Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/ethics-reform 2019-04-25T12:20:09+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com In State Budget, More on Voting, Little on Ethics, and Half-Baked Campaign Finance Reform 2019-04-01T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-01T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8414-state-budget-a-mixed-bag-on-election-ethics-and-campaign-finance-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/44896439264_3011dd8ce0_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo presentation budget" width="600" height="334" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2020 state budget agreement between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature is one of the most consequential legislative packages to have passed in several years and enacts sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system, mass transit in New York City, voting laws, health care, environmental protections, and more. But government reform advocates are disappointed by what they see as half-measures on campaign finance reform and the exclusion of broader improvements to state procurement processes and government ethics reforms.</p> <p>Over the last three months, the state Legislature, under Democratic control for the first time in nearly a decade, quickly acted to pass several voting and campaign finance reforms that Democratic elected officials and candidates, including Cuomo, have backed and campaigned on for years.</p> <p>The Legislature approved early voting, consolidated the state and federal primary into one day in June, enacted pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and reduced contribution limits for limited liability companies to $5,000, greatly narrowing the infamous “LLC loophole.” Cuomo signed those bills into law. The Legislature also passed resolutions to amend the state constitution to allow no-excuse absentee ballots by mail and same-day voter registration -- the resolutions will have to be passed again by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and will then have to be approved by voters in a referendum.</p> <p>The budget deal passed early Monday morning included additional measures and funding for voting, election, and campaign finance reforms approved in previous months. The headline, though, was the compromise to mandate a binding commission that is meant to create a public financing program for state elections and must issue a report by December 1. The commission’s recommendations will become law unless the Legislature overrides it during a special session before the end of the year.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8412-cuomo-legislators-agree-to-175-5-billion-budget-with-congestion-pricing-criminal-justice-reform-and-commitment-to-public-campaign-financing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cuomo, Legislators Agree to $175.5 Billion Budget with Congestion Pricing, Criminal Justice Reform and Commitment to Public Campaign Financing</a>]</p> <p>“On public integrity and anti-corruption issues, the governor and the Legislature have fallen short because they failed to put reforms in statute,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group. “On voting, they’re making very good progress in modernizing the state’s voting system...the Legislature and the governor have exceeded expectations I’d say. That’s really the lone bright spot on good government in the budget.”</p> <p><strong>Campaign Finance</strong> <br />The governor and Legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on implementing a public financing system with lower contribution limits for candidates and a small-donation matching program, owing largely to opposition in the state Assembly where Speaker Carl Heastie publicly raised doubts about having enough votes to approve the proposal, despite prior support for such a program when Republicans controlled the Senate.</p> <p>In the end, the budget agreement sets the state on the road to creating a system through a commission, which will have binding authority and $100 million in appropriations (the Legislature can still amend the commission’s recommendations within 20 days of the report being released). “It is too complicated,” Cuomo said at a news conference on Sunday of approving a public financing model. “It’s not a simple system to put in place, it’s especially not simple statewide.”</p> <p>Advocates say there isn’t enough clarity in the commission’s guidelines and have vowed to hold the feet of the governor and Legislature to the fire. The Fair Elections for NY coalition called the budget a “missed opportunity” to enact reform. The coalition of advocacy, community, and labor groups organized a massive push for a public financing program modelled on the one used in New York City, calling for a 6-to-1 match in public funds for every qualifying dollar that a candidate raises through the program (the city’s program was recently expanded to an 8-to-1 match).</p> <p>“The value of this commission will be determined by the quality of its appointees and the public process it offers to allow every day New Yorkers and experts to shape the outcome,” the coalition said in a statement. “We intend to hold our elected officials accountable to their promises and make sure New York actually delivers a historic victory without poison pills.”</p> <p>Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, said a public financing program should have been included in the budget, considering that Democrats have been pushing it for years. “Now that the task is put to a commission, the leaders must act swiftly to appoint qualified, independent members with a track record of public service, and a commitment to creating a robust small donor public financing program,” he said in a statement. “All must ensure a participatory process that is transparent to the public. Nothing less is required to secure the public’s trust.”</p> <p>Nine commission members will be appointed -- two each by the governor and majority and minority leaders of both legislative chambers. The final appointee must be chosen through consensus by all of the appointing parties and approved by the governor. Camarda from Reinvent Albany noted that the commission will have to approve a system through a majority vote, which is not guaranteed, nor is a 6-to-1 match or any independent enforcement of a new system. Camarda also pointed out that New York’s sky-high contribution limits for those who do not opt in to the program won’t be lowered, disincentivizing candidates from participating.</p> <p>When laying out his 2019 agenda late last year, Cuomo had called for completely banning corporate donations to political candidates, but that measure did not make it into the budget.</p> <p>Another Cuomo proposal that was not included in the budget was a complete closure of the so-called LLC loophole. LLCs allow individuals to circumvent contribution limits by shielding the identities of donors and, until recently, had the ability to donate as much as $65,000 to gubernatorial candidates. The Legislature brought those donation limits down to $5,000, in line with limits for corporations, but that does not completely preclude the loophole from being exploited.</p> <p>The governor had also proposed greater donor disclosure requirements for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, which he said were contributing to a plague of independent expenditures in state elections, but some charged was another attempt by the governor to target groups that have been critical of him. Those proposals were left out of the final budget as well.</p> <p><strong>Voting and Elections</strong><br />The final budget agreement includes $10 million in funding to localities to implement a 10-day early voting program, approves three hours (up from two) of paid time off on election day, authorizes electronic poll books with $14.7 million in funding, and expands voting hours at upstate polling sites to bring them in line with New York City and its surrounding suburbs (6 am to 9 pm).</p> <p>The budget also mandates that the Board of Elections create an online voter registration system that allows voters to submit applications with electronic signatures. Advocates and elected officials had also tried to push the Legislature to approve automatic voter registration for the state, but to no avail.</p> <p><strong>Ethics</strong><br />Though the governor had proposed several government ethics reforms in his executive budget proposal, barely any made it into the enacted budget. The proposals included mandated disclosure of tax returns by candidates for elected office, expanding the state’s Freedom of Information Law to the state Legislature (it currently covers the executive branch), banning state employees from volunteering on their employers’ election campaigns, and a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” to penalize violations of lobbying laws among other lobbying restrictions.</p> <p>But the only proposal that was approved was one that prohibits lobbyists, political action committees, labor unions, and a person registered as an independent expenditure committee from giving loans to candidates and political committees. What remains to be seen is whether the governor will follow through on a pledge to unilaterally ban those who do not voluntarily follow the code of conduct from lobbying the executive chamber. <br /> <br /><strong>‘Clean Contracting’ and Economic Development Accountability</strong><br />The budget leaves in place weaknesses in state contracting processes that advocates say led to recent pay-to-play scandals, and corruption convictions, in Albany, particularly among officials and donors in Cuomo’s inner circle.</p> <p>Though Cuomo had proposed several procurement reforms in his executive budget proposal, “Nothing got done in statute,” said Camarda. The governor reached a deal to restore the state comptroller’s pre-audit authority over certain state contracts -- powers stripped in Cuomo’s first year as governor -- but did not give it the backing of law in the budget and legislators do not appear to have fought for it to be in statute.</p> <p>Cuomo had also expressed support for stronger oversight powers for the state inspector general over SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated nonprofits, which were not passed with the budget. SUNY-affiliated contracts were at the center of a major bid-rigging scandal that led to the corruption conviction last year of Alain Kaloyeros, a former top economic development aide to Cuomo, and prominent donors to Cuomo’s campaign.</p> <p>The budget does appropriate $500,000 to administratively implement a “database of deals,” which is meant to outline projects receiving state economic development benefits. But the appropriation does not detail whether the database would be created in a way that would make it transparent or easily accessible. Advocates have pushed to make it downloadable and machine-readable for easy analysis. “None of the functionality that we would want to see in a database is specified,” Camarda said. “A bigger problem is there are no requirements as to what information should be included and there are no definitions.”</p> <p>Cuomo did include a specific provision in the budget that expands his authority over the Public Authorities Control Board, a direct response to the undoing of the deal to bring an Amazon campus to Queens. Cuomo has repeatedly blamed the failure of the deal on the state Senate’s nomination of Amazon-opponent Senator Mike Gianaris to the PACB, which would have final approval of a portion of the subsidies offered to the tech giant. The new budget allows Cuomo to remove a member of the PACB who oversteps, or threatens to overstep their authority.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/44896439264_3011dd8ce0_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo presentation budget" width="600" height="334" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2020 state budget agreement between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature is one of the most consequential legislative packages to have passed in several years and enacts sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system, mass transit in New York City, voting laws, health care, environmental protections, and more. But government reform advocates are disappointed by what they see as half-measures on campaign finance reform and the exclusion of broader improvements to state procurement processes and government ethics reforms.</p> <p>Over the last three months, the state Legislature, under Democratic control for the first time in nearly a decade, quickly acted to pass several voting and campaign finance reforms that Democratic elected officials and candidates, including Cuomo, have backed and campaigned on for years.</p> <p>The Legislature approved early voting, consolidated the state and federal primary into one day in June, enacted pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and reduced contribution limits for limited liability companies to $5,000, greatly narrowing the infamous “LLC loophole.” Cuomo signed those bills into law. The Legislature also passed resolutions to amend the state constitution to allow no-excuse absentee ballots by mail and same-day voter registration -- the resolutions will have to be passed again by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and will then have to be approved by voters in a referendum.</p> <p>The budget deal passed early Monday morning included additional measures and funding for voting, election, and campaign finance reforms approved in previous months. The headline, though, was the compromise to mandate a binding commission that is meant to create a public financing program for state elections and must issue a report by December 1. The commission’s recommendations will become law unless the Legislature overrides it during a special session before the end of the year.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8412-cuomo-legislators-agree-to-175-5-billion-budget-with-congestion-pricing-criminal-justice-reform-and-commitment-to-public-campaign-financing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cuomo, Legislators Agree to $175.5 Billion Budget with Congestion Pricing, Criminal Justice Reform and Commitment to Public Campaign Financing</a>]</p> <p>“On public integrity and anti-corruption issues, the governor and the Legislature have fallen short because they failed to put reforms in statute,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group. “On voting, they’re making very good progress in modernizing the state’s voting system...the Legislature and the governor have exceeded expectations I’d say. That’s really the lone bright spot on good government in the budget.”</p> <p><strong>Campaign Finance</strong> <br />The governor and Legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on implementing a public financing system with lower contribution limits for candidates and a small-donation matching program, owing largely to opposition in the state Assembly where Speaker Carl Heastie publicly raised doubts about having enough votes to approve the proposal, despite prior support for such a program when Republicans controlled the Senate.</p> <p>In the end, the budget agreement sets the state on the road to creating a system through a commission, which will have binding authority and $100 million in appropriations (the Legislature can still amend the commission’s recommendations within 20 days of the report being released). “It is too complicated,” Cuomo said at a news conference on Sunday of approving a public financing model. “It’s not a simple system to put in place, it’s especially not simple statewide.”</p> <p>Advocates say there isn’t enough clarity in the commission’s guidelines and have vowed to hold the feet of the governor and Legislature to the fire. The Fair Elections for NY coalition called the budget a “missed opportunity” to enact reform. The coalition of advocacy, community, and labor groups organized a massive push for a public financing program modelled on the one used in New York City, calling for a 6-to-1 match in public funds for every qualifying dollar that a candidate raises through the program (the city’s program was recently expanded to an 8-to-1 match).</p> <p>“The value of this commission will be determined by the quality of its appointees and the public process it offers to allow every day New Yorkers and experts to shape the outcome,” the coalition said in a statement. “We intend to hold our elected officials accountable to their promises and make sure New York actually delivers a historic victory without poison pills.”</p> <p>Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, said a public financing program should have been included in the budget, considering that Democrats have been pushing it for years. “Now that the task is put to a commission, the leaders must act swiftly to appoint qualified, independent members with a track record of public service, and a commitment to creating a robust small donor public financing program,” he said in a statement. “All must ensure a participatory process that is transparent to the public. Nothing less is required to secure the public’s trust.”</p> <p>Nine commission members will be appointed -- two each by the governor and majority and minority leaders of both legislative chambers. The final appointee must be chosen through consensus by all of the appointing parties and approved by the governor. Camarda from Reinvent Albany noted that the commission will have to approve a system through a majority vote, which is not guaranteed, nor is a 6-to-1 match or any independent enforcement of a new system. Camarda also pointed out that New York’s sky-high contribution limits for those who do not opt in to the program won’t be lowered, disincentivizing candidates from participating.</p> <p>When laying out his 2019 agenda late last year, Cuomo had called for completely banning corporate donations to political candidates, but that measure did not make it into the budget.</p> <p>Another Cuomo proposal that was not included in the budget was a complete closure of the so-called LLC loophole. LLCs allow individuals to circumvent contribution limits by shielding the identities of donors and, until recently, had the ability to donate as much as $65,000 to gubernatorial candidates. The Legislature brought those donation limits down to $5,000, in line with limits for corporations, but that does not completely preclude the loophole from being exploited.</p> <p>The governor had also proposed greater donor disclosure requirements for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, which he said were contributing to a plague of independent expenditures in state elections, but some charged was another attempt by the governor to target groups that have been critical of him. Those proposals were left out of the final budget as well.</p> <p><strong>Voting and Elections</strong><br />The final budget agreement includes $10 million in funding to localities to implement a 10-day early voting program, approves three hours (up from two) of paid time off on election day, authorizes electronic poll books with $14.7 million in funding, and expands voting hours at upstate polling sites to bring them in line with New York City and its surrounding suburbs (6 am to 9 pm).</p> <p>The budget also mandates that the Board of Elections create an online voter registration system that allows voters to submit applications with electronic signatures. Advocates and elected officials had also tried to push the Legislature to approve automatic voter registration for the state, but to no avail.</p> <p><strong>Ethics</strong><br />Though the governor had proposed several government ethics reforms in his executive budget proposal, barely any made it into the enacted budget. The proposals included mandated disclosure of tax returns by candidates for elected office, expanding the state’s Freedom of Information Law to the state Legislature (it currently covers the executive branch), banning state employees from volunteering on their employers’ election campaigns, and a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” to penalize violations of lobbying laws among other lobbying restrictions.</p> <p>But the only proposal that was approved was one that prohibits lobbyists, political action committees, labor unions, and a person registered as an independent expenditure committee from giving loans to candidates and political committees. What remains to be seen is whether the governor will follow through on a pledge to unilaterally ban those who do not voluntarily follow the code of conduct from lobbying the executive chamber. <br /> <br /><strong>‘Clean Contracting’ and Economic Development Accountability</strong><br />The budget leaves in place weaknesses in state contracting processes that advocates say led to recent pay-to-play scandals, and corruption convictions, in Albany, particularly among officials and donors in Cuomo’s inner circle.</p> <p>Though Cuomo had proposed several procurement reforms in his executive budget proposal, “Nothing got done in statute,” said Camarda. The governor reached a deal to restore the state comptroller’s pre-audit authority over certain state contracts -- powers stripped in Cuomo’s first year as governor -- but did not give it the backing of law in the budget and legislators do not appear to have fought for it to be in statute.