Local politicians have been showing for decades how to get the money out of politics: Don’t spend any.
Most local campaigns are run on the cheap, and that works fine in villages and towns where candidates spend most of their energy knocking on doors to introduce themselves or catch up with people they’ve known for years.
Queensbury has a lot more people than Chester or Warrensburg, and it might not be possible for a candidate to introduce himself or herself to each of the 28,000 or so town residents. Nonetheless, Supervisor John Strough, now nearing the end of his second two-year term, has made a decision to shun campaign contributions.
He won’t accept one red cent, or one blue cent either, or one cent of any color.
Before getting elected supervisor, Strough served a few terms on the Town Board, and he didn’t take contributions then, either. Taking money can lead to awkwardness later, he said, if donors ask him to do something as supervisor.
He’s right, although that awkwardness is a feeling that many politicians accept as part of the job. One way to avoid the awkwardness is to say “yes” whenever a donor — especially a big donor — asks for anything. Far too many politicians have adopted this strategy.
Strough is a Democrat. A Republican, Rachel Seeber, who is a Queensbury supervisor at-large to the Warren County Board of Supervisors, will be running against him in the fall. She has been accepting contributions, and her latest campaign finance report shows she raised $14,000 from numerous donors.
The number of donations she has received and the amount of money she has raised shows the “strength and momentum” of her campaign, she said. She has a point. It’s one thing to say you’ll vote for someone, but it shows a higher level of investment in a candidate when you give her your money.
Taking a look at her campaign report, however, gives you an immediate appreciation for “awkwardness” that could arise.
David Judkins, who waged a bitter fight with the Town Board over its agreement to allow Just Water to drive trucks along the road he lives on — Butler Pond Road — gave Seeber $250.
Rich Air Schermerhorn Aviation gave her $500. The owner of Rich Air — Rich Schermerhorn — is the fixed base operator for Warren County airport, running flight operations there. He wants county supervisors to lease him the entire airport so he can run all its operations.
You could argue the Schermerhorn connection won’t make things any more awkward for Seeber than they already are, because she already sits on the county board. But it’s easy to see how contributions like this raise the question of whether donors expect to get some payback.
It’s fair to suggest that campaign donations can lead to political conflicts of interest, because they so often have. This is the way politics works in our country, especially at a national level, and the money has corroded the integrity of our system.
Seeber is doing nothing wrong by accepting donations. Most politicians do. Those who don’t in local small towns and villages probably are making a practical decision that spending money on advertising isn’t necessary when everyone in town already knows who they are.
Although Strough is taking a stand, it’s one that, as a retired schoolteacher and a longtime local politician, he can afford to take, because he’s so well-known. Still, he’s right about the awkwardness. It is awkward to take money from someone in July, then, for example, have to decide in January whether to lease him the county airport.
This awkwardness afflicts our entire political system. We don’t expect other local candidates to opt out, the way Strough has. But we’d love to see more politicians working to change a system that makes their ability to get elected dependent on how much money they can raise.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star’s editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rob Forcey, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran and citizen representatives Dan Gealt, George Nelson and Connie Bosse.
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