a world without campaign commercials—one where politicians
didn’t kiss babies in bad lighting, call their opponents names,
make promises we all know they don’t intend to keep—one where
you don’t have to hear so and so “approve this message.” Feels
nice doesn’t it?
Now imagine a world where campaign commercials run all year
long even though there is no impending election.
Sorry to tell you folks, but this is the reality we now live
There is an upside, though. Local media outlets will get a
few more bucks than normal and these commercials won’t feature
baby-kissing politicos with their placating slogans. No. These
spots are generally free of politicians showing off their
families and connections to the area. But in some ways they
are twice as annoying and doubly depressing.
They are the kind with generally sad looking folks saying
things like, “How can you do this to me?” and warning that
budget cuts will send more and more people to the unemployment
line. This year there will be another side to that—ads trumpeting
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to cut the budget, and the need for
fiscal responsibility in the state.
The budget season isn’t quite here yet, but as the kids like
to say: “It’s on like Donkey Kong.”
Cuomo has pledged to wage a campaign against unions that will
try to whittle down his approval ratings with commercials
slamming his proposed budget cuts.
He illustrated the typical budget process during his State
of the State speech by showing a PowerPoint presentation with
himself and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority
Leader Dean Skelos as the captains of three individual ships.
A bomber, representing special interests, swooped into the
picture and dropped bombs on Cuomo, ignoring the legislative
leaders. Normally, unions attack the governor with harsh ad
campaigns, and legislators who are loath to make spending
cuts in general use the attacks as leverage to avoid any significant
With the state facing a $9 billion deficit, Cuomo wants this
process to change.
You may have already seen the TV spots by the Committee to
Save New York that talk about the state’s “broken” government
and back Cuomo. The committee came under scrutiny this week
because they had yet to register as a lobbying entity with
the state ethics panel. As a group backed by business and
real estate interests and intending to influence the outcome
of legislation pending in the Legislature, it was pretty clear
to most that they were a lobbying organization and should
register. According to members of the group, including Kathryn
Wylde, president of the business group Partnership for New
York, the Committee to Save New York was created at Cuomo’s
The committee initially argued they didn’t have to register
as a lobbying organization until the budget was presented,
but Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research
Group said that idea was “bogus.” Horner, who is registered
as a lobbyist, said that it only made sense for the group
to register, just as every other lobbying group has to.
Its important to make this very clear: The Committee to Save
New York—a group sponsored by business and real estate interests—and
unions like PEF, CSEA, SEIU1199, can all be labeled special
interests. None of them is working exclusively for the singular
good of the state, and none of them should be given a pass
on the very loose ethics rules the state has.
But the battle lines are being drawn, and some media outlets
would like voters to see things in a different light. The
New York Post, a paper that has written “news stories”
about the work it has done to support Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda,
ran an unsigned editorial (at least I think it was an editorial)
titled “Cynical ‘Moralists’” touting the good, honest work
of the Committee to Save New York and slamming NYPIRG for
raising concerns while painting them as the “Albany insiders.”
the committee’s enemies—backed by an ostensible voice of reform,
the New York Public Interest Research Group, and other so-called
good-government groups—are muttering about a supposed unholy
secret alliance between the new governor and the business
community,” read the piece. Horner calls it a “hatchet job.”
NYPIRG and its backers, as he points out, do not stand to
gain financially from their lobbying, as the Committee to
Save New York does.
The Post piece goes on to say that much more is known
about who is behind the committee than who funds NYPIRG. The
Post is harping on the fact that NYPIRG doesn’t disclose
its small donors, only large grants from organizations and
funding from SUNY and CUNY. The Committee to Save New York,
even when it registers as a lobbyist, will not have to reveal
its major donors. Only the members who plan to act as lobbyists
for the group will have to register.
know the group was created to some extent by Gov. Cuomo. You
can’t say that about anyone else,” said Horner, and that is
what makes them different.
You can expect the Post to champion the committee because
of the supporters we know it has are interests that both the
Post and its owner Rupert Murdoch support—real estate
and business. They want to see taxes go down and a better
environment for business in New York in general.
Other outlets will likely be kinder to unions that want to
save benefits and jobs for their workers and funding for education,
health care and services for the poor.
What is the most likely outcome of all of this? Cuomo will
present a budget that slashes and saves that the Legislature
will refuse to vote on. As Paterson did last year, Cuomo will
likely push his budget into an emergency extender and legislators
will have to decide whether to shut the state down and reject
Cuomo’s cuts or to keep the state open for business and accept
them. It will be an easy choice—approve the cuts, tell the
constituents and organizations that they had no choice but
to accept the budget, and blame Cuomo. In the end, the season
of ads likely will have served only to keep Cuomo’s approval
Yay modern Democracy!