As this political season heats up, our readers have already seen a number of stories dealing with this year’s races for Assembly, Senate and local offices. A lot of these have and will include information about campaign finances.
Readers can expect to see our reporters making more references to what these campaigns are doing with their money — and just as importantly, where they are getting it from — in the future. That’s because while spending a lot of money doesn’t guarantee you anything in politics, having plenty of it doesn’t exactly hurt, either. And how money is flowing can be revealing, especially for some of these new faces voters are unfamiliar with.
Thankfully, New York makes it fairly easy for anyone to track this information. While you can’t pull down day-to-day records from campaigns, you can review reports candidates and their campaigns are required to file at certain intervals through the state Board of Election’s website at www.elections.ny.gov.
The system isn’t particularly user friendly, but once you get the hang of it, it is a powerful tool in the informed citizen’s arsenal. You can track down what pretty much anyone is doing as far as political contributions and spending, and that’s the way it should be.
Sadly, that’s not entirely the case, especially on the federal level. Special interests are increasingly able to hide the identities of powerful donors behind political action committees and since the landmark Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, corporations as well as wealthy individuals are free to donate unlimited funds through these PACs.
Whether or not there should be a limit to what one donates is very much a matter for debate, and it’s one that has been fought since long before the ink on the Citizens United decision was dry. What should not be up for discussion is whether the identities of donors should be held secret or not. Taking responsibility and ownership for actions, words and beliefs is the cornerstone of an open and free society, yet in the very realm that should be the most transparent the public is greeted with opaqueness.