Albany’s Shy Donors

The Committee to Save New York has a number of laudable goals in mind, goals that this page shares. Committee members, many of whom are well-placed among New York’s civic and business leaders, have sought to win public support for political and fiscal reform in Albany, reforms desperately needed if New York is going to prosper in the 21st century.

It’s clear that the committee has struck a nerve—it was able to raise $17 million last year, and it spent $12 million. No doubt you’ve seen the committee’s television ads, and if they seem like campaign commercials for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, well, that’s not a coincidence. Many of the committee’s leaders, including co-chair Rob Speyer, have close ties to the governor. The governor’s agenda and the committee’s are one and the same.

Here’s the problem: If the committee truly is serious about changing the dysfunctional culture of state government, if it is, in fact, in favor of greater transparency in political decision-making, if it really wants to set an example, it simply cannot continue to play by the old rules.

But it is doing just that. State law does not require the committee, a private lobbying group, to divulge the names of its donors. That means we don’t know who is giving money—and why. That’s the kind of culture Governor Cuomo has criticized, at least by implication, when he talks about bringing real change to Albany.

Mr. Cuomo has declined to call on the committee to release a donor list voluntarily. The issue arose when news reports revealed that gambling interests donated $2 million to the committee. The governor insists that the donations have had nothing to do with his push to expand gaming in New York.

We take the governor at his word. But still, as he surely knows, part of the problem in New York is one of perception. New Yorkers have good reason to believe that money talks in matters political. Mr. Cuomo said he is working with all sectors of the state to create jobs—“that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

True enough. But it would do a world of good if the committee announced that moving forward it will disclose all of its donors. The committee’s current donors should be encouraged to overcome their shyness by self-disclosing their contributions, but the committee shouldn’t force the issue for those who have already given. Instead, it should focus on setting new rules for new donors: If you give to the Committee to Save New York, your name and the size of your donation will be available for public inspection.

That’s how transparent government ought to operate. Moving forward, the Committee to Save New York should practice what Governor Cuomo preaches.

Albany’s Shy Donors