</p> <p>Cuomo had also expressed support for stronger oversight powers for the state inspector general over SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated nonprofits, which were not passed with the budget. SUNY-affiliated contracts were at the center of a major bid-rigging scandal that led to the corruption conviction last year of Alain Kaloyeros, a former top economic development aide to Cuomo, and prominent donors to Cuomo’s campaign.</p> <p>The budget does appropriate $500,000 to administratively implement a “database of deals,” which is meant to outline projects receiving state economic development benefits. But the appropriation does not detail whether the database would be created in a way that would make it transparent or easily accessible. Advocates have pushed to make it downloadable and machine-readable for easy analysis. “None of the functionality that we would want to see in a database is specified,” Camarda said. “A bigger problem is there are no requirements as to what information should be included and there are no definitions.”</p> <p>Cuomo did include a specific provision in the budget that expands his authority over the Public Authorities Control Board, a direct response to the undoing of the deal to bring an Amazon campus to Queens. Cuomo has repeatedly blamed the failure of the deal on the state Senate’s nomination of Amazon-opponent Senator Mike Gianaris to the PACB, which would have final approval of a portion of the subsidies offered to the tech giant. The new budget allows Cuomo to remove a member of the PACB who oversteps, or threatens to overstep their authority.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms 2019-01-16T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-16T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8210-cuomo-s-voting-campaign-finance-and-ethics-reform-proposals Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/govcuomoagalbany.jpg" alt="gov cuomo albany" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(Photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of progressive legislation in his State of the State speech on Tuesday, accompanied by more detailed policy and budget books, including several measures aimed at improving New York’s democracy and increasing public trust in state government.</p> <p>Emboldened by full Democratic control of the State Senate and Assembly, after years of a split Legislature where Republicans controlled the upper chamber, Cuomo reiterated many of the proposals that he has repeatedly advanced in vain in previous years and also introduced new ideas to combat public corruption, reduce the effects of money in politics, and provide more transparency about the workings of the Legislature and Executive branches.</p> <p>Cuomo took stock of the state government’s failure to police its own -- as he spoke about passing ethics reforms, the powerpoint slide behind him filled with newspaper headlines about corruption in state government, starting with his own administration. “If you read the headlines over the past few years, they have been continuous and they have been disappointing, and they have been disgraceful, and they have been widespread,” he admitted. “It looks terrible and it is terrible.”</p> <p>Government reform advocates have broadly praised the governor’s platform as they continue to examine the details included in the budget. On voting reforms, there seems to be general agreement, while the campaign finance and ethics proposals may prompt further debate. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Election Reforms</strong><br /> Cuomo backed several voting reforms, many of which were passed by the State Legislature on Monday and sent to the governor’s desk for his signature. They included early voting -- he has proposed 12 days of early voting while the Legislature passed a 10 day bill -- consolidation of state and federal primaries into one date in June, pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, and portability of voter registrations. There was also the campaign finance reform measure of significantly limiting contributions through the so-called LLC loophole and requiring more transparency from LLC owners.</p> <p>The Legislature also began the process of amending the state constitution to establish same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots by mail, both of which will have to be approved by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and then through a ballot referendum. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo supports all of the above, and his proposals go further, some of which are matched by bills Democratic legislators have introduced. The governor wants to make Election Day a state holiday, implement automatic and online voter registration, and also expand voting hours for primary elections upstate where polling sites currently only open at noon.</p> <p><strong>Campaign Finance Reform</strong><br /> Cuomo is supporting a sweeping campaign finance reform agenda that includes a public matching system for the state.</p> <p>The Legislature’s LLC bill brought contribution limits in line with those for corporations, at $5,000. Cuomo, on the other hand, has proposed closing that loophole entirely (something some legislators have said they want to do in a next phase) and banning all corporate contributions to candidate campaigns, while also lowering contribution limits across the board. He also proposed prohibiting any contributions from individuals or entities that have recently applied or are seeking government contracts.</p> <p>Separately, the governor pushed a measure to require reporting of intermediaries or “bundlers” who collect donations from several contributors and funnel them to candidates.</p> <p>He wants to establish public financing of elections, providing 6-to-1 matches for small contributions up to $175, similar to the system currently in place in New York City. The public funds limits would be $8 million for candidates for governor; $4 million for lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller candidates; $375,000 for Senate candidates; and $175,000 for Assembly candidates.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the governor’s office put out details of his proposal to lower contribution limits -- statewide candidates would be able to receive a total of $25,000 ($10,000 for the primary and $15,000 for the general election) down from the current effective total limit of roughly $65,100. Limits would be lower for state legislators -- Senate candidates would be allowed to raise a total of $10,000 from individual contributors, down from $18,000; Assembly candidates would be limited to $6,000 total, down from $8,800. While significant reductions, the numbers are still quite high relative to individual donation limits to presidential candidates or candidates for mayor of New York City, for example.</p> <p>Cuomo is also seeking to take on the scourge of “dark money” flowing into elections through independent expenditures by anonymous sources. His <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/book/performancemgt.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget briefing book</a> calls for expanded disclosure by 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups of the “extent and nature of their expenditures used to influence the debate on public issues, and the identity of large donors who facilitate that speech.”</p> <p>“These loopholes make the entire campaign system fraught for a lack of integrity,” Cuomo said. “You want to talk about franchising individuals who now feel disenfranchised - a corporation, a large contributor with a $10 million check can buy an election and nobody knows who he or she is.”</p> <p><strong>Government and Lobbying Ethics</strong><br /> Though some of his proposals are likely to face resistance from the State Legislature, Cuomo wasn’t shy about challenging his legislative counterparts in his Tuesday speech as he railed against the recurring instances of corruption that have come to light in recent years, including from within his own administration.</p> <p>“Now, we will never stop venial, greedy, ignorant, behavior by people. And we shouldn't be expected to do that,” Cuomo said, “but we should be expected to do everything we can to have a system in place that safeguards against fraud or theft, and there it is a continuing battle, but there I believe we can do more to ensure the public trust.”</p> <p>He proposed requiring candidates in state elections to disclose their tax returns, a measure that is usually voluntarily taken by candidates for major offices like mayor, governor, and president. Cuomo’s budget proposal would require statewide candidates to release ten years of tax returns and five years of returns for candidates for Senate and Assembly.</p> <p>He also emphasized the need to expand the state’s Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, a move that certain lawmakers have backed in the past but one that previous legislative leaders have ardently opposed.</p> <p>The governor is also seeking to ban government employees from volunteering for their employer’s political campaigns, and wants to require local elected officials to annually disclose their finances to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), just as state elected officials and employees are required to do. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo also floated a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” to severely limit real and perceived pay-to-play politics and to curb the revolving door practices that have become commonplace in Albany. He proposed greater penalties for violations of lobbying laws, lowering the threshold for disclosure of lobbying activities to $500, down from $5,000, a ban on loans from lobbyists to candidates, and preventing political consultants from lobbying the elected officials who they helped get into office. He is also advocating for expanding the blackout period in which government employees and elected officials, as well as their staff members, would be prohibited from becoming lobbyists from two years to five.</p> <p>The governor promised on Tuesday that if the state Legislature did not approve the code of conduct for lobbyists, he would prohibit those lobbyists who do not voluntarily abide by it from lobbying the executive chamber. The <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/artvii/gger-artvii-ms.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">provisions</a> of his proposal, however, contain many gray areas as well as steep penalties -- a lobbyist who deliberately violates the rules could receive a civil fine of $25,000 or be banned from lobbying for six months to five years -- that will be part of negotiations if there is any movement on the proposals. &nbsp;</p> <p>In a surprising move, the governor also announced on Tuesday that he had reached an agreement with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to implement certain reforms to the state’s contracting and procurement processes, including returning to the comptroller certain powers that had been stripped during Cuomo’s first year as governor. Cuomo said he would allow the comptroller to pre-audit any SUNY, CUNY and Office of General Services contracts worth more than $250,000, granted the audits are done within 30 days, and, in turn, the comptroller agreed to turn over contracts above that threshold to the state inspector general for audits.</p> <p>“Contract procurement review must be performed and government must function on a timely basis,” Cuomo said. “I don't believe one is the enemy of the other. Yes, review contracts, but yes let's get it done quickly because government has to function and we have to get things done.” The agreement neutralized criticism that Cuomo faced for undermining the comptroller’s authority and also preempted the potential threat of the state Legislature passing these measures against the governor’s wishes. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo also proposed strengthening the powers of the State Inspector General, giving the office the authority to oversee nonprofits affiliated with SUNY and CUNY, as well as “state-related procurement and the implementation and enforcement of financial control policies at SUNY and CUNY.”</p> <p>“This proposal is a positive step forward,” said Jennifer Freeman, a DiNapoli spokesperson, in a statement. “Improvements to the procurement process will assure that independent checks and balances are in place to prevent abuse.”</p> <p>Finally, the governor’s briefing book indicates that he will direct Empire State Development, a state agency responsible for economic development programs, to create a publicly accessible online database of projects getting state benefits. Good government advocates, DiNapoli, and some legislators have long been pushing for such a “database of deals” and praised its inclusion in the governor’s budget proposal. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’re very pleased by the sheer scope of the many good government reform measures the governor issued and we’re carefully evaluating them,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit advocacy group. “We’re most pleased with progress on clean contracting.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/govcuomoagalbany.jpg" alt="gov cuomo albany" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(Photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of progressive legislation in his State of the State speech on Tuesday, accompanied by more detailed policy and budget books, including several measures aimed at improving New York’s democracy and increasing public trust in state government.</p> <p>Emboldened by full Democratic control of the State Senate and Assembly, after years of a split Legislature where Republicans controlled the upper chamber, Cuomo reiterated many of the proposals that he has repeatedly advanced in vain in previous years and also introduced new ideas to combat public corruption, reduce the effects of money in politics, and provide more transparency about the workings of the Legislature and Executive branches.</p> <p>Cuomo took stock of the state government’s failure to police its own -- as he spoke about passing ethics reforms, the powerpoint slide behind him filled with newspaper headlines about corruption in state government, starting with his own administration. “If you read the headlines over the past few years, they have been continuous and they have been disappointing, and they have been disgraceful, and they have been widespread,” he admitted. “It looks terrible and it is terrible.”</p> <p>Government reform advocates have broadly praised the governor’s platform as they continue to examine the details included in the budget. On voting reforms, there seems to be general agreement, while the campaign finance and ethics proposals may prompt further debate. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Election Reforms</strong><br /> Cuomo backed several voting reforms, many of which were passed by the State Legislature on Monday and sent to the governor’s desk for his signature. They included early voting -- he has proposed 12 days of early voting while the Legislature passed a 10 day bill -- consolidation of state and federal primaries into one date in June, pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, and portability of voter registrations. There was also the campaign finance reform measure of significantly limiting contributions through the so-called LLC loophole and requiring more transparency from LLC owners.</p> <p>The Legislature also began the process of amending the state constitution to establish same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots by mail, both of which will have to be approved by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and then through a ballot referendum. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo supports all of the above, and his proposals go further, some of which are matched by bills Democratic legislators have introduced. The governor wants to make Election Day a state holiday, implement automatic and online voter registration, and also expand voting hours for primary elections upstate where polling sites currently only open at noon.</p> <p><strong>Campaign Finance Reform</strong><br /> Cuomo is supporting a sweeping campaign finance reform agenda that includes a public matching system for the state.</p> <p>The Legislature’s LLC bill brought contribution limits in line with those for corporations, at $5,000. Cuomo, on the other hand, has proposed closing that loophole entirely (something some legislators have said they want to do in a next phase) and banning all corporate contributions to candidate campaigns, while also lowering contribution limits across the board. He also proposed prohibiting any contributions from individuals or entities that have recently applied or are seeking government contracts.</p> <p>Separately, the governor pushed a measure to require reporting of intermediaries or “bundlers” who collect donations from several contributors and funnel them to candidates.</p> <p>He wants to establish public financing of elections, providing 6-to-1 matches for small contributions up to $175, similar to the system currently in place in New York City. The public funds limits would be $8 million for candidates for governor; $4 million for lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller candidates; $375,000 for Senate candidates; and $175,000 for Assembly candidates.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the governor’s office put out details of his proposal to lower contribution limits -- statewide candidates would be able to receive a total of $25,000 ($10,000 for the primary and $15,000 for the general election) down from the current effective total limit of roughly $65,100. Limits would be lower for state legislators -- Senate candidates would be allowed to raise a total of $10,000 from individual contributors, down from $18,000; Assembly candidates would be limited to $6,000 total, down from $8,800. While significant reductions, the numbers are still quite high relative to individual donation limits to presidential candidates or candidates for mayor of New York City, for example.</p> <p>Cuomo is also seeking to take on the scourge of “dark money” flowing into elections through independent expenditures by anonymous sources. His <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/book/performancemgt.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget briefing book</a> calls for expanded disclosure by 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups of the “extent and nature of their expenditures used to influence the debate on public issues, and the identity of large donors who facilitate that speech.”</p> <p>“These loopholes make the entire campaign system fraught for a lack of integrity,” Cuomo said. “You want to talk about franchising individuals who now feel disenfranchised - a corporation, a large contributor with a $10 million check can buy an election and nobody knows who he or she is.”</p> <p><strong>Government and Lobbying Ethics</strong><br /> Though some of his proposals are likely to face resistance from the State Legislature, Cuomo wasn’t shy about challenging his legislative counterparts in his Tuesday speech as he railed against the recurring instances of corruption that have come to light in recent years, including from within his own administration.</p> <p>“Now, we will never stop venial, greedy, ignorant, behavior by people. And we shouldn't be expected to do that,” Cuomo said, “but we should be expected to do everything we can to have a system in place that safeguards against fraud or theft, and there it is a continuing battle, but there I believe we can do more to ensure the public trust.”</p> <p>He proposed requiring candidates in state elections to disclose their tax returns, a measure that is usually voluntarily taken by candidates for major offices like mayor, governor, and president. Cuomo’s budget proposal would require statewide candidates to release ten years of tax returns and five years of returns for candidates for Senate and Assembly.</p> <p>He also emphasized the need to expand the state’s Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, a move that certain lawmakers have backed in the past but one that previous legislative leaders have ardently opposed.</p> <p>The governor is also seeking to ban government employees from volunteering for their employer’s political campaigns, and wants to require local elected officials to annually disclose their finances to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), just as state elected officials and employees are required to do. