New Blog Format

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The election of 2014 is over, and John Clifton ended up getting the most votes of statewide LPNY candidates. While the party has not yet established permanent ballot status in New York, much progress has been made by Libertarians and liberty candidates nationwide. As announced previously, between election efforts, this blog reverts to being an ongoing review of liberty issues, and/or proposed efforts to bring about changes in that direction in New York and elsewhere. With or without electoral victory, there is much work to do to influence legislation, and build awareness of liberty principles and candidates for the future. Let’s keep moving!

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VOTE FOR LIBERTY NOVEMBER 4!

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LP candidate John Clifton says the most profound vote New Yorkers can cast Election day is one that will restore libimagejcerty to the state. Please vote for the freer, sounder and honest government represented by his candidacy for NYS Comptroller, and especially for Michael McDermott for Governor. Those concerned about ensuring more attention be given to repealing the NY Safe Act, Common Core, Obamacare, or other freedom stealing measures that have been implemented in New York should vote for Team liberty candidates to enable the Libertarian Party obtain 50,000 votes in the Governors race. In this context, a vote for the Republican candidate Bob Astorino for Governor is a wasted vote.

As many political observers have noted, neither Astorino nor McDermott may win, but the implications if the LP gets permanent ballot status are huge. The ballot complications in NY make it difficult for third parties without regular status to run more than a handful of candidates per election. But with that status, Libertarians can EASILY run strong constitutional candidates in all 62 counties for the next four years, and make a CONSTANT case for the 1st and 2nd Amendment, and other liberty rights that the GOP and Democrats simply do not, and will not make. The big picture is, third parties are determined to push such issues regardless of the election results, while the major parties have a track record of only mentioning them to get votes, with no legislative follow-up once they win.

Whatever the outcome, Clifton will continue to fight for the liberties and prosperity of New Yorkers and for America, either through ongoing political advocacy and campaigns, through his consultation work,  or other projects. Your work at the ballot box can make a difference. VOTE FOR LIBERTY NOVEMBER 4!

Clifton Answers More Questions from the Comptroller Debate, Pt. 2

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More of John Clifton’s answers to the debate questions asked at the 10/15 NYS Comptroller debate:

  • Working with the Governor: Why has the Governor declined to endorse the incumbent Comptroller, both in 2010 and currently? Why no joint campaign appearances, etc? Does this situation impact the Comptroller’s ability to audit executive agencies, or worsen the relationship? How do you [DiNapoli] navigate these rocky shoals, since the Governor is very powerful and has a long memory?

New York needs a less self-serving and more accountable chief executive, such as Michael McDermott, the LP candidate for Governor. The truth is, there are ‘clans’ or factions inside both major parties. Andrew Cuomo has been part of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s network of surrogates since the mid ‘90’s, while DiNapoli is an unaligned machine Democrat who got into office without their involvement or help. Coumo’s decisions have more to do with pleasing his clan, shunning non-clique members in his own party, or positioning himself and his team for higher office, than with serving New Yorkers.

  • Subpoena Power: The Attorney General has recently piggybacked on the Comptroller office’s ability to issue subpoenas in public corruption cases.  He has asked for that power, along with his predecessor Andrew Cuomo (when he served as AG), but Coumo has not given him this power since becoming Governor. Should the AG get it? Should the AG-Comptroller collaboration continue?

Subpoena power, and the power to confer criminal jurisdiction, curiously lies with the NYS Comptroller. Of course, a state Attorney General should have subpoena power to pursue state corruption issues, as there is plenty of it to pursue. The Governor understood this when he was AG, but apparently only wanted the power for himself, as he has cynically dropped his support once he became Governor. I would work with the AG to support providing subpoenas as needed, until this power can be given to that office outright.

  • Shareholder Activism: Would you base your investment decisions on your political ideas? What comes first, investment returns, or political principles? As in investing, no matter what the company is doing, or not? And would acting on a company’s activity be an investing decision, or a policy decision?

To repeat, Libertarians believe in fundamental reform or repeal of public pension programs.  We oppose government funding of businesses (i.e., subsidies) or corporate welfare.  If I was investing monies as a private fund manager, investing considerations would come first. But because “investing” public funds is not a proper function of government, as a principled public figure I would put principle first, and advocate not doing so.

  • Struggling Municipalities: Local governments upstate are feeling financially squeezed. They say the combination of an erosion of their industrial base, an imposed 2% cap on property tax increases, as well as flat levels of state aid have led to some pretty tough choices. Cuomo has responded by creating a fiscal restructuring board, and proposes an unprecedented $500 million next year to incentivize consolidations and mergers by local governments. As Comptroller, would you push for either course of action, or for a different course? Should the state share more of its revenues with cash-strapped municipalities? Has the state done enough to help? What is the role of the Comptroller here?

As a Libertarian, I see the explosion of taxation, regulation, unfunded mandates and other government  force as the main factor behind the erosion of the state’s industrial base. The problem is not the absence of state subsidies, but too many subsidies and spending going on in all directions. A net 300,000 former New Yorkers have moved away from the state in the last few years, due to the negative impact of all the government overhead. Thank the heavens for the 2% cap on property taxes, otherwise those taxes would be increasing to the point where still more residents would be fleeing from the state.

