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Ritchie, Tresidder weigh in on campaign finance

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State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and her Nov. 6 opponent, Democrat Amy M. Tresidder, both want to change the ways in which campaign cash is spend in New York.

But their solutions are drastically different.

Mrs. Tresidder, an Oswego County legislator, would like to see the public pay for campaigns that want to, instead of the current system that gives no option other than private donations. Mrs. Ritchie does not, but like Mrs. Tresidder, Mrs. Ritchie said she would push for stricter disclosure requirements from outside groups that are politiciking in New York.

The state Legislature is expected to take up campaign finance reform in the next several months, at the urging of good-government groups who say that New York’s system is broken and it creates an uneven playing field for certain candidates. In the 48th Senate District, which stretches from the western part of St. Lawrence County, all of Jefferson County and all of Oswego County, that uneven playing field is on display, though the question remains whether it’s in the interest of the government to even it out.

Mrs. Tresidder has lagged significantly behind Mrs. Ritchie in raising funds. And she said that cash challenges keep good candidates out of politics. In turn for agreeing to spending limits and relying on small, local donors, New York should help subsidize campaigns that wish to opt into the system, much like Connecticut does, Mrs. Tresidder argues.

“I think it’ll help more candidates like me feel more empowered to run. I think that’s part of the problem. They’re not feeling empowered,” she said.

In 2010, when a full slate of state legislative and executive races was on the ballot, Connecticut paid $30 million for public financing of campaigns, according to The American Prospect, a liberal magazine. New York’s population is more than five times larger than Connecticut’s.

Mrs. Ritchie said that while she doesn’t particularly enjoy fundraising, she doesn’t think taxpayers should have to foot the bill for elections.

“At a time when people are already struggling, I don’t think asking people to pay for campaigns is the right thing to do,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

But Mrs. Tresidder said that payments to the public financing fund would be voluntary, too.

“If it’s voluntary, I don’t see what the issue would be with that,” she said.

Good-government groups in New York are also hoping to force outside groups to disclose more about who they are and who is funding their campaigns. In 2010, an outside group called Common Sense Principles sent mailers attacking Darrel J. Aubertine, then a state senator of Cape Vincent and Mrs. Ritchie’s opponent. Mrs. Ritchie said she had nothing to do with the fliers, and if the group were forced to disclose more about who was paying for them, she wouldn’t be unfairly blamed.

“I just believe that there should be full disclosure and we need laws on the books so the public can see how campaign funds are raised and spent,” she said.

She also said that the Board of Elections — criticized as unable to pursue violators with tough sanctions — should be given the tools to enforce current law.

Mrs. Tresidder agreed, and swiped at Mrs. Ritchie’s own campaign ethics. Mrs. Ritchie’s campaign printed a government number on a check associated with a campaign account. Her office said it was a mistake and that they weren’t using government resources to fund a political campaign, which would have been against the law.

“If (the Board of Elections) had more leeway maybe we could do something about that check,” Mrs. Tresidder said.

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