Constituents rarely see behind the financial scenes of what it takes to run for office. Challengers, struggling to get much-needed media attention to raise their name recognition, must raise money to fund direct mail, TV ads, social media, polling and pay the staff necessary to win.
While incumbents need funding for the same reasons, they have one huge advantage, grant money, otherwise known as pork, which enables them to curry favor with constituents in the hope of “purchasing” additional votes.
According to the popular website, Investopedia (https://www.investopedia.com/), “Pork-Barrel Politics” is defined as follows:
… a process that legislators use to obtain funding from central government to finance projects benefiting the legislators’ local constituents. The benefits of such projects typically do not extend beyond a legislator’s constituency, despite the fact that funding was obtained through taxation of the larger geographic region. This form of political patronage helps the legislator attract campaign contributions and the support of local voters.
Unfortunately, this form of quid-pro-quo dissolves rapidly, when an incumbent is defeated. Look no further than the 2018 state Senate race and you’ll see why.
Former state Sen. Elaine Phillips, in her fight against well-supported and popular Democratic candidate Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan, used many such pork promises, in a desperate attempt to retain her seat.
In total, former Sen. Phillips promised roughly $10 million in grants. Among the recipients, Winthrop and Northwell hospitals were promised $1 million each, while villages, school districts and community centers were told they would each receive $100,000 or more.
In fact, some of the promised grants were unsolicited by the recipients, an obvious attempt to curry favor in parts of Phillips’ district where she had poor support.
A quick Google search shows many “secured” municipal grants by former Sen. Phillips during the heated final stretch of her re-election campaign. Some of these promises include: $100,000 for Sid Jacobson JCC in August 2018; $250,000 to the Village of New Hyde Park in September 2018; $300,000 for the Williston Park Fire Department in October 2018; and (a week before Election Day) $1,000,000 Health Care Transformation Capital Grant for Northwell Health Cohen Children’s Medical Center.
After Sen. Phillips re-election loss, inquiries to her office for many of these grants were met with stone cold silence. It should be noted that lame-duck legislators still receive their salary until the new legislators are sworn in two months later.
In 2010, the average state Senator received about $1.3 million in “pork” to distribute, with Sen. Malcolm Smith deemed the “Prince of Pork,” giving out $5.7 million. That same year, the average assemblyperson gave out $300,000.
In 2018, $385 million in grant money was allocated through the State and Municipal Facilities Program (or SAM, also known as SMFP).
With 63 state senators and 150 assemblypersons, it doesn’t seem plausible that Sen. Phillips was ever going to make good on the $10 million in grants she promised.
In other words, her office severely abused pork-barrel politics in the hope of re-election. The dozens of recipients who believed this funding was real and planned for it in their budgets are now left holding the bag.
The majority of the promised grant money by former Sen. Phillips was never properly appropriated and many of the grants were not approved. New York State taxpayers should be furious.