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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 election campaigns in New York spend money.

Their ideas are drastically different.

Mrs. Tresidder, an Oswego County legislator, wants state government to pay for campaigns when the candidate chooses public financing, instead of the current system, which runs on private donations. Mrs. Ritchie does not favor public financing, but like Mrs. Tresidder, she said she would push for stricter disclosure requirements from outside groups that are politicking 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 that argue that New York’s system is broken and creates an uneven playing field for some candidates. In the 48th Senate District, which includes western St. Lawrence County and all of Jefferson and Oswego counties, that uneven playing field is on display, though the question remains whether it is the government’s job 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,” she said. “I think that’s part of the problem. They’re not feeling empowered.”

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 does not particularly enjoy fundraising, she does not 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 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 their organizations 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, while swiping at Mrs. Ritchie’s own campaign ethics. Mrs. Ritchie’s campaign printed a government telephone number on a check associated with a campaign account. Her office said that it was a mistake and that government resources were not being used 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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