Imagine you're Anthony Weiner.
OK, that's not fair. Try this:
Imagine you're an ambitious politician with $4.5 million left in your campaign account, money which can only be spent on political activities or given to charity. But because you're Anthony Weiner, that second option is pretty far-fetched.
Sorry. Let's start again. You're not Anthony Weiner. But you ran for mayor of New York in 2009 and raised boatloads of money, ran for re-election to Congress and raised boatloads more, and then retired from Congress after you had some problems with your computer.
So you're sitting around the apartment looking at your bank statements online (that's mostly what you do online, isn't it?) and you realize that if you're ever going to run for mayor again, now's the time. And because you are well-known for your ironic sense of humor, you begin with a little joke:
"I don't have this burning, overriding desire to go out and run for office," the Times quoted W----r as saying. "To some degree, it's now or maybe never for me, in terms of running for something."
Then, of course, because you are not Anthony Weiner, your campaign implodes because, once again, you have some problems with your computer.
But back to that $4.5 million. Would you have had the means, let alone the unmitigated gall, to run for mayor if you hadn't had such a massive war chest beckoning you back into the water?
What's wrong with this picture? (Not that picture -- get that right out of your mind, if you can.)
I'd like to think that we can take money completely out of politics, but that would mean public financing, and few people would want their tax dollars to be used by politicians to pay for their sleazy campaigns. This week, I dare say, there are even fewer.
What's ironic is that New York City has pioneered a campaign finance reform model that threads the needle of public financing by providing matching funds to qualified candidates. According to the New York City Campaign Finance Board website:
Public matching funds are intended to increase the value of small contributions from individuals, making candidates less dependent on large contributions and assisting candidates who do not have access to large moneyed sources. The overall purpose of matching funds is to reduce the role of money in politics and to help make elections more competitive. Due to a recent change in the law, the Program will match each dollar a New York City resident gives up to $175 with six dollars in public funds, for a maximum of $1,050 in public funds per contributor.
There's a lot to recommend this campaign finance model. In fact, New York State is considering rolling out the New York City system statewide.
According to a recent study by the Brennan Center:
In endorsing a reform for the state that mirrors the city system, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo claimed that a multiple-match public financing system would bring greater equality to state elections.
Candidates who have participated in both New York City and New York State elections agree. They have told us that by pumping up the value of small contributions, the New York City system gives them an incentive to reach out to their own constituents rather than focusing all their attention on wealthy out-of-district donors, leading them to attract more diverse donors into the political process. This is markedly different, they explained, from how they and other candidates conduct campaigns at the state level.
Sounds good, right? But every party needs a pooper, and that's why they invited Anthony Weiner. Wait. Strike that. That sounds like something Carlos Danger would be into. Yech.
It turns out that Anthony Weiner can qualify for $1.5 million in public matching funds if he stays in the race for mayor. That can buy a lot of TV time, which in turn will give New Yorkers the chance to set a new speed record for hitting the mute button.
Saying we shouldn't support public financing of elections because creeps like Anthony Weiner might benefit is like saying we shouldn't use computers because creeps like Anthony Weiner might benefit.
In a few days or weeks, Anthony Weiner will be gone. But the obscenity of unlimited campaign fundraising will still be with us.