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Elections

Failed public campaign finance experiment hampers comptroller's race

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Ryan Delaney
/
WRVO
Republican candidate for state comptroller, Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, says he still believes in campaign finance reform.

An experimental public campaign finance system for the state comptroller’s race has fizzled, after the lone candidate who applied for the program failed to meet the minimum threshold to obtain public monies.

The pilot public campaign financing program was limited to just the state comptroller’s race as part of a state budget deal.

It was widely condemned at the time by reform groups as fatally flawed. Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group called it cynical.

“The governor and the legislative leaders have concocted a public financing system which is designed to fail,” Horner said at the time. “There’s no two ways about it.”  

Cuomo, who said Republicans in the state Senate resisted a wider program, urged critics to take a more positive view.

“You can celebrate that this is the greatest advancement that has been made,” Cuomo said on April 1. “Or you can say that we’re disappointed that we haven’t had a total victory.”

Some, including current Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, speculated that the plan might even have been created as a dig against DiNapoli. Cuomo has not gotten along well with the comptroller, who is also a Democrat. The money for public financing of the campaign would come from the comptroller’s own unclaimed funds account.

DiNapoli, who is a longtime proponent of public campaign financing, said he would not be participating. He said he was excluded from the discussions that created the plan, that it came too late in the election cycle and seemed unworkable.

“They changed the rules on me and on this race three and a half years into the election cycle,” DiNapoli said. “It really wasn’t done in a fair way.”

But DiNapoli’s Republican opponent, Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, decided to apply for the program. Under the rules, a candidate must first collect small donations from at least 2,000 donors, for a total of $200,000 in order to qualify for public funds that would total six times the amount of money he raised.

Antonacci, at first, was confident he would reach that bar.

“If we don’t meet the mark, you’ve heard it here first, it’s a colossal failure of my campaign,” Antonacci told reporters in July.

But in the end, Antonacci was not able to meet the threshold. He spoke just a few days before the election.

“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t get there,” Antonacci told public radio station WRVO. “Unfortunately, without raising the necessary funds, we were unable to get out on a large scale the differences between our two candidacies.”  

He also denied a published report that said he was bitter over the lack of financial support.

Antonacci, unlike most members of the Republican party, says he still supports the concept of publicly financed campaigns, but would like to see it combined with term limits.

The campaign has been waged largely under the radar. There was one debate, and incumbent DiNapoli has aired just one ad in the campaign, touting his measures to fight corruption.

Antonacci says DiNapoli is not working hard enough to combat governmental wrongdoing. Antonacci also wants to offer state workers the option of defined contribution plans, like 401(k)s. DiNapoli wants to keep the state pension system as it is, saying it protects retirees.