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo also floated a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” to severely limit real and perceived pay-to-play politics and to curb the revolving door practices that have become commonplace in Albany. He proposed greater penalties for violations of lobbying laws, lowering the threshold for disclosure of lobbying activities to $500, down from $5,000, a ban on loans from lobbyists to candidates, and preventing political consultants from lobbying the elected officials who they helped get into office. He is also advocating for expanding the blackout period in which government employees and elected officials, as well as their staff members, would be prohibited from becoming lobbyists from two years to five.</p> <p>The governor promised on Tuesday that if the state Legislature did not approve the code of conduct for lobbyists, he would prohibit those lobbyists who do not voluntarily abide by it from lobbying the executive chamber. The <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/artvii/gger-artvii-ms.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">provisions</a> of his proposal, however, contain many gray areas as well as steep penalties -- a lobbyist who deliberately violates the rules could receive a civil fine of $25,000 or be banned from lobbying for six months to five years -- that will be part of negotiations if there is any movement on the proposals. &nbsp;</p> <p>In a surprising move, the governor also announced on Tuesday that he had reached an agreement with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to implement certain reforms to the state’s contracting and procurement processes, including returning to the comptroller certain powers that had been stripped during Cuomo’s first year as governor. Cuomo said he would allow the comptroller to pre-audit any SUNY, CUNY and Office of General Services contracts worth more than $250,000, granted the audits are done within 30 days, and, in turn, the comptroller agreed to turn over contracts above that threshold to the state inspector general for audits.</p> <p>“Contract procurement review must be performed and government must function on a timely basis,” Cuomo said. “I don't believe one is the enemy of the other. Yes, review contracts, but yes let's get it done quickly because government has to function and we have to get things done.” The agreement neutralized criticism that Cuomo faced for undermining the comptroller’s authority and also preempted the potential threat of the state Legislature passing these measures against the governor’s wishes. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo also proposed strengthening the powers of the State Inspector General, giving the office the authority to oversee nonprofits affiliated with SUNY and CUNY, as well as “state-related procurement and the implementation and enforcement of financial control policies at SUNY and CUNY.”</p> <p>“This proposal is a positive step forward,” said Jennifer Freeman, a DiNapoli spokesperson, in a statement. “Improvements to the procurement process will assure that independent checks and balances are in place to prevent abuse.”</p> <p>Finally, the governor’s briefing book indicates that he will direct Empire State Development, a state agency responsible for economic development programs, to create a publicly accessible online database of projects getting state benefits. Good government advocates, DiNapoli, and some legislators have long been pushing for such a “database of deals” and praised its inclusion in the governor’s budget proposal. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’re very pleased by the sheer scope of the many good government reform measures the governor issued and we’re carefully evaluating them,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit advocacy group. “We’re most pleased with progress on clean contracting.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Commission Recommends Pay Increases and Ethics Reforms for State Legislators 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8125-commission-recommends-pay-increases-and-ethics-reforms-for-state-legislators Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/senatechamberalbany2.jpg" alt="senatechamberalbany2" /></p> <p>(Photo via Wiki Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>Statewide elected officials, legislators and agency heads are slated to get pay raises next year following recommendations issued Thursday by a four-member panel that was created in this year’s state budget.</p> <p>The New York State Compensation Committee voted on Thursday to raise the salaries of legislators for the first time in nearly twenty years, as well as for the four statewide offices and for executive agency commissioners. The committee will publicly release a report and deliver it to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature on Monday outlining their binding recommendations on phasing in the salary increases over three years, accompanied by certain ethics reform measures. The raises will go into effect by January 1 unless the state legislature meets and rejects them.</p> <p>The committee -- which included State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller and SUNY Board Chair Carl McCall, and former New York City Comptroller and CUNY Board Chair Bill Thompson -- was created in the state budget to determine an appropriate raise for legislators, based on cost of living and on salaries for legislators in other states. The current base pay for state legislators stands at $79,500 and has remained unchanged since 1999.</p> <p>Per the panel’s unanimous recommendations, salaries for legislators will be raised to $130,000 by 2021, with lawmakers set to receive $110,000 in 2019 and $120,000 in 2020. The commission also recommended limiting outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their salary, in line with the rules for members of Congress, and the elimination of committee stipends -- commonly referred to as lulus -- for all but the top leadership in both legislative chambers.</p> <p>“I think in looking at the fact that they haven’t had a raise in twenty years...when you talk about the issues of fairness, it is not the right thing,” Thompson said, arguing that the idea that legislators only work part-time is a mischaracterization due to their in-district work. The limits on outside income will take effect in 2020, because, according to McCall, legislators would need time to disengage from their outside income-generating activities and could not do so right away.</p> <p>The panel also endorsed raising the governor’s salary to $250,000 by 2021, up from the current $179,000. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state comptroller, each of whom currently make $151,000, will see their pay rise to $210,000 salary by 2021. DiNapoli recused himself from that vote.</p> <p>The pay raise committee was originally meant to be chaired by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, but DiFiore announced in May that she would not serve because she believed a judge determining legislative pay was unconstitutional. The broader constitutionality of the committee has also been challenged, as it is still unclear whether a pay raise can be authorized by outside officials or if it must be approved by the legislature. The panel members, however, insisted that their recommendations are enforceable for all their proposals except the raises for the governor and lieutenant governor, which must be approved by a joint resolution of the legislature. They also maintained that tying the raises to an outside income limitation and curbing committee stipends was within their authority, which could potentially invite legal challenges going forward.</p> <p>When the salary raises are fully implemented by 2021, New York will surpass California and have the highest-paid governor and legislature in the nation. McCall noted that coupling the pay increase with outside income limitations would also quell the discontent New Yorkers feel about giving raises to a legislature that has long been marred by scandal and corruption. “We really have to make sure that we send the signals to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well,” McCall said.</p> <p>For executive agency heads, the panel proposed four classes of salary, a decrease from the current six, which will be assigned depending on the agency. By 2021, commissioners in the top class will make $220,000 and commissioners in the bottom class will make $170,000.</p> <p>Legislative leaders have expressed support for the panel’s recommendations. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced her support for the measure on Thursday, hours before the meeting, while also concurrently declaring support for ethics reform. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified to the Commission last week in favor of the raise, noting that legislators have financial strains similar to their constituents. “They too must finance college loans, meet the cost of child care, and provide for the wellbeing of elderly parents and loved ones at home,” Heastie said. He further argued that, because so many legislators live in the expensive New York City metro area, a pay raise was warranted to more adequately reflect the high cost of living here.</p> <p>The New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for government reform, was skeptical of the panel’s recommendations, pushing for a more comprehensive set of “corruption-busting” reforms. “While we agree that the Congressional model is appropriate to regulate legislators’ outside income, advancing a reform in this area alone is inadequate,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner, in a statement. “We note that the ethical problems that have plagued the state have not been limited to the legislative branch. Given the stunning pay-to-play scandals that have rocked government, reforms in that area must be addressed. Failure to do so highlights the inadequacy of the reform package.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/senatechamberalbany2.jpg" alt="senatechamberalbany2" /></p> <p>(Photo via Wiki Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>Statewide elected officials, legislators and agency heads are slated to get pay raises next year following recommendations issued Thursday by a four-member panel that was created in this year’s state budget.</p> <p>The New York State Compensation Committee voted on Thursday to raise the salaries of legislators for the first time in nearly twenty years, as well as for the four statewide offices and for executive agency commissioners. The committee will publicly release a report and deliver it to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature on Monday outlining their binding recommendations on phasing in the salary increases over three years, accompanied by certain ethics reform measures. The raises will go into effect by January 1 unless the state legislature meets and rejects them.</p> <p>The committee -- which included State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller and SUNY Board Chair Carl McCall, and former New York City Comptroller and CUNY Board Chair Bill Thompson -- was created in the state budget to determine an appropriate raise for legislators, based on cost of living and on salaries for legislators in other states. The current base pay for state legislators stands at $79,500 and has remained unchanged since 1999.</p> <p>Per the panel’s unanimous recommendations, salaries for legislators will be raised to $130,000 by 2021, with lawmakers set to receive $110,000 in 2019 and $120,000 in 2020. The commission also recommended limiting outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their salary, in line with the rules for members of Congress, and the elimination of committee stipends -- commonly referred to as lulus -- for all but the top leadership in both legislative chambers.</p> <p>“I think in looking at the fact that they haven’t had a raise in twenty years...when you talk about the issues of fairness, it is not the right thing,” Thompson said, arguing that the idea that legislators only work part-time is a mischaracterization due to their in-district work. The limits on outside income will take effect in 2020, because, according to McCall, legislators would need time to disengage from their outside income-generating activities and could not do so right away.</p> <p>The panel also endorsed raising the governor’s salary to $250,000 by 2021, up from the current $179,000. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state comptroller, each of whom currently make $151,000, will see their pay rise to $210,000 salary by 2021. DiNapoli recused himself from that vote.</p> <p>The pay raise committee was originally meant to be chaired by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, but DiFiore announced in May that she would not serve because she believed a judge determining legislative pay was unconstitutional. The broader constitutionality of the committee has also been challenged, as it is still unclear whether a pay raise can be authorized by outside officials or if it must be approved by the legislature. The panel members, however, insisted that their recommendations are enforceable for all their proposals except the raises for the governor and lieutenant governor, which must be approved by a joint resolution of the legislature. They also maintained that tying the raises to an outside income limitation and curbing committee stipends was within their authority, which could potentially invite legal challenges going forward.</p> <p>When the salary raises are fully implemented by 2021, New York will surpass California and have the highest-paid governor and legislature in the nation. McCall noted that coupling the pay increase with outside income limitations would also quell the discontent New Yorkers feel about giving raises to a legislature that has long been marred by scandal and corruption. “We really have to make sure that we send the signals to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well,” McCall said.</p> <p>For executive agency heads, the panel proposed four classes of salary, a decrease from the current six, which will be assigned depending on the agency. By 2021, commissioners in the top class will make $220,000 and commissioners in the bottom class will make $170,000.</p> <p>Legislative leaders have expressed support for the panel’s recommendations. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced her support for the measure on Thursday, hours before the meeting, while also concurrently declaring support for ethics reform. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified to the Commission last week in favor of the raise, noting that legislators have financial strains similar to their constituents. “They too must finance college loans, meet the cost of child care, and provide for the wellbeing of elderly parents and loved ones at home,” Heastie said. He further argued that, because so many legislators live in the expensive New York City metro area, a pay raise was warranted to more adequately reflect the high cost of living here.</p> <p>The New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for government reform, was skeptical of the panel’s recommendations, pushing for a more comprehensive set of “corruption-busting” reforms. “While we agree that the Congressional model is appropriate to regulate legislators’ outside income, advancing a reform in this area alone is inadequate,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner, in a statement. “We note that the ethical problems that have plagued the state have not been limited to the legislative branch. Given the stunning pay-to-play scandals that have rocked government, reforms in that area must be addressed. Failure to do so highlights the inadequacy of the reform package.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
WATCH: Agenda 2019: Movement Expected on Reform, But What Will It Look Like? 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8119-watch-agenda-2019-movement-expected-on-reform-but-what-will-it-look-like Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mnn-agenda-ep2.jpg" alt="mnn agenda ep2" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: @MNN59)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mnn59-agenda-ep2.jpg" alt="mnn59 agenda ep2" width="194" height="181" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />As part of Agenda 2019, the project from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy were joined on Manhattan Neighborhood Network by State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, to discuss reform issues and the year ahead. Topics included voting and election reform, government ethics reform, and campaign finance reform. Krueger's new Democratic majority in the state Senate are pledging to work with the Democratic Assembly majority and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to usher through a long list of stalled reforms, but what will actually get done? And what should it look like? Watch:</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z-NHHZpuvcA" width="560" height="315" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mnn-agenda-ep2.jpg" alt="mnn agenda ep2" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: @MNN59)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mnn59-agenda-ep2.jpg" alt="mnn59 agenda ep2" width="194" height="181" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />As part of Agenda 2019, the project from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy were joined on Manhattan Neighborhood Network by State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, to discuss reform issues and the year ahead. Topics included voting and election reform, government ethics reform, and campaign finance reform. Krueger's new Democratic majority in the state Senate are pledging to work with the Democratic Assembly majority and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to usher through a long list of stalled reforms, but what will actually get done? And what should it look like? Watch:</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z-NHHZpuvcA" width="560" height="315" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Agenda 2019: High Hopes for Long-Awaited Reforms 2018-12-03T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-03T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8117-agenda-2019-high-hopes-for-long-awaited-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41505108962_8856f0a733_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo democracy protection" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo signs legislation (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The 2018 election cycle in New York laid bare the myriad failings of the state’s political system that advocates and reform-minded elected officials have long recognized. Several candidates, many in it for the first time, ran competitive races on the backs of small dollar donors while highlighting the lax campaign finance laws that allow wealthy interests to fund campaigns across the state. Corruption in government and ethics reforms were salient issues, particularly so in the gubernatorial and attorney general races. In New York City, chaotic Election Day administration brought renewed scrutiny to the long mismanaged Board of Elections as well as the state’s arcane voting and elections laws. And voters, for the first time in a long time, seemed to be paying attention to it all.</p> <p>“There is a tremendous amount of demand for democracy reforms,” said Sarah Goff, associate director at Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group. “The state Legislature has the unique opportunity, with the dramatic shift in landscape, to prove to voters that they got the message.”</p> <p>As Democrats won full control of the state Legislature and, yet again, the governorship on November 6, government reform advocates like Goff rejoiced. After years of legislative paralysis on their priorities -- aided in no small part by Republican obstructionism and abetted somewhat by lackluster Democratic commitment -- a slew of election, campaign finance, and other reforms now seem all but assured to pass in 2019 (though few are counting any chickens before they hatch).</p> <p>Democrats who overwhelmingly controlled the Assembly have been approving measures for years that would open up elections, limit the power of big money, and create more accountability in government. The party now also controls the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade and with a strong margin that is likely immune to the internal divisions that cost Democrats the chamber in the past. Democratic leaders -- Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and newly-minted Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins -- made concrete promises on the campaign trail and will no longer have any excuses for failing to follow through on professed priorities like early voting, lower individual campaign donation limits, and a public-matching campaign finance program -- among several others.</p> <p>“The Governor will continue to lead the fight to strengthen our democracy and restore confidence in government by advancing additional ethics and voting reforms, including but not limited to closing the LLC loophole, restricting outside income, creating a full-time legislature, expanding financial disclosure requirements, and instituting early voting and automatic and same-day voter registration,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, a Cuomo spokesperson in an email. “We look forward to working with the Assembly and new Senate Democratic Majority to pass these critical priorities this session.”