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New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli wise to opt out of public financing measure

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State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli will bypass a public financing program recently passed by the Legislature as he seeks re-election this year.

As well he should.

Despite Mr. DiNapoli’s repeated advocacy of some kind of public financing mechanism of political campaigns, the bill approved by legislators and signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is not an adequate response.

In Monday’s New York Times, Mr. DiNapoli says he believes that the measure was pushed through with no intention of reforming campaign financing.

Calling the law a “Frankenstein monster,” he said that he “fears that it may actually have been designed to fail, by lawmakers who either do not really believe in, or don’t understand, public campaign financing at all,” the Times reports.

Mr. DiNapoli says that no one kept him abreast of how the bill was shaping up as it wound its way through the process.

What’s most telling is that the state comptroller’s race was the only one subjected to this new public financing system in this campaign season.

Campaign financing is a tricky issue.

We all have an interest in not permitting government to determine just what kind of campaign donations are acceptable by restricting the individual right to support a political candidate.

But we also need to see the influence of money from big business and public labor unions kept in check so that the wealthy don’t gain undue access to public officials.

Balancing these competing interests is not easy. Public financing offers some solutions as well as some drawbacks.

But we won’t know where to draw the lines until political races are put to the test and we can assess what works and what doesn’t.

As a cheerleader for this system, Mr. DiNapoli has offered to make himself a test case for a public financing law.

So as the Times pointed out, his decision to opt out of public financing now that it’s been established opens him up to charges of hypocrisy.

Mr. DiNapoli, however, has good reasons for being leery of this law.

To isolate his race for public financing without keeping him in the loop about how the measure was developing lends credence to his concern that he was being set up to fail.

Then opponents of public financing could point to how poorly the system worked in his race and declare that the idea was impractical, thus maintaining the status quo.

And they could do this without imperiling their own races with the same flawed measure.

Putting some sort of public financing law into place also gave Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature additional justification for disbanding the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

How convenient.

If they truly believe public financing should be implemented, lawmakers should go back to the drawing board and work with Mr. DiNapoli and other stakeholders on crafting a bill that will prove effective.

And one of the ways they can ensure the system is on the up and up is to subject all offices — including their own — to the same mandates.

Then we’ll see who’s enthusiastic about this method and who isn’t.

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