Best reform in a city of skells (2008)

New York City Campaign Finance Board

The good-government achievement of our time, still a model across America, is the New York City Campaign Finance Board. In its 18th year, it hands out millions in public subsidies to candidates for every city office and, in exchange, enforces tough contribution and expenditure limits. It has been so independent that it has leveled crushing fines on the campaigns of the mayors who appoint its chair and the majority of its five-member board. Rudy Giuliani was so outraged by his inability to control the board he tried to shut down its headquarters, move it to Brooklyn, and block the comptroller from issuing checks to it. David Dinkins tried to dump its then chair, Reverend Joseph O'Hare, the president of Fordham University. Mike Bloomberg, who has spent nearly $200 million of his own money in two mayoral campaigns by opting out of the CFB system, boycotted its Harlem debate last year. The board is one of the proudest legacies of former mayor Ed Koch and ex–City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, yet a year after Koch created it, his own campaign was penalized for taking loans that violated its rules. The council, which appoints the other two board members, was so upset about its regulation of union contributions to council members that it passed a rushed and self-serving bill last year. Every pol in town rails against it, and they are now poised to seize a momentary opportunity to stifle it. Executive director Nicole Gordon, who has run the show since the curtain went up in 1988, has announced her resignation. There has been no stronger voice for an ethical New York in our lifetime. But Fritz Schwarz, the current chair, is her equal, and he and his board are determined to make sure that New York's Cleanest stay that way.


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