</p> <p>Most of the broad election and voting reforms that Democrats are promising are also backed by the new Fair Elections for New York coalition, comprised of 91 organizations including government reform groups, political clubs, labor unions, faith-based organizations, and grassroots advocates fighting for everything from immigration and tenant reform to environmental protections. It’s an eclectic alliance that brings together both partisan and nonpartisan groups because, they say, they recognize that strengthening New York’s democracy is the first domino in improving, on multiple fronts, the everyday lives of New Yorkers.</p> <p>“The need for an overhaul of New York’s voting and campaign financing system is apparent and well documented,” the coalition members wrote in <a href="https://fairelectionsny.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Fair-Elections-Letter.pdf">a letter sent Monday</a>, November 26, to the governor and state Legislature. “It is inherently inequitable, unfair and allows an exorbitant amount of power to be concentrated in the hands of the very few wealthy and well-connected.”</p> <p>“I think this is going to be one of the most productive sessions in the history of New York State,” State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who will be deputy majority leader to Stewart-Cousins starting in January, told Gotham Gazette after an unrelated news conference in City Hall Park.</p> <p>Still, pushing through a long list of reforms, some more controversial than others, will not be easy. There are many details to work out, and some politically contentious issues to decide, starting with whether legislators will get a pay raise for the first time in two decades, and whether there will be clear agreement on ethics reforms to accompany such a raise. While there seems to be widespread agreement on passing early voting, will partisan lawmakers take on restructuring the New York City Board of Elections, a move that would likely happen in spite of protests from local party affiliates? These are just a few of the many questions that face Democrats in state government, starting with the governor, as the 2019 session looms.</p> <p>“This isn’t just a moment that’s happening in New York State,” said Joanna Zdanys, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which is part of the Fair Elections coalition. “I think that the election this November showed that democracy reform is a major priority in jurisdictions small and larger across the country, on the local level as well as the national stage.”</p> <p><strong>Voting Reform</strong><br />Voter turnout <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8056-voter-turnout-booms-in-new-york">surged</a> in New York in both the September primary and the November general. More than 45.6 percent of registered New Yorkers cast a vote on November 6, up from 33.2 percent in 2014, largely driven by a “blue wave” of Democratic voters incensed and energized since the election of President Donald Trump. But turnout has, more often than not, been anaemic in past elections. In the 2016 presidential, for instance, New York ranked 41 out of 50 states for turnout.</p> <p>Advocates say these dismal numbers owe to “passive voter suppression” stemming from the state’s outdated voting laws. New York is one of only 13 states that do not allow early voting, and registration and party enrollment deadlines are needlessly long, all serving to limit, intentionally or not, participation in elections.</p> <p>There have been a few incremental efforts at the state and city levels to expand and protect the franchise, but larger reforms have been blocked by the Republican Senate while Democrats like Cuomo and Heastie have kept them on the backburner in terms of policies they’ve pushed to bring Senate Republicans along during annual compromises.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo also <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-executive-order-restore-voting-rights-new-yorkers-parole">signed an executive order</a> in April restoring voting rights to parolees (Those on probation were already allowed to vote). The New York City Council pushed that measure further by passing a law mandating that individuals released from city jails be given a written notice about their voting rights and a voter registration form. The Council has taken other steps as well, expanding access to interpreters at polling sites in immigrant-rich communities.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted to leave his own imprint on the voting system by launching the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/democracy.page">DemocracyNYC initiative</a>, which includes a ten-point plan to encourage more voters to register, to ease access to the polls, and to provide more transparency around lobbyist activities and civic education in city schools, among other measures.</p> <p>A larger package of reforms that advocates want and that can bring substantive change has repeatedly failed in the Senate and when Democrats take the chamber in the upcoming legislative session in January, they have pledged quick movement on seeing at least some of them through. These include automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee ballots, electronic pollbooks, shortening party (change of) enrollment deadlines (which are the longest in the country) and pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds.</p> <p>However, the first item that’s likely to pass is early voting. Ahead of state budget negotiations this year, Cuomo proposed funding an 12-day early voting program and the measure did not budge. What many see as the pressing need to implement early voting was bolstered after the Election Day debacle in New York City, where higher turnout, a complicated ballot design, bad weather, aging ballot scanning equipment and a lack of preparedness by the city BOE together created long lines at the polls and frustrated voters and elected officials. Early voting, government reformers agreed, would have preempted those issues, though turnout was not so high that the system should have buckled under conditions that did not include the weather-ballot combination. Still, early voting, which exists in more than three dozen states, is also seen as an issue of equity and fairness, giving people the opportunity to vote on multiple days, which is especially relevant for those with little control of their work schedules, among others.</p> <p>“I think there will definitely be a very clear consequential order to how things move and a clear cadence from where we sit and where the coalition sits,” Goff of Common Cause said. “Early voting is a easy no-brainer, this can easily be done in the first 30 days. We are...very optimistic that this will happen very quickly.”</p> <p><strong>Elections and Campaign Finance Reform</strong><br />Earlier this year, in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, the state Legislature passed and the governor signed the New York State Democracy Protection Act, which instituted new regulations for online political advertisements including disclosure of who purchased them and requiring the BOE to archive all online ads.</p> <p>While those were <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7623-cuomo-touts-political-ad-transparency-law-as-other-reforms-languish">lauded as important measures</a> to provide more transparency in campaign expenditures, it’s on the fundraising side that things remain opaque, and reformers say the state’s laws need substantive improvement. A significant proportion of campaign contributions flow to candidates through limited liability companies, which are not required to disclose their owners and can help individuals and corporate entities evade limits on donations (which are already far too high, many argue). The LLC loophole is, perhaps, the most derided aspect of state elections and one that both Democrats and Republicans exploit, though it has most benefited Cuomo and Senate Republicans, two entities most friendly to real estate interests, which are often behind the creation of LLCs.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Corporations shouldn’t be allowed to buy elections,” said Julissa Bisono, lead organizer at Make the Road New York, an immigrant-advocacy group and another Fair Elections coalition member. “Every year we are up in Albany fighting on housing, fighting on more funding for our schools and it’s just been really difficult to pass legislation because big corporations are contributing money to these elected officials...so that they will block legislation that would affect low income communities, and communities of color.”</p> <p>Cuomo, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2018/09/07/coming-to-grips-with-the-two-decade-deluge-of-llc-money-into-new-yorks-democracy/">the biggest beneficiary</a> of LLC donations in recent election cycles, has repeatedly vowed to close it but did not put significant political capital&nbsp;into doing so, blaming Senate Republicans for blocking the legislation. Next year, that is expected to change as the governor has made it among his top priorities and Democrats will take control of the Senate having run on the issue.</p> <p>Democratic control over both the Assembly and Senate also bolsters the odds of the state adopting a public campaign financing program, possibly similar to New York City’s voluntary program that matches small dollar donations with public funds to help level the playing field for candidates. A pilot program for the state comptroller race in 2014 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7428-four-years-later-2014-state-campaign-finance-pilot-all-but-forgotten">failed to gain any traction</a> but there has been renewed attention in this last cycle to campaign financing and how it determines not only who is elected to office but what legislation eventually makes it through the Legislature.</p> <p>“There is absolutely no excuse not to get rid of the LLC loophole and no excuse not to bring publicly financed campaigns to a vote,” said Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, in an email. Teachout unsuccessfully ran in the gubernatorial primary in 2014 and in the attorney general primary this year, both times emphasizing the need to tackle rampant corruption in state politics, starting with campaign finance reform. “If there are people out there who oppose publicly financed campaigns, we need to know now and be ready to primary them,” she added.</p> <p>There are other ways that New York can also tweak election management to encourage both turnout and efficient administration. This year, the state held two primaries, one in June for congressional races and the September primary for state races. Advocates have repeatedly pointed out that multiple primary elections both confuse voters and lead to fatigue, questioning why the state Legislature would spend more money on separate ones instead of consolidating them to be held on a single day.</p> <p>The New York City BOE’s election fiasco has also prompted calls for reforming the agency, which is funded by the city but is technically a state entity. The City Council and Mayor de Blasio have sought to improve the board’s functioning by professionalizing its staff and reducing the influence of partisan appointees, though there is little enthusiasm even among Democrats for removing the county political parties from nominating BOE commissioners. The Board is under no obligation to heed the city’s authority.</p> <p>“We see it every election day, that the board of elections is in desperate need of reform,” Gianaris said. “Once we have an elections committee chair which should be in the next couple of weeks, that should be something we focus on pretty aggressively.”</p> <p><strong>Ethics Reform</strong><br />Good government advocates are looking to the New York City Council as an exemplar of the types of reforms that the state Legislature should pass. In 2016, Council members voted to give themselves, and other city elected officials, significant pay raises. But at the same time, the Council banned almost all types of outside income for members, eliminated committee chair stipends, also known as lulus (which were open to abuse as reward and punishment and salary padding), and improved financial disclosure requirements.</p> <p>“Albany should look to all the things we’ve gotten done in the City Council over the past five years,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who previously chaired the governmental operations committee and helped lead the reform effort, “and it starts with no outside income, no more lulus, campaign finance reform...I believe that those three things would help clean up a lot of the corruption in Albany.”</p> <p>To the dismay of good government groups and activists, however, the governor and Legislature have repeatedly wrestled over ethics reform with little to show for it. Cuomo infamously came to power promising that he would clean up Albany but later shut down the Moreland Commission that he had set up to fulfil that very pledge in the face of a resistant Legislature that kept seeing its members hauled off to jail. The compromise Cuomo struck with the Legislature created the state-run Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which many have criticized for being an inefficient agency with too-close ties to the governor and legislative leaders, who appoint its members.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Democrats who ran for attorney general either called for scrapping JCOPE or restructuring it. Even Cuomo conceded, in his general election debate with Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, that he would like to see a more independent JCOPE, which oversees ethical behavior in state government. Cuomo suggested that there could be different ways its members are appointed, but did not put forth a concrete proposal.</p> <p>And though he was initially silent when the state Board of Elections proposed new rules that could curb the powers of its own enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, who investigates campaign finance wrongdoing, the governor did criticize the BOE when the rules were later approved.</p> <p>Cuomo has insisted, and reform advocates agree, that state legislators should work fulltime and that outside income should be limited or prohibited while financial disclosure requirements should be expanded. It was outside income that was central to the recent corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican.</p> <p>But the governor sought to convince the Legislature to pass those ethics reform by leveraging the work of a state commission created in 2015 to look at pay raises for state elected officials. Legislators have not received a pay bump since 1999 and Cuomo said they shouldn’t unless they approved new reforms. That commission came to a contentious end with Cuomo’s appointees <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6625-state-pay-commission-implodes-as-cuomo-appointees-effectively-kill-salary-increases">effectively killing</a> any chance of increasing compensation for legislators.</p> <p>This year, Cuomo and the Legislature again empanelled a pay raise commission through the state budget and it has already been <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/pay-raise-albany-commission-1.23487143">beset with troubles</a> over the constitutionality of its composition. But, it is set to issue binding recommendations that would go into effect unless the Legislature meets to vote them down -- in effect, lawmakers set up a system that would give them raises with their fingerprints removed. But, there is also controversy around pay raises without agreements to accompanying reforms, something legislative leaders have resisted.</p> <p>Another significant step towards accountability in Albany could happen under the attorney general’s office. During the Democratic primary, the four candidates agreed that the attorney general must be able to independently investigate state officials, which the office can currently only do in most cases after receiving a referral from the governor or another entity with that power, such as a local U.S. Attorney or even the state comptroller, in some instances. All the candidates agreed that the office should have a permanent, standing referral to do so and Attorney General-elect Letitia James has promised to immediately seek that authority after taking office. Still, it is something that then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo called for when he was in the role but has not provided since becoming governor himself.</p> <p><strong>One Charter, Two Commissions</strong><br />New York City voters overwhelmingly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8073-next-steps-for-3-city-charter-revisions-passed-election-day">approved three ballot measures</a> on November 6, which lowered campaign contribution limits, imposed term limits on community boards, and created a new civic engagement commission that will also work to improve and report on poll site interpretation services.</p> <p>But more sweeping changes may lie on the horizon. The three 2018 referenda were placed on the ballot by a Charter Revision Commission empaneled by mayoral fiat. A separate commission was created soon after through City Council legislation with appointees chosen by the mayor, the Council speaker, the public advocate, the comptroller, and the five borough presidents. That commission is taking a far more expansive look at the city’s governing document and the powers and responsibilities it delineates to the different parts of city government.</p> <p>As envisioned by Letitia James and Gale Brewer, who proposed the initial legislation, the commission could alter the structure of city government in a way that hasn’t been done since 1989 by a previous commission. “I think the Charter Revision Commission will really be the biggest place where we talk about what the functions of government are” said City Council Member Keith Powers, “how do the mayor and the City Council interact with each other, what agencies should be empowered here, how to do budgeting, things like that.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7990-elected-officials-present-broad-proposals-to-2019-charter-revision-commission">Elected Officials Present Broad Proposals to 2019 Charter Revision Commission</a>]</p> <p>The 2019 commission appears to be looking at budget and land use processes, and may also take up two prominent issues that the mayor’s commission punted on -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city">instant runoff voting</a>, also known as ranked choice voting, and setting up a system of independent redistricting of City Council districts.</p> <p><strong>Rules of the Room</strong><br />Under City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, the 51-member legislative body has passed a series of reforms and rules changes to give more power to members, create more transparency in how bills become law, and improved the internal culture of the Council. While Mark-Viverito did so through formal rules reforms, Johnson has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7726-johnson-makes-series-of-city-council-changes-but-sidelines-formal-rules-reforms">made more administrative changes</a> in keeping with some promises he made while running for speaker, though he has yet to move on others.</p> <p>Reformers say that must happen in Albany as well. Under Cuomo, the Legislature has passed eight on-time or nearly-on-time budgets, but to do so, the governor has repeatedly employed a mechanism called a “message of necessity” that allows rushed votes on massive packages of legislation with little to no public review or debate. The entire process draws the ire of some legislators and virtually all reform advocates each year.</p> <p>“We would love to see this year’s state Legislature no longer do these end of session big uglies,” Goff said, referring to the omnibus legislative package regularly passed at the end of the legislative session, “where ethics reform is crammed in at the last minute at 4 a.m. behind closed doors, and sort of gets carted out with minimal conversation and public engagement.” She hoped that the newly elected progressive Democrats, first-time legislators many of them, will help “crack some of the calcified power structure and culture in Albany.”</p> <p>Teachout argued for democratizing the Legislature, as did Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb, a reform-minded Republican.</p> <p>“We should allow for a simple majority of members to bring any bill to the floor for consideration and a vote, regardless of leadership objections,” Teachout said. “For too long, Albany is where responsibility goes to die -- electeds say they support one thing, but without a public vote, we don't know what they are saying behind closed doors.”