The answer is also not adopting a policy of “austerity” via consolidations, or drastic cuts to essential services in the local governments (that is, basic government functions that Libertarians believe are justified as they protect the life, liberty and property of New Yorkers). The “austerity” that is needed is a radical reduction in non-essential state government spending, taxation, and borrowing. The state should be returning its excess revenues back to the taxpayers who were robbed in the first place. Audits and reports I would prepare as Comptroller would outline where fundamental  reductions in the size and intrusiveness of government can be made, including ending taxes, regulations and mandates, along with other fiscal changes that will convert the state from being a fiscal basket case, into the economic breadbasket of the Northeast.

  • Capital Plans: There are several big capital plans being discussed that have big numbers missing. That includes the Tappan Zee Bridge (with no indication of what the toll might be), and a 32 billion dollar MTA capital plan with only half of the funding designated. Does the state run an economic risk by launching major projects without the funding or those numbers fully in place, and if so what actions or warnings would you use as Comptroller, to warn against or curb the practice?

It is often said that elections are advanced auctions on stolen goods. The examples of capital plans just cited show how hopelessly committed legislators are to overspending, to the point where they commit to projects without a clue as to how to cover them. Of course this is a hazardous path economically, as it contributes to causing people to leave the state over the largess. My audits would expose this practice of “spending without figuring out how to mug the taxpayers first,” and recommend a solution (stop committing to unfunded projects, and only devise funding plans that are truly temporary, or automatically sunset). E.g., why are people told that tolls are imposed to pay for building a bridge, only to see the tolls never, ever end after the bridge is constructed? This overspending and overcharging of New Yorkers must end!

Clifton Answers Questions from the 10/15 NYS Comptroller Debate, Pt. 1

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Libertarian candidate for Comptroller John Clifton has prepared answers (in bold, below) to the major questions asked of Thomas DiNapoli and Robert Antonacci at the Baruch College debate held on 10/15. The below summary excludes an opening or closing statement, or answers to trivial lightning round questions:

  • Pensions: The most important part of your job is as the sole trustee of the state pension fund, and with memories of the real estate crash, and the recession fresh in many minds, even the recent slump in the stock market (including today’s drop), what steps would you take as Comptroller to minimize risk and maximize profit for retired state employees? Should they be concerned about that, or is that just the normal ebb and flow of the market?

As I have explained online with reference to investing decisions related to energy, the entire concept of “public pension funds” is subject to reconsideration by a Libertarian Comptroller. Support for public pensions in New York and elsewhere has been dominated by the unions that benefit from unsustainably generous benefit packages. Libertarians believe in fundamental reform or repeal of public pension programs.  I would advocate ending the Common Retirement Fund, and thereby all “investment” of public pension funds, and transferring the assets to private administration or to an individual savings plan for pensioners. Let the private pension recipients or retirees then determine what to do with the deposited money, at their own risk or benefit.

  • Campaign Finance Reform (CFR): You [Antonacci] are the lone participant in the state’s brand-new pilot program for public campaign financing. It looks like you may not make the cut, as the most recent report indicates you are $50,000 short [for matching funds]. So was it a mistake, to agree to participate in this experiment, or was the deck stacked against you from the start? [DiNapoli], you basically had advocated that this office would be a good place for the pilot program, but didn’t agree with the way it came together, nor were you consulted. At this point, does Antonacci’s failure to qualify make you want to rethink your support?

The Governor’s restriction of CFR to the Comptroller’s office is selective and cynical, and designed to benefit himself while discomfiting the state rival he does not really support (DiNapoli). I maintain that public financing of campaigns is a drain on New Yorkers’ resources, and Antonacci failing to qualify is a good thing for voters. Election campaigns should not be subsidized by tax payers, and unions should not be able to forcibly collect funds from their members for use as political contributions without their members’ expressed consent.

 As for campaign finance laws in general, we should have less of them, just as we have less laws and regulations everywhere else.  All limits on campaign contributions should be eliminated. There should be public disclosure as to whether or not the sources and amounts of all campaign contributions have been disclosed, but not mandatory for the candidate to release them. Let the public decide if they want to vote for candidates who have not disclosed their donors.

  • Qualification: [DiNapoli], your rival is currently the Comptroller of Onondaga County. As state comptroller, do you have to work with him? Do you think he’s done a good job, do you think he’s qualified? [Antonacci], you’ve run for Congress, and also for Attorney General. Is this race some kind of consolation prize for satisfying your political aspirations, or do you have a vision for the state?

As Comptroller, I would agree to honor my obligation to serve the office, which includes seeking to work with others, regardless of political ambitions I may have, or policy or personal differences I may hold with other office holders in the state.

  • Settlements: The Comptroller’s office has now held two sitting assembly members, be rung up for per diem abuse for the system where they’re reimbursed for expenses while they are in Albany. In 2012, the Comptroller’s office approved a confidential settlement involving two young women who were harassed by assembly member Vito Lopez. What do you feel the Comptroller’s office role is in scrutinizing spending by our state legislatures, and other changes you would make if elected?

