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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Cuomo 2014: As Seen On TV

Citizen Action of New York and Working Families Organization sent a direct-mail piece this month to registered Democrats in state Senator Jack Martins’ (R-Mineola) district, asking them to call his office and “tell him to clean up Albany by passing public funding of elections.”

But why should anyone bother? Publicly funded state electioneering is taking place today, something that is self-evident to any New Yorker who has watched television this spring.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have seen on multiple occasions a television ad from the state’s Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC), touting The “New” New York, a place where taxes are coming down, burdensome regulations are being rolled back, and out-of-state businesses are eager to relocate. The online version of The “New” New York is at www.thenewny.com. In real life, it is harder to find instances where these trends are materializing within the Empire State.

Now, I knew I’d heard the “New” New York phrase before. And, sure enough, it appeared in the governor’s January 2013 State of the State address. Knowing few New Yorkers would hear that speech, the ESDC allocated millions of dollars in taxpayer monies toward TV ads in the hope that the “New” New York tag line, and the illusion of progress it conveys, would become imprinted on every TV-watcher’s brain.

Yes, these ESDC TV spots are publicly funded, but what does this have to do with state elections? This is all about the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, even though the governor’s name is not mentioned in the ESDC’s ads. Someone visiting the website cited in these TV spots, however, is immediately greeted by a picture of the governor. The New York Times’ Danny Hakim subsequently reported that the ESDC’s TV ad budget received an influx of federal taxpayer money through the Hurricane Sandy aid package so 49 other states are now funding this initiative, as well. The Sandy-themed ads will tell people New York State is “open for business.” Who knew?

The ESDC’s advertising campaign reached a crescendo this month when the agency touted Buffalo as a place to do business. It was the least the ESDC could do after the ESDC secured for itself a 12-seat suite at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the upcoming Buffalo Bills season, a deal first reported by the Times’ Hakim. Who’s getting the Bills tickets? The ESDC said they’ll be used to entertain decision-makers weighing whether to move their business to western New York. Yet the suite could just as easily be used by state office holders to repay their political supporters.  

So, to recap, here’s the situation. State and federal taxpayers, without being asked, have through the ESDC’s ads lent their indirect support to Cuomo 2014. The state’s taxpayers have also made a $54 million commitment to refurbishing Ralph Wilson Stadium, which may have had something to do with the Cuomo administration gaining suite seats this year to eight Bills home games, too.

Citizen Action of New York and Working Families Organization, through its advertising efforts, has done two things for the governor: promoted his call for publicly funded state election campaigns, and criticized Republican state senators who are unwilling to codify such a system. The holdouts are right. There is no need to have a law on the books; taxpayer-financed state campaigns are already occurring.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net