Bill Samuels, who ran (for a short time, anyway) for lieutenant governor in 2010, hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature use the latest public corruption scandals as motivation to clean up Albany.
After state Sen. Malcolm Smith and state Assemblyman Eric Stevenson were charged last week in separate public corruption cases, Samuels said in an interview that Gov. Cuomo should push for reforms, especially campaign finance reform.
"This is the moment for Cuomo. Malcolm Smith has given him an incredible opportunity to get campaign finance reform," he said. "(Cuomo) could come out and say, 'I've had it. I want the matching funds. I wan't money out of politics. I'm going to criss-cross the state in the next month and insist we start reforming the legislature.' This is his opportunity."
Samuels, founder of the New Roosevelt Initiative and co-founder of Effective NY, said Cuomo should push for 6-to-1 matching funds for all statewide and state Legislature candidates and a ban on contributions from corporations and LLCs.
A statewide campaign, Fair Elections for New York, is calling on the state Legislature to pass a campaign finance reform package that includes lower contribution limits, more transparency and public campaign financing.
Samuels said instead of "fair elections," he prefers the phrase "small donor empowerment."
"That's what we're really doing and what we're saying with the 6-to-1 match," he said. "We're going to strengthen the small donor and weaken the big donor."
While Samuels backs a public campaign financing plan, he would like to see the money come from another source. He acknowledged that some New Yorkers may oppose the idea of using taxpayer dollars to help fund campaigns. He recommends using money from casino licensing fees — once non-Indian casinos are allowed in New York —to cover the costs of a public campaign finance system.
"That would be a very neat and creative solution that we could get more Republicans to agree with," he said. "I think it might be the solution if (initially) the public financing piece gets turned down."
Regardless of the proposals, Samuels sees an opportunity for Cuomo to take advantage of the recent scandals and advocate for reform.
"We have a chance for campaign finance reform. This is a gift to Cuomo if he really wants to do something," he said. "I'm skeptical. But it makes it much easier to pass campaign finance reform. It gives him a platform to be angry."