</p> <p>Kolb drew a parallel between Democrats in the House of Representatives and in the state Senate. Both chambers returned to Democratic control in the midterms, with young, first-time electeds who are now leading calls for empowering rank-and-file members. He said term limits were necessary, for leadership and committee chairs, for that to happen. “[B]ecause that’s where power becomes basically consolidated as people get to stay in these positions for a long, long time,” he said. “We think that there should be a change to that process that would break up the monopoly of power. And of course...any statewide legislative negotiations should include the minority party in both houses of the legislature, whether it’s the budget or anything else that matters.”</p> <p>There are indication that, at least in the State Senate, there may be a culture shift. “There has been a lot of justified criticism of Albany that it’s too driven by the leadership and people don’t have a say,” Gianaris said. “We have 15 new members, I think [Majority Leader] Andrea Stewart-Cousins has made it clear that she intends to talk to all those members and make sure we have consensus on whatever we’re going to do.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article incorrectly stated that the governor and the state legislature appoint the executive director of JCOPE. They only appoint its commissioners. The article has been updated. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41505108962_8856f0a733_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo democracy protection" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo signs legislation (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The 2018 election cycle in New York laid bare the myriad failings of the state’s political system that advocates and reform-minded elected officials have long recognized. Several candidates, many in it for the first time, ran competitive races on the backs of small dollar donors while highlighting the lax campaign finance laws that allow wealthy interests to fund campaigns across the state. Corruption in government and ethics reforms were salient issues, particularly so in the gubernatorial and attorney general races. In New York City, chaotic Election Day administration brought renewed scrutiny to the long mismanaged Board of Elections as well as the state’s arcane voting and elections laws. And voters, for the first time in a long time, seemed to be paying attention to it all.</p> <p>“There is a tremendous amount of demand for democracy reforms,” said Sarah Goff, associate director at Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group. “The state Legislature has the unique opportunity, with the dramatic shift in landscape, to prove to voters that they got the message.”</p> <p>As Democrats won full control of the state Legislature and, yet again, the governorship on November 6, government reform advocates like Goff rejoiced. After years of legislative paralysis on their priorities -- aided in no small part by Republican obstructionism and abetted somewhat by lackluster Democratic commitment -- a slew of election, campaign finance, and other reforms now seem all but assured to pass in 2019 (though few are counting any chickens before they hatch).</p> <p>Democrats who overwhelmingly controlled the Assembly have been approving measures for years that would open up elections, limit the power of big money, and create more accountability in government. The party now also controls the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade and with a strong margin that is likely immune to the internal divisions that cost Democrats the chamber in the past. Democratic leaders -- Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and newly-minted Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins -- made concrete promises on the campaign trail and will no longer have any excuses for failing to follow through on professed priorities like early voting, lower individual campaign donation limits, and a public-matching campaign finance program -- among several others.</p> <p>“The Governor will continue to lead the fight to strengthen our democracy and restore confidence in government by advancing additional ethics and voting reforms, including but not limited to closing the LLC loophole, restricting outside income, creating a full-time legislature, expanding financial disclosure requirements, and instituting early voting and automatic and same-day voter registration,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, a Cuomo spokesperson in an email. “We look forward to working with the Assembly and new Senate Democratic Majority to pass these critical priorities this session.”</p> <p>Most of the broad election and voting reforms that Democrats are promising are also backed by the new Fair Elections for New York coalition, comprised of 91 organizations including government reform groups, political clubs, labor unions, faith-based organizations, and grassroots advocates fighting for everything from immigration and tenant reform to environmental protections. It’s an eclectic alliance that brings together both partisan and nonpartisan groups because, they say, they recognize that strengthening New York’s democracy is the first domino in improving, on multiple fronts, the everyday lives of New Yorkers.</p> <p>“The need for an overhaul of New York’s voting and campaign financing system is apparent and well documented,” the coalition members wrote in <a href="https://fairelectionsny.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Fair-Elections-Letter.pdf">a letter sent Monday</a>, November 26, to the governor and state Legislature. “It is inherently inequitable, unfair and allows an exorbitant amount of power to be concentrated in the hands of the very few wealthy and well-connected.”</p> <p>“I think this is going to be one of the most productive sessions in the history of New York State,” State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who will be deputy majority leader to Stewart-Cousins starting in January, told Gotham Gazette after an unrelated news conference in City Hall Park.</p> <p>Still, pushing through a long list of reforms, some more controversial than others, will not be easy. There are many details to work out, and some politically contentious issues to decide, starting with whether legislators will get a pay raise for the first time in two decades, and whether there will be clear agreement on ethics reforms to accompany such a raise. While there seems to be widespread agreement on passing early voting, will partisan lawmakers take on restructuring the New York City Board of Elections, a move that would likely happen in spite of protests from local party affiliates? These are just a few of the many questions that face Democrats in state government, starting with the governor, as the 2019 session looms.</p> <p>“This isn’t just a moment that’s happening in New York State,” said Joanna Zdanys, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which is part of the Fair Elections coalition. “I think that the election this November showed that democracy reform is a major priority in jurisdictions small and larger across the country, on the local level as well as the national stage.”</p> <p><strong>Voting Reform</strong><br />Voter turnout <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8056-voter-turnout-booms-in-new-york">surged</a> in New York in both the September primary and the November general. More than 45.6 percent of registered New Yorkers cast a vote on November 6, up from 33.2 percent in 2014, largely driven by a “blue wave” of Democratic voters incensed and energized since the election of President Donald Trump. But turnout has, more often than not, been anaemic in past elections. In the 2016 presidential, for instance, New York ranked 41 out of 50 states for turnout.</p> <p>Advocates say these dismal numbers owe to “passive voter suppression” stemming from the state’s outdated voting laws. New York is one of only 13 states that do not allow early voting, and registration and party enrollment deadlines are needlessly long, all serving to limit, intentionally or not, participation in elections.</p> <p>There have been a few incremental efforts at the state and city levels to expand and protect the franchise, but larger reforms have been blocked by the Republican Senate while Democrats like Cuomo and Heastie have kept them on the backburner in terms of policies they’ve pushed to bring Senate Republicans along during annual compromises.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo also <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-executive-order-restore-voting-rights-new-yorkers-parole">signed an executive order</a> in April restoring voting rights to parolees (Those on probation were already allowed to vote). The New York City Council pushed that measure further by passing a law mandating that individuals released from city jails be given a written notice about their voting rights and a voter registration form. The Council has taken other steps as well, expanding access to interpreters at polling sites in immigrant-rich communities.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted to leave his own imprint on the voting system by launching the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/democracy.page">DemocracyNYC initiative</a>, which includes a ten-point plan to encourage more voters to register, to ease access to the polls, and to provide more transparency around lobbyist activities and civic education in city schools, among other measures.</p> <p>A larger package of reforms that advocates want and that can bring substantive change has repeatedly failed in the Senate and when Democrats take the chamber in the upcoming legislative session in January, they have pledged quick movement on seeing at least some of them through. These include automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee ballots, electronic pollbooks, shortening party (change of) enrollment deadlines (which are the longest in the country) and pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds.</p> <p>However, the first item that’s likely to pass is early voting. Ahead of state budget negotiations this year, Cuomo proposed funding an 12-day early voting program and the measure did not budge. What many see as the pressing need to implement early voting was bolstered after the Election Day debacle in New York City, where higher turnout, a complicated ballot design, bad weather, aging ballot scanning equipment and a lack of preparedness by the city BOE together created long lines at the polls and frustrated voters and elected officials. Early voting, government reformers agreed, would have preempted those issues, though turnout was not so high that the system should have buckled under conditions that did not include the weather-ballot combination. Still, early voting, which exists in more than three dozen states, is also seen as an issue of equity and fairness, giving people the opportunity to vote on multiple days, which is especially relevant for those with little control of their work schedules, among others.</p> <p>“I think there will definitely be a very clear consequential order to how things move and a clear cadence from where we sit and where the coalition sits,” Goff of Common Cause said. “Early voting is a easy no-brainer, this can easily be done in the first 30 days. We are...very optimistic that this will happen very quickly.”</p> <p><strong>Elections and Campaign Finance Reform</strong><br />Earlier this year, in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, the state Legislature passed and the governor signed the New York State Democracy Protection Act, which instituted new regulations for online political advertisements including disclosure of who purchased them and requiring the BOE to archive all online ads.</p> <p>While those were <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7623-cuomo-touts-political-ad-transparency-law-as-other-reforms-languish">lauded as important measures</a> to provide more transparency in campaign expenditures, it’s on the fundraising side that things remain opaque, and reformers say the state’s laws need substantive improvement. A significant proportion of campaign contributions flow to candidates through limited liability companies, which are not required to disclose their owners and can help individuals and corporate entities evade limits on donations (which are already far too high, many argue). The LLC loophole is, perhaps, the most derided aspect of state elections and one that both Democrats and Republicans exploit, though it has most benefited Cuomo and Senate Republicans, two entities most friendly to real estate interests, which are often behind the creation of LLCs.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Corporations shouldn’t be allowed to buy elections,” said Julissa Bisono, lead organizer at Make the Road New York, an immigrant-advocacy group and another Fair Elections coalition member. “Every year we are up in Albany fighting on housing, fighting on more funding for our schools and it’s just been really difficult to pass legislation because big corporations are contributing money to these elected officials...so that they will block legislation that would affect low income communities, and communities of color.”</p> <p>Cuomo, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2018/09/07/coming-to-grips-with-the-two-decade-deluge-of-llc-money-into-new-yorks-democracy/">the biggest beneficiary</a> of LLC donations in recent election cycles, has repeatedly vowed to close it but did not put significant political capital&nbsp;into doing so, blaming Senate Republicans for blocking the legislation. Next year, that is expected to change as the governor has made it among his top priorities and Democrats will take control of the Senate having run on the issue.</p> <p>Democratic control over both the Assembly and Senate also bolsters the odds of the state adopting a public campaign financing program, possibly similar to New York City’s voluntary program that matches small dollar donations with public funds to help level the playing field for candidates. A pilot program for the state comptroller race in 2014 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7428-four-years-later-2014-state-campaign-finance-pilot-all-but-forgotten">failed to gain any traction</a> but there has been renewed attention in this last cycle to campaign financing and how it determines not only who is elected to office but what legislation eventually makes it through the Legislature.</p> <p>“There is absolutely no excuse not to get rid of the LLC loophole and no excuse not to bring publicly financed campaigns to a vote,” said Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, in an email. Teachout unsuccessfully ran in the gubernatorial primary in 2014 and in the attorney general primary this year, both times emphasizing the need to tackle rampant corruption in state politics, starting with campaign finance reform. “If there are people out there who oppose publicly financed campaigns, we need to know now and be ready to primary them,” she added.</p> <p>There are other ways that New York can also tweak election management to encourage both turnout and efficient administration. This year, the state held two primaries, one in June for congressional races and the September primary for state races. Advocates have repeatedly pointed out that multiple primary elections both confuse voters and lead to fatigue, questioning why the state Legislature would spend more money on separate ones instead of consolidating them to be held on a single day.</p> <p>The New York City BOE’s election fiasco has also prompted calls for reforming the agency, which is funded by the city but is technically a state entity. The City Council and Mayor de Blasio have sought to improve the board’s functioning by professionalizing its staff and reducing the influence of partisan appointees, though there is little enthusiasm even among Democrats for removing the county political parties from nominating BOE commissioners. The Board is under no obligation to heed the city’s authority.</p> <p>“We see it every election day, that the board of elections is in desperate need of reform,” Gianaris said. “Once we have an elections committee chair which should be in the next couple of weeks, that should be something we focus on pretty aggressively.”</p> <p><strong>Ethics Reform</strong><br />Good government advocates are looking to the New York City Council as an exemplar of the types of reforms that the state Legislature should pass. In 2016, Council members voted to give themselves, and other city elected officials, significant pay raises. But at the same time, the Council banned almost all types of outside income for members, eliminated committee chair stipends, also known as lulus (which were open to abuse as reward and punishment and salary padding), and improved financial disclosure requirements.</p> <p>“Albany should look to all the things we’ve gotten done in the City Council over the past five years,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who previously chaired the governmental operations committee and helped lead the reform effort, “and it starts with no outside income, no more lulus, campaign finance reform...I believe that those three things would help clean up a lot of the corruption in Albany.”</p> <p>To the dismay of good government groups and activists, however, the governor and Legislature have repeatedly wrestled over ethics reform with little to show for it. Cuomo infamously came to power promising that he would clean up Albany but later shut down the Moreland Commission that he had set up to fulfil that very pledge in the face of a resistant Legislature that kept seeing its members hauled off to jail. The compromise Cuomo struck with the Legislature created the state-run Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which many have criticized for being an inefficient agency with too-close ties to the governor and legislative leaders, who appoint its members.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Democrats who ran for attorney general either called for scrapping JCOPE or restructuring it. Even Cuomo conceded, in his general election debate with Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, that he would like to see a more independent JCOPE, which oversees ethical behavior in state government. Cuomo suggested that there could be different ways its members are appointed, but did not put forth a concrete proposal.</p> <p>And though he was initially silent when the state Board of Elections proposed new rules that could curb the powers of its own enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, who investigates campaign finance wrongdoing, the governor did criticize the BOE when the rules were later approved.</p> <p>Cuomo has insisted, and reform advocates agree, that state legislators should work fulltime and that outside income should be limited or prohibited while financial disclosure requirements should be expanded. It was outside income that was central to the recent corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican.</p> <p>But the governor sought to convince the Legislature to pass those ethics reform by leveraging the work of a state commission created in 2015 to look at pay raises for state elected officials. Legislators have not received a pay bump since 1999 and Cuomo said they shouldn’t unless they approved new reforms. That commission came to a contentious end with Cuomo’s appointees <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6625-state-pay-commission-implodes-as-cuomo-appointees-effectively-kill-salary-increases">effectively killing</a> any chance of increasing compensation for legislators.</p> <p>This year, Cuomo and the Legislature again empanelled a pay raise commission through the state budget and it has already been <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/pay-raise-albany-commission-1.23487143">beset with troubles</a> over the constitutionality of its composition. But, it is set to issue binding recommendations that would go into effect unless the Legislature meets to vote them down -- in effect, lawmakers set up a system that would give them raises with their fingerprints removed. But, there is also controversy around pay raises without agreements to accompanying reforms, something legislative leaders have resisted.</p> <p>Another significant step towards accountability in Albany could happen under the attorney general’s office. During the Democratic primary, the four candidates agreed that the attorney general must be able to independently investigate state officials, which the office can currently only do in most cases after receiving a referral from the governor or another entity with that power, such as a local U.S. Attorney or even the state comptroller, in some instances. All the candidates agreed that the office should have a permanent, standing referral to do so and Attorney General-elect Letitia James has promised to immediately seek that authority after taking office. Still, it is something that then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo called for when he was in the role but has not provided since becoming governor himself.