the Mayor`s office as to what an election cycle will cost taxpayers, said a spokesman for the New York City Campaign Finance board.

On a state wide level the estimated costs are in the $50-$60 million per year range, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a group who testified before the Moreland Commission earlier this year.

"If we look at how much the state wastes in its budget every year, we`re talking a tiny fraction of the state`s overall spending.", said Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

In their report the Moreland Commission was not unanimous on their recommendation to install a state wide public finance system. Of the 25 members 18 agreed public financing would help curb corruption saying "it is the correct approach for New York State."

However, seven members disagreed saying "the commission`s recommendation regarding public financing is significantly flawed."

Midway through the 2013 legislative session Governor Cuomo outlined an anti corruption bill. Part of the bill called for publicly funded campaigns, state wide, based on the New York City model.

Lawmakers left Albany without addressing the bill that has support in the heavily democratic controlled assembly, but lacks support from GOP senators.

On Tuesday a spokesman for Governor Cuomo said he is still pushing for a state wide public finance system.