Professor Zephyr Teachout was quoted in an article in The City discussing the role of money in city and state elections in New York.
As New York City readies to vote for mayor and other local offices Nov. 2 under strict contribution limits and a generous public matching funds program, candidates for governor are playing with much bigger dollar stakes — and potential for high-rolling donors to wield influence.
The June primary elections are expected to be crowded. Gov. Kathy Hochul has declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination, and among those reportedly eyeing runs are state Attorney General Letitia James, city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Republicans include Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin and Andrew Giuliani, son of former mayor Rudy.
State candidates can raise and spend millions of dollars, and not just through their own campaign committees. Where individual donations are capped at $5,100 for each election year in New York City elections, $2,000 for candidates in the city public matching funds system and just $400 for lobbyists and city contractors, the overall limit for state races is roughly $69,000.
While corporate dollars are banned in city elections, they play a prominent role in state politics, even after some recent reforms. In past elections, Cuomo aides and donors, as well as legislative leaders, became embroiled in big-money transactions that led to corruption prosecutions.
Zephyr Teachout, who ran a primary against Cuomo in 2014 and ran for attorney general in 2018, sees lessons for the state to be had in the diverse contenders running for City Council who have a background in organizing and community work.
That’s an indicator the city’s public matching program is opening up political offices to candidates who don’t play the big-money game, said Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor who wrote a book about political corruption.
“It’s clear that the state and the public has been chomping at the bit to change the system for a while and Cuomo was always the block,” said Teachout, who is mulling another run for attorney general if James vies for governor. “And when reform finally did pass, it was done in a way so it wouldn’t touch his own then upcoming gubernatorial election.”