Corrupt Campaign Financing (2019 Feb)

by Barry A. Liebling

I live in New York City where the overwhelming majority of voters cast their ballots for leftist candidates and leftist proposals. The city is huge, and people of all political stripes live here. But the default in the Big Apple is to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Democratic Party or – if you are really sophisticated, hip, and avant-garde – part of the woke Marxist socialist cabal.

For a long time the city has had a program that gives tax dollars to people who are running for office. After all, according to left-progressive doctrine, anything that is worth doing is done better if the government supervises and controls it. In the 2018 election there was a proposal that most voters endorsed to increase substantially government “matching funds” for people running for office.

Recently I received an e-mail from a man who will be a candidate in the next election. He invited me to his fund raising event and announced with glee that because of the new law every dollar he received from private donors would be matched by six dollars from the city. While I did not attend the party I examined the city’s description of the matching funds program. As expected the theme of the site is that government force is inherently good and private actions are not to be trusted.

If you appreciate the virtue of individual freedom and responsibility (some people in New York City do) you can see that the program is wrong-headed and fundamentally corrupt.

Consider some of the assertions made by the city government. The program boasts that “New York City’s landmark small-dollar public matching funds program helps candidates rely on New York City residents – not special interests – to fund their campaigns.” This statement is worthy of scrutiny. To leftists “special interests” is a slur used to describe people and organizations that have ambitions different from those of progressive leftists. Alternatively, any proposal to confiscate material possessions or restrict the liberty of private citizens (if touted by a leftist pundit) is for the “common good” and is opposed to “special interests.”

Zoom in on the assertion that a participating candidate will rely on New York City residents for money. It is literally true. About one-seventh of the funding will come from people who want to help the person running for office and are willing to pay out of their own pockets. Sixth-sevenths of the funding will be forcibly stolen (in the form of taxes now or taxes later) from city residents who have no desire to pay for the campaign. To a leftist progressive this is not merely acceptable; it is the preferred way to proceed with any project.

And notice that there is not even a hint of the concept of theft and takings on the New York City website. Instead, the program is cynically mislabeled as “voluntary.”

“The city’s voluntary public financing program matches small-dollar contributions. Participating candidates may qualify to receive public matching funds at a $6-to-$1 rate for contributions up to $175 from individuals who reside in New York City. The matching funds program helps to amplify the voices of New Yorkers in city elections. For example, if a NYC resident makes a $10 contribution to a participating candidate, it is actually worth $70 to their campaign.”

And indeed the program is voluntary – for the candidates and their enthusiastic supporters. But it is completely involuntary for all the other residents who will be paying most of the money used for the campaign.

The website goes on to say that “by encouraging candidates to raise small-dollar contributions from average New Yorkers, the program increases engagement between voters and those who seek to represent them.” Again, this is true. The essence of the program is to give money to the politically active that is taken from everyone else.

Here is a statement that is so patently false that it should have embarrassed its authors. “Matching funds help ensure elected officials are accountable to city residents, not to special interests. Individual contributors are the most important source of a candidate’s funding, not special interest money.”

Actually the matching funds ensure that elected officials are accountable to bureaucrats in the city government – not to city residents. The program is set up to assure that individual contributors are not nearly as important as the government agents who are orchestrating the electoral process.

An apologist for the program might say that any candidate with any political orientation is eligible to participate. Thus, it might be argued, the matching funds system is “fair” because it does not favor any particular party or point of view. You have to be extremely naive to accept that assertion. The designers of government matching funds know that in New York City nearly all office seekers are committed to the leftist agenda. The program is a tool to increase the dominance of the left in the Big Apple.

In an attempt to justify the program as being economical the website claims that it will benefit ordinary New Yorkers financially. It asserts that, “careful pre-election auditing of candidate disclosure protects against waste and fraud, saving taxpayers real money.” And below the assertion is a chart that shows that during each election cycle the amount of money the city gave to candidates was less than what was requested. So in 2013 office seekers asked for a total of $50 million, the city dispersed $38.2 million, and the savings to taxpayers was $11.8 million. Does anyone who is paying attention believe that this demonstrates a benefit to taxpayers? If this were valid (it is not) the city could help taxpayers even more by handing out the same amount of money while encouraging candidates to ask for larger amounts (which would then be refused).

And on the subject of refusing a candidate’s request for funds, who is making that decision? Is it possible that city officials will be more generous and more lenient to office seekers that share their extreme leftist sentiments than to those who stray from the “progressive” path? I am suspicious.

The bottom line is that there is inherent corruption in having the government finance elections. New York City has been doing it for several years, and it is now increasing its involvement. Those who endorse individual liberty have the challenging task of explaining this to their fellow citizens.

*** See other entries at in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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