</p> <p><strong>One Charter, Two Commissions</strong><br />New York City voters overwhelmingly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8073-next-steps-for-3-city-charter-revisions-passed-election-day">approved three ballot measures</a> on November 6, which lowered campaign contribution limits, imposed term limits on community boards, and created a new civic engagement commission that will also work to improve and report on poll site interpretation services.</p> <p>But more sweeping changes may lie on the horizon. The three 2018 referenda were placed on the ballot by a Charter Revision Commission empaneled by mayoral fiat. A separate commission was created soon after through City Council legislation with appointees chosen by the mayor, the Council speaker, the public advocate, the comptroller, and the five borough presidents. That commission is taking a far more expansive look at the city’s governing document and the powers and responsibilities it delineates to the different parts of city government.</p> <p>As envisioned by Letitia James and Gale Brewer, who proposed the initial legislation, the commission could alter the structure of city government in a way that hasn’t been done since 1989 by a previous commission. “I think the Charter Revision Commission will really be the biggest place where we talk about what the functions of government are” said City Council Member Keith Powers, “how do the mayor and the City Council interact with each other, what agencies should be empowered here, how to do budgeting, things like that.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7990-elected-officials-present-broad-proposals-to-2019-charter-revision-commission">Elected Officials Present Broad Proposals to 2019 Charter Revision Commission</a>]</p> <p>The 2019 commission appears to be looking at budget and land use processes, and may also take up two prominent issues that the mayor’s commission punted on -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city">instant runoff voting</a>, also known as ranked choice voting, and setting up a system of independent redistricting of City Council districts.</p> <p><strong>Rules of the Room</strong><br />Under City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, the 51-member legislative body has passed a series of reforms and rules changes to give more power to members, create more transparency in how bills become law, and improved the internal culture of the Council. While Mark-Viverito did so through formal rules reforms, Johnson has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7726-johnson-makes-series-of-city-council-changes-but-sidelines-formal-rules-reforms">made more administrative changes</a> in keeping with some promises he made while running for speaker, though he has yet to move on others.</p> <p>Reformers say that must happen in Albany as well. Under Cuomo, the Legislature has passed eight on-time or nearly-on-time budgets, but to do so, the governor has repeatedly employed a mechanism called a “message of necessity” that allows rushed votes on massive packages of legislation with little to no public review or debate. The entire process draws the ire of some legislators and virtually all reform advocates each year.</p> <p>“We would love to see this year’s state Legislature no longer do these end of session big uglies,” Goff said, referring to the omnibus legislative package regularly passed at the end of the legislative session, “where ethics reform is crammed in at the last minute at 4 a.m. behind closed doors, and sort of gets carted out with minimal conversation and public engagement.” She hoped that the newly elected progressive Democrats, first-time legislators many of them, will help “crack some of the calcified power structure and culture in Albany.”</p> <p>Teachout argued for democratizing the Legislature, as did Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb, a reform-minded Republican.</p> <p>“We should allow for a simple majority of members to bring any bill to the floor for consideration and a vote, regardless of leadership objections,” Teachout said. “For too long, Albany is where responsibility goes to die -- electeds say they support one thing, but without a public vote, we don't know what they are saying behind closed doors.”</p> <p>Kolb drew a parallel between Democrats in the House of Representatives and in the state Senate. Both chambers returned to Democratic control in the midterms, with young, first-time electeds who are now leading calls for empowering rank-and-file members. He said term limits were necessary, for leadership and committee chairs, for that to happen. “[B]ecause that’s where power becomes basically consolidated as people get to stay in these positions for a long, long time,” he said. “We think that there should be a change to that process that would break up the monopoly of power. And of course...any statewide legislative negotiations should include the minority party in both houses of the legislature, whether it’s the budget or anything else that matters.”</p> <p>There are indication that, at least in the State Senate, there may be a culture shift. “There has been a lot of justified criticism of Albany that it’s too driven by the leadership and people don’t have a say,” Gianaris said. “We have 15 new members, I think [Majority Leader] Andrea Stewart-Cousins has made it clear that she intends to talk to all those members and make sure we have consensus on whatever we’re going to do.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article incorrectly stated that the governor and the state legislature appoint the executive director of JCOPE. They only appoint its commissioners. The article has been updated. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
Furthering Split from Cuomo, Senate Passes Reform Bills 2018-05-09T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-09T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7666-furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/flanagan_via_nysenate.jpg" alt="flanagan via nysenate" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>Senate Majority Leader Flanagan and colleagues (photo: @nysenate)</p> <hr /> <p>The Republican-led New York State Senate, which for years had a collaborative working relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed a slew of government transparency and accountability bills on Wednesday that further highlighted the GOP majority’s recent split with the governor.</p> <p>The package of 11 bills, covering everything from campaign contributions to state contracting processes, made its way through the chamber and was sent for approval to the Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. Several of the bills have companion legislation in the Assembly and some have even been approved by that chamber. But it’s unclear how the Assembly will vote on the entire package. A spokesperson for Heastie did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Some of the bills clearly target Cuomo, particularly one directly related to the executive chamber, who has fallen out with Republicans since he ushered the reunification of a divided Democratic conference in the chamber last month and pledged a full-throated campaign to seize control of the upper chamber through the elections this fall. Other bills are intended to end the type of pay-to-play practices laid bare in the recent corruption conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, and that will likely feature heavily in the upcoming corruption trial of Alain Kaloyeros, another former Cuomo ally.</p> <p>“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” said Senator John Flanagan of Long Island, the Republican majority leader, in a statement after the legislative package was approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds and will create a system where sound investments will be better able to grow our economy and create more opportunities for all New Yorkers.”</p> <p>In an <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/05/flanagan-oped-why-were-going-to-win-in-november/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">op-ed in State of Politics</a> on Monday, Flanagan made clear his differences with Cuomo, “whose unbridled ambition for higher office leaves every New York taxpayer in danger,” he wrote. He criticized the governor for tacking hard to the left because of the primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. “For years, the Governor worked with me in a bipartisan manner to find common ground and move our state forward. But, I no longer recognize the person who occupies this office,” Flanagan said.</p> <p>Taking direct aim at the governor’s office, one of the bills passed on Wednesday would prohibit executive chamber appointees and members of their households from making campaign contributions to, or soliciting them for, the same executive who appointed them. Without naming Cuomo, the bill cites a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/24/nyregion/cuomo-fund-raising-ethics-appointees.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times report</a> that highlighted the governor’s practice of accepting such contributions despite a standing executive order from years ago that prohibited them. Cuomo’s office has presented a much narrower interpretation of the order than has been indicated in the past.</p> <p>Another bill would limit political donations from individuals or entities applying for state grants, licenses, and contracts to those officials and candidates who would approve them.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Another requires appointees to Regional Economic Development Councils -- controversial entities created by Cuomo in 2011 to encourage local economic initiatives -- to file the same financial and ethics disclosures as public officers. The bill would also codify REDCs into law. “It is vitally important that we put laws in place that prevent conflicts of interest with taxpayer dollars,” said bill sponsor Senator Thomas Croci, a Republican from Long Island.</p> <p>Croci also sponsored another bill in the package to create an online public database of projects that receive state subsidies and economic development benefits. Also known as the “database of deals,” the proposal was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget earlier this year but did not pass.</p> <p>Most of the bills relate to transparency in government contracting and ensuring greater accountability for taxpayer dollars. One of the bills, termed the “New York State Procurement Integrity Act” -- which also has an Assembly counterpart -- reinstates the state Comptroller’s pre-clearance oversight jurisdiction of contracting by SUNY, CUNY, and the state Office of General Services, as well as expands his authority over SUNY Research Foundation contracts worth more than $1 million. It also forbids state-affiliated not-for-profits from awarding state contracts without prior authorization. These bills relate directly to issues that will be front and center in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Kaloyeros trial</a>, which involves the governor’s signature economic development programs, namely the Buffalo Billion, and alleged bid-rigging therein.</p> <p>One of the bills mandates that the Public Authorities Control Board be given more information before approving funding for any job creation projects, including any provisions that would allow the state to clawback funding if the project’s stated goals aren’t met.</p> <p>The START-UP NY program, another Cuomo initiative, would have to resume reporting annually on its work under the provisions of another bill. Yet another bill creates a nonpartisan Independent Budget Office to analyze state revenue and expenditures.</p> <p>Most of the bills seem intended to curtail the powers of the executive branch and of state agencies under its control. For instance, a bill sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo would define how long, and how often, an interim appointee can serve at the head of a state agency or department. Another bill would limit the ability of state agencies to declare a public emergency unless necessary to protect the health and safety of the public.</p> <p>Only one bill had a Democrat as lead sponsor -- Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan -- mandating that the state budget division prepare a Unified Economic Development Budget each year showing how much the state has invested in economic development projects and the results of those investments. It is a measure that watchdogs, especially Citizens Budget Commission, have sought in order for the public to have more information about how successful the state’s economic development initiatives are.</p> <p>A group of government reform advocates and independent fiscal watchdogs including the CBC praised in particular the “database of deals” and the Public Integrity Act, calling on the state Assembly to approve them. That group also includes Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, Fiscal Policy Institute, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and Reinvent Albany.</p> <p>“Both these bills will be effective in reducing the corruption risk of economic development projects that taxpayers spend billions of dollars on,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany. “They’re good policy. The governor should support them.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the Senate package. The governor has proposed his own reform agenda in recent years that includes elements aimed at the Legislature, as well as more sweeping campaign finance reform, government ethics measure, and voting reforms. The governor has indicated a top priority for him is banning outside income for legislators. Most of those proposals have seen less support in the Senate than the Assembly.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Post-Percoco Conviction, Kaloyeros Trial Likely to Further Stain Cuomo Administration</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/flanagan_via_nysenate.jpg" alt="flanagan via nysenate" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>Senate Majority Leader Flanagan and colleagues (photo: @nysenate)</p> <hr /> <p>The Republican-led New York State Senate, which for years had a collaborative working relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed a slew of government transparency and accountability bills on Wednesday that further highlighted the GOP majority’s recent split with the governor.</p> <p>The package of 11 bills, covering everything from campaign contributions to state contracting processes, made its way through the chamber and was sent for approval to the Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. Several of the bills have companion legislation in the Assembly and some have even been approved by that chamber. But it’s unclear how the Assembly will vote on the entire package. A spokesperson for Heastie did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Some of the bills clearly target Cuomo, particularly one directly related to the executive chamber, who has fallen out with Republicans since he ushered the reunification of a divided Democratic conference in the chamber last month and pledged a full-throated campaign to seize control of the upper chamber through the elections this fall. Other bills are intended to end the type of pay-to-play practices laid bare in the recent corruption conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, and that will likely feature heavily in the upcoming corruption trial of Alain Kaloyeros, another former Cuomo ally.</p> <p>“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” said Senator John Flanagan of Long Island, the Republican majority leader, in a statement after the legislative package was approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds and will create a system where sound investments will be better able to grow our economy and create more opportunities for all New Yorkers.”</p> <p>In an <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/05/flanagan-oped-why-were-going-to-win-in-november/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">op-ed in State of Politics</a> on Monday, Flanagan made clear his differences with Cuomo, “whose unbridled ambition for higher office leaves every New York taxpayer in danger,” he wrote. He criticized the governor for tacking hard to the left because of the primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. “For years, the Governor worked with me in a bipartisan manner to find common ground and move our state forward. But, I no longer recognize the person who occupies this office,” Flanagan said.</p> <p>Taking direct aim at the governor’s office, one of the bills passed on Wednesday would prohibit executive chamber appointees and members of their households from making campaign contributions to, or soliciting them for, the same executive who appointed them. Without naming Cuomo, the bill cites a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/24/nyregion/cuomo-fund-raising-ethics-appointees.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times report</a> that highlighted the governor’s practice of accepting such contributions despite a standing executive order from years ago that prohibited them. Cuomo’s office has presented a much narrower interpretation of the order than has been indicated in the past.</p> <p>Another bill would limit political donations from individuals or entities applying for state grants, licenses, and contracts to those officials and candidates who would approve them.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Another requires appointees to Regional Economic Development Councils -- controversial entities created by Cuomo in 2011 to encourage local economic initiatives -- to file the same financial and ethics disclosures as public officers. The bill would also codify REDCs into law. “It is vitally important that we put laws in place that prevent conflicts of interest with taxpayer dollars,” said bill sponsor Senator Thomas Croci, a Republican from Long Island.</p> <p>Croci also sponsored another bill in the package to create an online public database of projects that receive state subsidies and economic development benefits. Also known as the “database of deals,” the proposal was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget earlier this year but did not pass.</p> <p>Most of the bills relate to transparency in government contracting and ensuring greater accountability for taxpayer dollars. One of the bills, termed the “New York State Procurement Integrity Act” -- which also has an Assembly counterpart -- reinstates the state Comptroller’s pre-clearance oversight jurisdiction of contracting by SUNY, CUNY, and the state Office of General Services, as well as expands his authority over SUNY Research Foundation contracts worth more than $1 million. It also forbids state-affiliated not-for-profits from awarding state contracts without prior authorization. These bills relate directly to issues that will be front and center in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Kaloyeros trial</a>, which involves the governor’s signature economic development programs, namely the Buffalo Billion, and alleged bid-rigging therein.</p> <p>One of the bills mandates that the Public Authorities Control Board be given more information before approving funding for any job creation projects, including any provisions that would allow the state to clawback funding if the project’s stated goals aren’t met.</p> <p>The START-UP NY program, another Cuomo initiative, would have to resume reporting annually on its work under the provisions of another bill. Yet another bill creates a nonpartisan Independent Budget Office to analyze state revenue and expenditures.</p> <p>Most of the bills seem intended to curtail the powers of the executive branch and of state agencies under its control. For instance, a bill sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo would define how long, and how often, an interim appointee can serve at the head of a state agency or department. Another bill would limit the ability of state agencies to declare a public emergency unless necessary to protect the health and safety of the public.</p> <p>Only one bill had a Democrat as lead sponsor -- Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan -- mandating that the state budget division prepare a Unified Economic Development Budget each year showing how much the state has invested in economic development projects and the results of those investments. It is a measure that watchdogs, especially Citizens Budget Commission, have sought in order for the public to have more information about how successful the state’s economic development initiatives are.</p> <p>A group of government reform advocates and independent fiscal watchdogs including the CBC praised in particular the “database of deals” and the Public Integrity Act, calling on the state Assembly to approve them. That group also includes Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, Fiscal Policy Institute, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and Reinvent Albany.</p> <p>“Both these bills will be effective in reducing the corruption risk of economic development projects that taxpayers spend billions of dollars on,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany. “They’re good policy. The governor should support them.