- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The test of public campaign financing in the New York comptroller race has proved ineffective, with the incumbent declining to participate and the challenger falling short of the thresholds that would parlay his $200,000 into $1.2 million.

Republican Robert Antonacci has raised more than $200,000 so far, meeting the minimum required to receive 6-to-1 state funding for his bid to become the state’s chief financial officer. But about $50,000 of that comes from donations greater than $175. Only smaller donations count toward the required total and are matched with public money.

Antonacci, the Onondaga County comptroller, said Monday it’s unlikely he’ll get the money needed for TV ads before next week’s election. He said raising the threshold for smaller donations to $500 would have made it easier.

“We didn’t get there, and it’s just too bad because we have a message and we would have been able to really separate ourselves,” Antonacci said.

He has emphasized his skill as an accountant and lawyer for tough scrutiny of state finances, including economic development programs, to ensure they deliver what’s promised, and also to follow the money to unearth corruption.

Democratic Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who already had raised $2.1 million from private donors when the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved the public financing test in April, decided not to participate. Though an advocate of public financing, he would have had to return or sequester his larger donations. He said there wasn’t enough lead time to implement it fairly, and the pilot program was “a poor excuse” to avoid real reforms.

DiNapoli, a former state assemblyman, has emphasized auditors’ efforts on his watch to uncover billions of dollars of waste, helping put dozens of contractors and officials in jail, and his stewardship of the state’s pension fund that has grown to $181 billion. His campaign has been running TV ads and reported spending $1.1 million the past few weeks.

New York City offers candidates the option of public campaign financing. Advocates including Senate Democrats have urged the same for all statewide races and the 213 state legislative seats as a way of reducing the influence of rich donors on state government.

Opponents, including Senate Republicans, have opposed spending taxpayer money to fund candidates’ races.

The pilot program money comes from the state abandoned property fund, not direct tax dollars, though it appears it won’t be used.

Antonacci said 60 percent of his contributions have come from his own county, where he will remain comptroller and face possible re-election next year if he loses to DiNapoli. While he drove to every region of New York to campaign and try to raise money, he said there was no apparatus to support his effort statewide and noted his own party’s opposition to public campaign financing.

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” Antonacci said.

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