New York is among the worst and most corrupted environments for business, and the most oppressive for taxpayers in the nation, so it is not surprising that corrupt financial activity, or bad personal behavior by legislators towards employees is part of that syndrome. I am committed to exposing the artificial two-party paradigm, by emphasizing the “to infinity and beyond” solidarity of the establishment when it comes to endlessly increasing debt, spending and taxation to fund the state and federal government. The boilerplate, empty suit Democrat and Republican candidates will do nothing about changing any of this, as they benefit from the corruption and largess. Team Liberty candidates are committed to restoring honest government and freedom to New Yorkers, thereby minimizing the amount of corruption situations the Comptroller’s office would have to quietly settle.

  • Upstate economy: New Yorkers have heard many ideas for ways to revive the upstate economy, from Casino gambling, to tourism to hydraulic fracturing. What do you consider the most promising strategies for improving economic conditions upstate? And are there any ideas being attempted that you think just won’t work? E.g., do you think, or don’t think fracturing is a good idea? And since the Comptroller’s office speaks with a roar, would attempts to seek information from fracking companies about their best practices have a chilling effect on their operations?

I believe LP candidate for Governor Mike McDermott’s economic plans, which include a dramatic reduction of state taxes and encouragement of industrial hemp business throughout the state will be a boon to the state’s economy, upstate and downstate. While I do not believe the Comptroller’s office is uniquely responsible for advocating viable best practices for fracking, becausethe procedures may cause area damage that can affect property values, I would recommend such practices to support property owners in the state.

Libertarians support property rights, as well as constructive technological progress. We oppose eminent domain abuse (misuse of the process by private developers) often employed by lobbies to take property from others, for energy expansion or other commercial purposes. Fracking and other new extraction methods may frequently use toxic materials, or result in leeching toxic materials to a local environment. I would advocate for non-toxic fracking methods that solve those problems, but not for using government to take land from, or force private energy expansion on property owners who don’t want it.

Clifton on Public Pension Divestment From Oil, vs Investing in Green Tech

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Candidate for Comptroller John  Clifton recently commented on the issue of the possibility of shifting the use of state pension money into supporting Green efforts:

“As NYS Comptroller, you would be the sole trustee of the now $180 billion NYS Common Retirement Fund. The CRF, our public pension fund, invests heavily in fossil fuels – especially Exxon Mobil Corporation. What is your position on fossil fuel divestment – from financial, social and environmental perspectives?

What is your position on investing the CRF in beneficial portfolio options such as green energy, energy efficiency and sustainable agriculture?

Thank you. Fossil Free & Green NY”

A Libertarian official who is focused on liberty-based, fiscally responsible outcomes will support measures that end or reduce the coercion of taxpayers, without further burdening the public with being compelled to underwrite high risk ventures that are better absorbed by the private economy. That means seeking the reform of public employee pensions that are typically bankrupting cities, counties and the state. To a Libertarian, just because there is a perceived problem, it doesn’t mean that government force, or more authoritarian centralized planning is the solution. Nor do pro-liberty people subscribe to the the loaded term “sustainable” whatever, as that is a well-known code word for Agenda 21 concepts of Total State planning, many of which are both disputable and overbearing in transferring control to centralized planners.

The answer to corporate welfare for oil and gas companies, is not corporate welfare for the ‘green’ companies. The success of alternative energy is mixed, with some encouraging progress in solar technology, but significant ‘money pit’ problems have developed with implementing wind power, based on the track record so far in European countries. Regardless of the feasibility (or not) of several emerging ‘green’ energy sources, the funding and stabilizing of the new industry should be the voluntary endeavor of private entrepreneurs, not government workers whose funds should be invested in already stable industries, if they are to be invested at all.

The answer is neither divestment nor investment, as it is a false choice in either case that embraces initiation of force to solve problems. Supporters of using public pension funds for subsidizing the green sector, by implication, appear to expect the public to foot the bill for any loss of money invested in failing green companies, so that the pension payouts to retirees get fully funded or guaranteed by taxpayers in any event. They also appear to see the funds used for the green efforts regardless of whether a given pension participant wants their money or credit used for that purpose or not. There are too many layers of direct or indirect coercion in this concept for a liberty-minded Comptroller to accept.

Beyond the secondary issue of the investment of the pension funds, the entire concept of “public pension funds” is subject to reconsideration by a Libertarian Comptroller. Support for public pensions in New York and elsewhere has been dominated by the unions that benefit from unsustainably generous benefit packages. In office, I would advocate or consider dismantling and prohibiting all government unions, as only private sector unions that receive no funding from government should be legal. Ultimately, we should replace government employee retirement packages with Social Security, or an altogether private nest egg.

As Libertarian Alliance in the UK puts it, “Quite simply, everyone should be expected to build up funds for his own retirement, [which] should be paid into one’s own Self Invested Personal Pension (SIPP). It would be a mandatory savings vehicle similar to schemes in Hong Kong and elsewhere and would ensure everyone had some provision.” Let the private pension recipients or retirees then determine what to do with the deposited money, at their own risk or benefit.