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the Senate package. The governor has proposed his own reform agenda in recent years that includes elements aimed at the Legislature, as well as more sweeping campaign finance reform, government ethics measure, and voting reforms. The governor has indicated a top priority for him is banning outside income for legislators. Most of those proposals have seen less support in the Senate than the Assembly.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Post-Percoco Conviction, Kaloyeros Trial Likely to Further Stain Cuomo Administration</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Molinaro Outlines Initial Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform Agenda 2018-04-12T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7611-molinaro-outlines-initial-ethics-and-campaign-finance-reform-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/molinaro_speaking.jpg" alt="marc molinaro speaking" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Marc Molinaro (photo: @marcmolinaro)</p> <hr /> <p>When he formally launched his run for governor earlier this month, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said that “all New Yorkers are paying a corruption tax.” It is a tax, Molinaro explained, that is the result of both legal and illegal malfeasance, of wasteful, ineffective, and corrupt government. In his initial remarks that day, at events in Tivoli and Albany, and during multiple exchanges with journalists, Molinaro has outlined elements of a reform agenda that, he says, will help restore faith in government that has been squandered under Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>As Cuomo, a Democrat, seeks a third term this year, his former top aide was recently convicted on multiple federal corruption charges and a trial is set to begin in June that includes charges against a former top state economic development official who Cuomo empowered, as well as Cuomo campaign donors. The charges against members of Cuomo’s inner circle came amid a long-running parade of other ethical and legal violations by members of state government, including dozens of state legislators. Critics across the political spectrum attack the governor for not better cleaning up state government, as he promised to do when running for governor in 2010 and every year since.</p> <p>Molinaro, a Republican, is positioning himself as an expert in clean, effective government who will be more inclusive and accessible, and will work across the aisle, while in some instances not easily falling into typical issue stances based on party. Notably, Molinaro has indicated an interest in government ethics and campaign finance reforms that have not been popular among many Republicans in state government. There is also limited appetite among many Democrats for additional ethics reforms and some elements of campaign finance reform.</p> <p>Molinaro has said he wants to lead an overhaul of campaign finance laws, including possible closure of the LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations from entities that set up multiple limited liability corporations, and indicated he believes that only people should be able to make campaign donations, not companies, unions, or other organizations.</p> <p>A former member of the state Assembly, Molinaro has said he wants to institute term limits -- there are currently none for statewide officials or members of the state Legislature -- and has pledged to serve no more than two terms if victorious this fall and again in four years. He’s promised to “end four men in a room” decision-making, referring to the secretive closed-door negotiations that take place among the governor and legislative leaders wherein a hodgepodge of compromises are typically worked out twice a year in Albany, followed by legislators voting through major legislation without having read the bills and without any broader public review.</p> <p>And, Molinaro has said he wants tougher oversight of elected officials and new methods of allowing the public to participate in government. “We must pass tougher ethics law and enforce them by establishing a truly independent oversight ethics commission. We must implement new procurement rules and provide third party auditing.” Along with term limits, he said New York should adopt “initiative and referendum” measures, which allow the public to put items on the ballot. “Together we must redefine democracy in New York,” he said, “and make this government work for the people.”</p> <p>During <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7581-in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an interview</a> before his official campaign launch, Molinaro told Gotham Gazette, “I'd like to engage in a comprehensive reform of campaign finance.” He indicated he wants to look at “limits on contributions, where they can come from, who they can come from, plus you need to look at the reporting requirements and the need for ultimate transparency there. Then what and how campaign dollars can be spent.”</p> <p>“I m one of the people that only thinks people should be able to contribute money...those are individual rights, those rights extend to individuals.” He added that “unions have a great deal of influence, corporations have a great deal of influence, the state contribution limits are astronomically out of line to other states, independent expenditure opportunities are pretty broad in the state. There are a lot of those reforms that I think should go hand in hand.”</p> <p>He stopped short of supporting public financing of campaigns, but indicated some openness depending on strict rules for how money can be spent.</p> <p>During a recent <a href="https://www.wqxr.org/story/april-6-2018-marc-molinaro/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appearance on The Capitol Pressroom</a> with host Susan Arbetter, Molinaro talked about accountability and transparency, and “establishing procurement rules that keep elected officials from sending contracts to political donors.” He energetically attempted to convince a skeptical Arbetter, who said she’s heard these types of promises from candidates, including Cuomo, before. Molinaro criticized Cuomo’s closure of The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption and said he agreed with watchdogs calling for a “database of deals” to chronicle economic development spending and its effectiveness and renewed contract-review powers to the state Comptroller.</p> <p>He went on to say that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, JCOPE, “needs to be independent” and “I would also empower the Committee and Open Government” and its head, Bob Freeman. Saying “I love Bob Freeman,” Molinaro added that “if you don’t have a watchdog to open up the doors of government for taxpayers, then there will continue to be the secrecy that has corrupted and corroded albany.” He said he wants to make Freeman’s non-binding opinions “enforceable.”</p> <p>Talking with reporters after his launch event in Tivoli, a village where he grew up and was mayor for twelve years, starting at age 19, Molinaro said, “I had great hope, like many people, that when this governor came into office he would sweep in a new day, but what we seen over the course of the past seven years is of course the new normal. With corruption at the highest levels of state government, in fact so high it’s in the office next to his.”</p> <p>He went on to say that his campaign will include a focus on telling New Yorkers “that they deserve a government that strives to be honest, that works hard to confront the fact that we have a corrosive, invasive culture of corruption that needs to be confronted at all levels, and it starts really by example.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7581-in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument</a>]</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/molinaro_speaking.jpg" alt="marc molinaro speaking" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Marc Molinaro (photo: @marcmolinaro)</p> <hr /> <p>When he formally launched his run for governor earlier this month, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said that “all New Yorkers are paying a corruption tax.” It is a tax, Molinaro explained, that is the result of both legal and illegal malfeasance, of wasteful, ineffective, and corrupt government. In his initial remarks that day, at events in Tivoli and Albany, and during multiple exchanges with journalists, Molinaro has outlined elements of a reform agenda that, he says, will help restore faith in government that has been squandered under Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>As Cuomo, a Democrat, seeks a third term this year, his former top aide was recently convicted on multiple federal corruption charges and a trial is set to begin in June that includes charges against a former top state economic development official who Cuomo empowered, as well as Cuomo campaign donors. The charges against members of Cuomo’s inner circle came amid a long-running parade of other ethical and legal violations by members of state government, including dozens of state legislators. Critics across the political spectrum attack the governor for not better cleaning up state government, as he promised to do when running for governor in 2010 and every year since.</p> <p>Molinaro, a Republican, is positioning himself as an expert in clean, effective government who will be more inclusive and accessible, and will work across the aisle, while in some instances not easily falling into typical issue stances based on party. Notably, Molinaro has indicated an interest in government ethics and campaign finance reforms that have not been popular among many Republicans in state government. There is also limited appetite among many Democrats for additional ethics reforms and some elements of campaign finance reform.</p> <p>Molinaro has said he wants to lead an overhaul of campaign finance laws, including possible closure of the LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations from entities that set up multiple limited liability corporations, and indicated he believes that only people should be able to make campaign donations, not companies, unions, or other organizations.</p> <p>A former member of the state Assembly, Molinaro has said he wants to institute term limits -- there are currently none for statewide officials or members of the state Legislature -- and has pledged to serve no more than two terms if victorious this fall and again in four years. He’s promised to “end four men in a room” decision-making, referring to the secretive closed-door negotiations that take place among the governor and legislative leaders wherein a hodgepodge of compromises are typically worked out twice a year in Albany, followed by legislators voting through major legislation without having read the bills and without any broader public review.</p> <p>And, Molinaro has said he wants tougher oversight of elected officials and new methods of allowing the public to participate in government. “We must pass tougher ethics law and enforce them by establishing a truly independent oversight ethics commission. We must implement new procurement rules and provide third party auditing.” Along with term limits, he said New York should adopt “initiative and referendum” measures, which allow the public to put items on the ballot. “Together we must redefine democracy in New York,” he said, “and make this government work for the people.”</p> <p>During <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7581-in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an interview</a> before his official campaign launch, Molinaro told Gotham Gazette, “I'd like to engage in a comprehensive reform of campaign finance.” He indicated he wants to look at “limits on contributions, where they can come from, who they can come from, plus you need to look at the reporting requirements and the need for ultimate transparency there. Then what and how campaign dollars can be spent.”</p> <p>“I m one of the people that only thinks people should be able to contribute money...those are individual rights, those rights extend to individuals.” He added that “unions have a great deal of influence, corporations have a great deal of influence, the state contribution limits are astronomically out of line to other states, independent expenditure opportunities are pretty broad in the state. There are a lot of those reforms that I think should go hand in hand.”</p> <p>He stopped short of supporting public financing of campaigns, but indicated some openness depending on strict rules for how money can be spent.</p> <p>During a recent <a href="https://www.wqxr.org/story/april-6-2018-marc-molinaro/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appearance on The Capitol Pressroom</a> with host Susan Arbetter, Molinaro talked about accountability and transparency, and “establishing procurement rules that keep elected officials from sending contracts to political donors.” He energetically attempted to convince a skeptical Arbetter, who said she’s heard these types of promises from candidates, including Cuomo, before. Molinaro criticized Cuomo’s closure of The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption and said he agreed with watchdogs calling for a “database of deals” to chronicle economic development spending and its effectiveness and renewed contract-review powers to the state Comptroller.</p> <p>He went on to say that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, JCOPE, “needs to be independent” and “I would also empower the Committee and Open Government” and its head, Bob Freeman. Saying “I love Bob Freeman,” Molinaro added that “if you don’t have a watchdog to open up the doors of government for taxpayers, then there will continue to be the secrecy that has corrupted and corroded albany.” He said he wants to make Freeman’s non-binding opinions “enforceable.”</p> <p>Talking with reporters after his launch event in Tivoli, a village where he grew up and was mayor for twelve years, starting at age 19, Molinaro said, “I had great hope, like many people, that when this governor came into office he would sweep in a new day, but what we seen over the course of the past seven years is of course the new normal. With corruption at the highest levels of state government, in fact so high it’s in the office next to his.”</p> <p>He went on to say that his campaign will include a focus on telling New Yorkers “that they deserve a government that strives to be honest, that works hard to confront the fact that we have a corrosive, invasive culture of corruption that needs to be confronted at all levels, and it starts really by example.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7581-in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument</a>]</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Reform Groups Launch 'Restore Public Trust' Campaign 2018-01-04T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-04T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7405-reform-groups-launch-restore-public-trust-campaign Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39402901692_296107dc65_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Long Island flag" width="600" height="423" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s leading government reform groups reacted to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State agenda on Thursday in Albany, holding a press conference to urge the governor and legislative leaders to adopt a package of reforms to help restore public confidence in state government.</p> <p>Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Cuomo failed to pass any of the reforms he promised in the wake of the alleged bid-rigging schemes associated with his signature economic development programs, government ethics and contracting reform got barely a mention in Cuomo’s 92-minute Wednesday address. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7403-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state-reform-agenda-largely-repeats-past-proposals" target="_blank" rel="noopener">His 2018 policy book includes many of the same reform measures included in his 2017 version</a>, such as closure of the LLC loophole, limits on outside income for state legislators, the creation of a chief procurement officer, and expansion of the oversight of the state inspector general. Critics point out that the latter two measures would not be significant reforms given they would both be under the governor.</p> <p>Citing the six upcoming corruption trials of former high-ranking public officials that begin this month, representatives from New York Public Interest Group, Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause/NY, and League of Women Voters outlined specific actions they believe must be taken to prevent corruption and clean up state government.</p> <p>The coalition is urging state leaders to approve a package of reforms, titled “Restore the Public’s Trust,” which includes procurement reform, transparency in lump-sum budget appropriations, an end to “pay-to-play,” closure of the LLC Loophole, strict limits on outside income for legislators, and the empowerment of “independent, effective, well-resourced” watchdog agencies.</p> <p>The courtroom dramas that are bound to cast a shadow over this legislative session touch on both the executive and legislative branches, as well as state and local government. Two of the trials directly touch Gov. Cuomo’s inner circle of aides, allies, and donors, while the two former legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, will be retried after their corruption convictions were overturned due to a new Supreme Court ruling.</p> <p>The trial of Joseph Percoco, former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Cuomo, is scheduled to begin January 22; former State Senator George Maziarz’s trial will start February 5; former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano will be tried beginning March 12, and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros’ trial is set to begin May 15.</p> <p>“Pay-to-play is a major issue in New York State because of lump sum appropriations in the budget and because of a lack of transparency in the procurement process,” said Jennifer Wilson of League of Women Voters at Thursday’s news conference. “In 2016, we learned that a lot of the RFPs in Buffalo Billion were people who gave huge donations to the governor. Other states have pay to play laws; we can’t allow that in New York State.</p> <p>Especially pointing to the Silver and Skelos sagas, the civic groups are calling on legislative leaders to act.</p> <p>“LLCs loom large in the Skelos and Silver cases,” said NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner. “Glenwood Management pumped in more than $10 million into campaign contributions.”</p> <p>“The Senate has to be brought along; there’s no way around it,” Horner said, referring to the fact that campaign finance reforms are more popular in the Democrat-led Assembly than the Republican-led Senate.</p> <p>The cases the groups mentioned are just the latest in a seemingly endless barrage of corruption scandals plaguing state and local government, earning New York its reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the nation. At least 33 legislators have left office since 2000 due to corruption-related issues.</p> <p>Good government groups have been pushing for some of these measures for years, and to some might sound like a broken record, as state Senate leadership has continued to block campaign finance reform and the governor has opposed the type of procurement reform being called for by the groups, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and others. But after last session, good government leaders say there have been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7007-with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal" target="_blank" rel="noopener">some encouraging signs</a> on the transparency front, citing legislation from Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, that progressed through the finance committee, but ultimately did not make it to the floor of the Senate.<br /><br />“Last year we saw some movement on the clean contracting bill from the Comptroller, and on the database of deals, and the governor’s put forth his proposal on prohibiting vendors from making campaign contributions during the bidding process,” said Alex Camarda, of ReInvent Albany.</p> <ul> <li>As presented by the groups, the Restore Public Trust agenda, which they say will be the basis of a “campaign,” includes:<br />Clean Contracting. Basic accountability measures that would result in an open, ethical, and efficient way to award government contracts appropriations, an area which was identified as a key problem in the indictments of the governor’s top aides.</li> <li>Real Budget Transparency. Make lump-sum budget appropriations and the resulting expenditures fully transparent.</li> <li>Ban “Pay to Play.” Strict “pay to play” restrictions on state vendors. The U.S. Attorney’s charges that $800m in state contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors to the governor underscores the need to strictly limit contributions from those seeking state contracts.