NY'S RISKY THIRD-PARTY RULES
YESTERDAY'S wide ranging indictment against former Liberal Party boss Raymond B. Harding paints a vivid portrait of ballot lines for sale in New York.
The indictment alleges that, in exchange for numerous Liberal endorsements over the years, officials in the office of disgraced ex-Comptroller Alan Hevesi rewarded Harding with secret assignments on transactions in the state's pension fund that garnered the ex-party boss hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.
The indictment is a reminder that New York's unusual election law, which lets candidates run on multiple party lines, is an invitation to corruption and political patronage.
With the growing disgust of business-as-usual in Albany, now is the time for reforms that would give New York a genuine third-party system -- in which minor parties run their own candidates and compete in the marketplace of ideas for votes.
Minor parties are common in US politics, but few states afford them such an easy path to power as New York: In the Empire State a minor party can cross-endorse candidates who are also appearing on the Democratic and Republican lines. This third-party backing has become an object of intense desire among Republicans and Democrats, because it can cut down on competition and ensure that an independent candidate doesn't siphon votes away from major-party candidates.
New York law also gives minor parties incentives to cross-endorse popular candidates rather than run their own party members as contenders. For starters, a party that garners at least 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election earns an automatic spot on the ballot for the next four years.
And cross-endorsing also gives minor parties influence over the votes of Democratic or Republican office-holders whose views they normally couldn't sway.
All this electoral complexity leads to political horse-trading that gives third-parties disproportionate power without actually increasing choices for voters. In 1998, for instance, the new Working Families Party had only about 100 enrolled voters in the state. But the party endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Vallone, a fiscal conservative whose platform didn't reflect the far-left WFP agenda.
Vallone was desperate for a third-party line in his battle against George Pataki, who wielded both the Republican and Conservative lines; the WFP, a creature of the state's unions, was desperate for votes. New York law allowed tens of thousands of voters, many of them union members who are enrolled Democrats, to vote for Vallone on the WFP line -- giving the party a place on future ballots and hence enormous influence despite its paltry enrollments.
Harding was a master at using the power of the third-party cross-endorsement. He cross-endorsed Rudy Giuliani for mayor, thereby giving Giuliani an extra line where Democrats who wanted to vote for him could do so without pulling the Republican lever. In a city with only only about 33,000 voters enrolled as Liberals, Giuliani pulled nearly 62,000 votes on the Liberal line in his 1993 defeat of David Dinkins.
With his party helping provide the margin of victory in a tight race, Harding became a powerful force in the Giuliani administration, where two of his sons and other Liberal officials gained appointments.
But Harding worked with members of both major parties. He frequently cross-endorsed Alan Hevesi in the Queens Democrat's campaigns for the state Assembly, for mayor and for state comptroller.
It was in exchange for this longtime support, the indictment alleges, that officials in Hevesi's office conspired to reward Harding by making him a party to transactions that they tried to conceal from public view.
Harding, the indictment alleges, showed his gratitude and continued support by helping to find a private-sector job for then-Assemblyman Michael Cohen, clearing the way for Hevesi's son Andrew to replace him in the Legislature.
As these examples suggest, the potential for abuse of this sort in such a system is so great that most states made the process of cross-endorsing an electoral relic in the 19th century. Only seven states still allow it, and nowhere is its practice as widespread and influential as here.
New York needs to reform its election law to end the so-called "fusion politics" of cross-endorsing. This would ensure that third-parties offer voters a real choice -- not just a duplication of names on other party lines.
And it would force minor parties to engage in real organization building, rather than allowing groups with little membership to earn their way onto ballots on the coattails of major-party candidates, ala the Working Families Party in 1998. That practice awards too much power to narrow, special interest parties.
Albany owes voters a reform that most states embraced more than a century ago.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/04162009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/inviting_corruption_164627.htm