Last week, I argued the case of Arizona Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett to the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of the “matching funds” provision of Arizona’s public financing system. One of the issues was whether this law was implemented in order to “fight corruption” in politics. The proponents of the law argued that the law was essential to remove the corrupting influence of private money, thus freeing candidates to act ethically without compromising their ability to raise campaign funds.
New York City has a public financing system that provides some useful examples of just how ethical and incorruptible politicians are when they have extra taxpayer money left over after their publicly financed campaigns are finished. NBC-TV in New Yorkreported last week that “[o]ut of 140 candidates who accepted taxpayer dollars to boost their 2009 bid for office, [Councilmember Erik] Dilan was the only one to refund the entire balance [of excess funds] to taxpayers. Only 11 candidates returned any money at all. Out of $27.3 million in public matching funds, candidates have paid back just over $51,000.”
On what have these incorruptible politicians been spending their excess taxpayer subsidies? Bill de Blasio is New York City’s Public Advocate and was last seen on this blog bullying corporations into foregoing political activity. He and John Liu, the New York City Comptroller, wrote in the Huffington Post following the Citizens United decision, “We now need to use every available avenue to hold corporations and their boards of directors accountable for their political spending.” How did de Blasio spend his excess taxpayer funds? “[de Blasio] used surplus campaign funds to pay for nine parking tickets and a $1,083 trip to Puerto Rico. So far, he has not paid back any of the $2.2 million dollars in matching funds he received in 2009.” And Comptroller Liu? “[He] spent more than $20,000 on three volunteer and victory dinners.”
Apparently, “accountability” is important to these politicians when it comes to corporations spending their private money on free speech, but not so much when it comes to their spending the money of hard-working New Yorkers on their own political speech and questionable perks.
So, congratulations to Councilmember Dilan, the only one out of 140 recipients of New YorkCity’s political welfare system who actually appears to care about the people who earned that money. Unfortunately, he is far outnumbered by politicians like de Blasio and Liu, who are dedicated to ceaselessly fighting the corrupting influence of big private money—once they get back from their latest taxpayer-financed trip to Puerto Rico or lavish victory dinner, of course.