By Allison Hayward
Last week’s arrest of city Comptroller John Liu’s treasurer, Jenny Hou, is just the latest in a string of fund-raising scandals that point to a core lesson. Using tax dollars to pay for political campaigns does little if anything to prevent corruption in government, and may even be a cause of it.
New York City’s tax-financed campaign system is called colloquially a “super match” program.Candidates get six dollars from city government for every dollar they raise independently (to a maximum of $1,050 per contributor). Individual private donations are strictly limited. Groups such as Common Cause tout such systems as a foolproof way to produce “clean” elections.
The trouble is, as the recurring headlines in New York show, the city’s matching-funds program — one of the oldest in the country — is apparently fostering crime.
Liu’s campaign has been in the news since last year for using straw donors and for undisclosed bundling. The arrest of Hou — accused of using straw donors to trigger more matching funds from taxpayers — is merely the latest shoe to drop.