The Golden Egg Is Not For You

How Money In Politics Drives Politicians To Do Strange Things In Far Away Places

Author(s):
James T. Kemmerer
If you haven’t heard or seen the coverage, State Senator Marty Golden is involved in another corruption scandal. The current scandal goes like this:

1. A small collection of real estate developers set up fake companies which they used to make political contributions to multiple upstate GOP candidates.

2. In exchange for their generous contributions to upstate GOP campaigns, Brooklyn State Senator Marty Golden inserted some language into an affordable housing bill that would give millions of dollars in tax breaks to five Manhattan developers.

Yes, you read that correctly, a bill designed to create affordable housing for the poor and middle class was used to give millions of dollars to a handful of wealthy real estate developers.

Yes, you read that correctly, Brooklyn State Senator Marty Golden rewarded these Manhattan real estate developers for gaming the system. Golden gave what could amount to $50 million dollars to one Manhattan developer and millions of dollars in tax breaks to several other Manhattan developers.

In fairness, Democratic Assemblyman Keith Wright sponsored the bill in the Assembly and Gov. Cuomo signed it into law. Cuomo himself received contributions from the very same developers.

It’s easy to see why these developers and others like them would do a thing like this. They spend $225,000 on campaigns and in return they get $50 million in tax breaks. You don’t have to be a financial whiz to know that is a great investment.

When asked about how these specific developers and projects were singled out for such generous tax breaks,Golden told the Daily News. “I’m not sure where they came from.”

My guess is these five Manhattan developers know exactly where their Golden Egg came from.


Making The System Work For You
There are many ways to look at the issue of money in politics and how it is eroding not just our political system but the very foundation of our nation. I have argued that getting money out of politics is the issue of our time. I have shown how money, not ideas, influences not just who wins our political contests, but who can even enter the race to run for office. I’ve also written about how a Fair Elections system, like the one we have here in New York City would help to mitigate the corruption in Albany for just $2 per taxpayer.

But as I have written and given talks on this issue I’ve developed an even simpler way of understanding how money in politics is affecting our government, our laws, and our lives. We only need ask ourselves one simple question:

Is it people or money that is driving this decision?

Is this something voters, constituents, everyday people want, or does it seem like this is something power, influence, those writing the big campaign checks want? The Marty Golden scandal is this principle in action.

Ask yourself, do you believe it was Marty Golden’s south Brooklyn Bay Ridge constituents who compelled Marty Golden to give a $50 million tax break to one Manhattan developer, or do you think influence, power, and money might be driving this decision? Do you think struggling families who need affordable housing to continue to live in New York City lobbied Senator Golden to give tax breaks to developers to build $9 million dollar condos?

It’s clear the Golden Egg is for those who write the checks. And when you look around you can see so many things in our neighborhood and in our schools that might have benefitted from such a Golden Egg, but then we aren’t the ones donating to upstate GOP candidates, and we aren’t Manhattan real estate developers. We don’t need those $50 million dollars in our community nearly as much as those billionaires need them in their pockets.

Although this scandal is here at home, this is just one example, and it demonstrates what we see over and over at all levels of government. Do you think the American people lobbied the Bush Administration to exempt fracking and the fossil fuels industry from the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water acts? Do you think it is the people who lobbied their representatives in Iowa to make it illegal to film animal cruelty? Do you think it is the people who lobbied to give the largest corporations so many tax breaks that in many cases they pay nothing? Do you think it is the people who are lobbying for our nation to pay up to 10 times more than other nations for prescription drugs? Do you think it is the people who are lobbying to give the oil industry billions of dollars in subsidies? Do you think it is the people who are arguing for trade deals that send our jobs overseas and our wages into the basement?

These simply aren’t things citizens want or need.

Who is benefitting from our laws? Who is benefitting from the decisions our leaders are making? Is it the needs of everyday people or is it the money of big dollar donors that drives policy?

I’m sure you know the answer. I’m sure you have a host of examples you could offer. What I’m not sure about is why we aren’t doing anything about this?

Money doesn’t just corrupt Republicans, money doesn’t just corrupt Democrats, it corrupts our entire nation. So corrupting is the money in the system, that those who dump millions of dollars in campaign contributions with virtually no limits, believe they should be able to do so with absolutely no limits at all.

This week the McCutcheon case is being argued before the Supreme Court, a millionaire donor, who currently games the system in much the same ways as our Manhattan real estate developers mentioned above, is arguing he should be able to spend even more money than our already porous system allows. If he were to win his case, he and millionaires and billionaires like him will have virtually no checks on their ability to corrupt and game our political system.

We know how to fix this problem. We know that there have been times in our history when this kind of largess and quid pro quo pay to play politics was kept in check. What we don’t know is how much worse it will have to get before you demand more, before you get involved, before you take back your government and demand that it work for you.

What will it take to make you fight to have the Golden Egg go to our communities rather than to billionaire donors who are so willing to game the system?

The Golden Egg will always go to the ones who fund political campaigns, and for just $2, a Fair Elections system would make that you.