</li> <li>Close the “LLC Loophole.” Current practice allows essentially unlimited campaign contributions via Limited Liability Companies. LLCs have been at the heart of some of Albany’s largest scandals.</li> <li>Strict Limits on Outside Income. Real limits on the outside income for legislators and the executive branch. Moonlighting by top legislative leaders and top members of the executive branch has triggered indictments by the federal prosecutors.</li> <li>Effective Watchdogs. Truly independent, effective, well-resourced, ethics enforcement agencies are needed (e.g. JCOPE, SBOE, ABO).</li> </ul> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39402901692_296107dc65_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Long Island flag" width="600" height="423" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s leading government reform groups reacted to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State agenda on Thursday in Albany, holding a press conference to urge the governor and legislative leaders to adopt a package of reforms to help restore public confidence in state government.</p> <p>Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Cuomo failed to pass any of the reforms he promised in the wake of the alleged bid-rigging schemes associated with his signature economic development programs, government ethics and contracting reform got barely a mention in Cuomo’s 92-minute Wednesday address. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7403-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state-reform-agenda-largely-repeats-past-proposals" target="_blank" rel="noopener">His 2018 policy book includes many of the same reform measures included in his 2017 version</a>, such as closure of the LLC loophole, limits on outside income for state legislators, the creation of a chief procurement officer, and expansion of the oversight of the state inspector general. Critics point out that the latter two measures would not be significant reforms given they would both be under the governor.</p> <p>Citing the six upcoming corruption trials of former high-ranking public officials that begin this month, representatives from New York Public Interest Group, Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause/NY, and League of Women Voters outlined specific actions they believe must be taken to prevent corruption and clean up state government.</p> <p>The coalition is urging state leaders to approve a package of reforms, titled “Restore the Public’s Trust,” which includes procurement reform, transparency in lump-sum budget appropriations, an end to “pay-to-play,” closure of the LLC Loophole, strict limits on outside income for legislators, and the empowerment of “independent, effective, well-resourced” watchdog agencies.</p> <p>The courtroom dramas that are bound to cast a shadow over this legislative session touch on both the executive and legislative branches, as well as state and local government. Two of the trials directly touch Gov. Cuomo’s inner circle of aides, allies, and donors, while the two former legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, will be retried after their corruption convictions were overturned due to a new Supreme Court ruling.</p> <p>The trial of Joseph Percoco, former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Cuomo, is scheduled to begin January 22; former State Senator George Maziarz’s trial will start February 5; former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano will be tried beginning March 12, and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros’ trial is set to begin May 15.</p> <p>“Pay-to-play is a major issue in New York State because of lump sum appropriations in the budget and because of a lack of transparency in the procurement process,” said Jennifer Wilson of League of Women Voters at Thursday’s news conference. “In 2016, we learned that a lot of the RFPs in Buffalo Billion were people who gave huge donations to the governor. Other states have pay to play laws; we can’t allow that in New York State.</p> <p>Especially pointing to the Silver and Skelos sagas, the civic groups are calling on legislative leaders to act.</p> <p>“LLCs loom large in the Skelos and Silver cases,” said NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner. “Glenwood Management pumped in more than $10 million into campaign contributions.”</p> <p>“The Senate has to be brought along; there’s no way around it,” Horner said, referring to the fact that campaign finance reforms are more popular in the Democrat-led Assembly than the Republican-led Senate.</p> <p>The cases the groups mentioned are just the latest in a seemingly endless barrage of corruption scandals plaguing state and local government, earning New York its reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the nation. At least 33 legislators have left office since 2000 due to corruption-related issues.</p> <p>Good government groups have been pushing for some of these measures for years, and to some might sound like a broken record, as state Senate leadership has continued to block campaign finance reform and the governor has opposed the type of procurement reform being called for by the groups, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and others. But after last session, good government leaders say there have been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7007-with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal" target="_blank" rel="noopener">some encouraging signs</a> on the transparency front, citing legislation from Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, that progressed through the finance committee, but ultimately did not make it to the floor of the Senate.<br /><br />“Last year we saw some movement on the clean contracting bill from the Comptroller, and on the database of deals, and the governor’s put forth his proposal on prohibiting vendors from making campaign contributions during the bidding process,” said Alex Camarda, of ReInvent Albany.</p> <ul> <li>As presented by the groups, the Restore Public Trust agenda, which they say will be the basis of a “campaign,” includes:<br />Clean Contracting. Basic accountability measures that would result in an open, ethical, and efficient way to award government contracts appropriations, an area which was identified as a key problem in the indictments of the governor’s top aides.</li> <li>Real Budget Transparency. Make lump-sum budget appropriations and the resulting expenditures fully transparent.</li> <li>Ban “Pay to Play.” Strict “pay to play” restrictions on state vendors. The U.S. Attorney’s charges that $800m in state contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors to the governor underscores the need to strictly limit contributions from those seeking state contracts.</li> <li>Close the “LLC Loophole.” Current practice allows essentially unlimited campaign contributions via Limited Liability Companies. LLCs have been at the heart of some of Albany’s largest scandals.</li> <li>Strict Limits on Outside Income. Real limits on the outside income for legislators and the executive branch. Moonlighting by top legislative leaders and top members of the executive branch has triggered indictments by the federal prosecutors.</li> <li>Effective Watchdogs. Truly independent, effective, well-resourced, ethics enforcement agencies are needed (e.g. JCOPE, SBOE, ABO).</li> </ul> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Focused on Fighting Trump, is Schneiderman Looking Away from Albany Reform? 2017-06-27T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7035-focused-on-fighting-trump-schneiderman-looks-away-from-albany-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/ag_schneiderman_via_schneiderman.jpg" alt="ag schneiderman via schneiderman" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>AG Eric Schneiderman (photo: @Schneiderman)</p> <hr /> <p>New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has quickly become one of President Donald Trump’s leading opponents, using the levers of his office to litigate against Trump’s policies, and has put New York at the forefront of efforts to resist the new Republican administration’s agenda.</p> <p>Speaking at a Tuesday breakfast event hosted by the Association For A Better New York (ABNY), Schneiderman, a second-term Democrat, discussed his role in the Trump era, which has made his focus much more on Washington, D.C. than Albany, New York, the state capital where Schneiderman has worked as a state senator and sought reforms to the state’s election and government ethics laws.</p> <p>The focus of the ABNY event Tuesday morning was Schneiderman’s approach to Trump. The attorney general emphasized New York’s fundamental principle of openness and reiterated his pledge to fight President Trump’s travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries. “New York values of mutual respect, pluralism, and common sense are more important than ever,” he said to a room of around 250 people at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. “As long as I am your Attorney General, I promise to do everything I can to stand up for those values and defend all the people I represent &nbsp;in the challenges we face together.”</p> <p>He also described his approach toward the legislation that seeks to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which may soon receive a vote in the U.S. Senate. “If the version of the health care bill proposed last week ever becomes law, I’ve promised to go to court to challenge it – and protect New Yorkers from these wrongheaded and unconstitutional provisions,” he said.</p> <p>In a lighthearted moment, Schneiderman described the experience of quarreling with Trump over the years, even before Trump ran for President. In 2013, Schneiderman filed suit against the real estate mogul for his fraudulent for-profit college Trump University. The president settled in 2016 for $25 million.</p> <p>Schneiderman noted he has learned to ignore Twitter, a favored Trump medium that the president has long-used to attack Schneiderman and others, and how Trump consistently pulls out all the stops against people when he feels threatened by them. Schneiderman read aloud a few insulting <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/482153112279724032" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tweets</a> that Trump has sent about him over the years. The attorney general also recalled when the New York Observer, owned by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, published a cover depicting Schneiderman as “Clockwork Eric,” likening him to the 1971 movie “A Clockwork Orange” character Alex DeLarge, who is a violent rapist. The paper published an accompanying <a href="http://observer.com/2014/02/the-politics-and-power-of-a-g-schneiderman/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feature</a> on Schneiderman that accused him of “political opportunism,” “vindictiveness,” and cast doubt on his investigation into Trump.</p> <p>When he did mention more local state affairs, Schneiderman cited passage of legislation to end the so-called gun show loophole and development of a drug tracking system, along with changing his office’s mentality. “Consistent with my goal of keeping New York competitive, we have shifted the culture of our office by making it clear that lawyers on my team don’t just get credit for catching bad guys; they also get credit for helping good guys,” said Schneiderman, who succeeded Governor Andrew Cuomo as attorney general.</p> <p>State government was a distant second to national matters as they relate to New York, in keeping with the event’s intended purpose. The media advisory announcing the event stated Schneiderman was expected to “discuss his work fighting Trump Administration policies that he believes threaten New Yorkers and the rule of law. Attorney General Schneiderman will detail his office’s efforts on both fronts and articulate his priorities for the future in the fight to defend New York.”</p> <p>While it made sense for Schneiderman to omit state government ethics and voting reform from his remarks, the attorney general was holding his first public speaking event since the end of the scheduled legislative session in Albany, which included none of the reforms Schneiderman has proposed. Tuesday’s event was representative of a shift in focus by Schneiderman away from state reforms and toward taking on federal government policies with the aim of fighting for New Yorkers against a new presidential administration and Republican-controlled Congress.&nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Attorney General Schneiderman disputed this observation. “He can walk and chew gum at the same time, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing,” wrote Amy Spitalnick, the Schneiderman spokesperson, in an email to Gotham Gazette. But, while Schneiderman does oversee a large and busy office, the attorney general has been quiet regarding state reforms in recent months as major decisions are made in the state capital. Schneiderman's office explained that representatives from the AG's office have met with legislative leaders, relevant committee chairs, and advocates about Schneiderman's proposals.</p> <p>A review of Schneiderman’s May and June <a href="https://ag.ny.gov/press-releases" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">press releases</a> show that as the legislative year in Albany headed toward underwhelmingly conclusion, the attorney general spoke out against President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords; filed suit against Trump regarding energy efficiency standards; challenged the EPA on toxic pesticides; criticized Secretary of Education Betsy Devos over discontinuing student loan forgiveness policies; announced opposition to potential regulatory rollback in Senate legislation; voiced concern over infringement upon New Yorker’s contraceptive rights by Trump administration policies; and reaffirmed New York’s commitment to protecting so-called sanctuary city statuses; along with other pushbacks against policies originating in Washington.</p> <p>Schneiderman’s main public efforts have been to, as he sees it, protect New Yorkers from the new president’s policies, many of which he believes threaten New Yorkers rights and needed services. Schneiderman was the subject of profiles in major outlets such as Politico and New York Magazine, both focused on his efforts against Trump. Meanwhile, Schneiderman hired Revolution Messaging, Senator Bernie Sanders’ digital consulting group in April , to work on his political team -- the AG is expected to seek a third term in 2018, but is also regarded as a certain gubernatorial candidate when Cuomo is no longer in the picture.</p> <p>But the attorney general’s office insists that Schneiderman has been attentive to Albany-related efforts. “Anyone who follows the AG’s work knows he’s been very engaged in the fight for voting and ethics reform, including proposing his own legislative packages on both issues,” the Spitalnick wrote. “That’s in addition to his push to strengthen tenant protections, protect cost-free access to birth control, and more.”</p> <p>While he has been quiet on both recently, Schneiderman has pushed election and government ethics reforms. In February, he introduced the New York Votes Act, a bill that would institute automatic and same-day voting registration along with early voting. On ethics reform for the scandal-plagued state government, in May 2015 Schneiderman introduced legislation that would give investigatory powers to the attorney general to prosecute corruption by officeholders, ban lawmakers from receiving outside income, and make campaign donation laws more restrictive. None of Schneiderman’s proposals on these two fronts have made it into law, opposed at various turns by the powers that be in Albany, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic majority in the Assembly, and the Republican-led majority in the Senate.</p> <p>Asked for recent examples of how Schneiderman has pushed his electoral and ethics proposals, or for any plans to get them moving, the AG’s office pointed to examples in the more distant past. Schneiderman does not appear to have held a public event, issued a press release, or written an op-ed on either voting or ethics reform since February, when he released his electoral reform package. The state budget was passed in early April and the scheduled legislative session ended last week, both without any of these reforms.</p> <p>Speaking with reporters following his Tuesday ABNY speech, the attorney general said the legislative session ending without ethics reform was a missed opportunity. “I think that it is essential that the state government show an ability to, and a willingness to, reform,” he said in response to a question from Gotham Gazette. “Otherwise, we're just going to have more scandals and a further erosion of public confidence.”</p> <p>“The willingness to get it done is there and I think there is an unfortunate tendency to cling to the status quo,” he added, though he did not cite evidence of the existence of any “willingness” and his spokesperson did not explain what he meant when asked in a follow-up email.</p> <p>Corruption has plagued New York’s capital for years, with legislator after legislator removed from office because of ethical scandal. Recently, former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were convicted separately on public corruption charges. Not long after that, charges were announced against nine associates of and donors to Gov. Cuomo in a massive alleged bid-rigging scandal. In September 2016, Schneiderman’s office <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/nyregion/cuomo-former-aides-charges.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">brought charges </a>against two former Cuomo aides along with state official Alain Kaloyeros as part of that scandal. In March, Schneiderman’s office also <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/23/nyregion/robert-ortt-george-maziarz.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">charged</a> state Senator Robert Ortt and former state Senator George Maziarz for embezzling funds, though the charges against Ortt were dismissed by a judge on Tuesday.</p> <p>Despite months of inaction on election and ethics reforms in Albany, Schneiderman said Tuesday he is hopeful. “I do really believe that we are at a point where the public is demanding reform and there are enough legislators who get the need and are willing to get a step towards it,” he said in the gaggle. “So I think that's something which should be coming.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/ag_schneiderman_via_schneiderman.jpg" alt="ag schneiderman via schneiderman" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>AG Eric Schneiderman (photo: @Schneiderman)</p> <hr /> <p>New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has quickly become one of President Donald Trump’s leading opponents, using the levers of his office to litigate against Trump’s policies, and has put New York at the forefront of efforts to resist the new Republican administration’s agenda.</p> <p>Speaking at a Tuesday breakfast event hosted by the Association For A Better New York (ABNY), Schneiderman, a second-term Democrat, discussed his role in the Trump era, which has made his focus much more on Washington, D.C. than Albany, New York, the state capital where Schneiderman has worked as a state senator and sought reforms to the state’s election and government ethics laws.</p> <p>The focus of the ABNY event Tuesday morning was Schneiderman’s approach to Trump. The attorney general emphasized New York’s fundamental principle of openness and reiterated his pledge to fight President Trump’s travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries. “New York values of mutual respect, pluralism, and common sense are more important than ever,” he said to a room of around 250 people at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. “As long as I am your Attorney General, I promise to do everything I can to stand up for those values and defend all the people I represent &nbsp;in the challenges we face together.”</p> <p>He also described his approach toward the legislation that seeks to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which may soon receive a vote in the U.S. Senate. “If the version of the health care bill proposed last week ever becomes law, I’ve promised to go to court to challenge it – and protect New Yorkers from these wrongheaded and unconstitutional provisions,” he said.</p> <p>In a lighthearted moment, Schneiderman described the experience of quarreling with Trump over the years, even before Trump ran for President. In 2013, Schneiderman filed suit against the real estate mogul for his fraudulent for-profit college Trump University. The president settled in 2016 for $25 million.</p> <p>Schneiderman noted he has learned to ignore Twitter, a favored Trump medium that the president has long-used to attack Schneiderman and others, and how Trump consistently pulls out all the stops against people when he feels threatened by them. Schneiderman read aloud a few insulting <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/482153112279724032" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tweets</a> that Trump has sent about him over the years. The attorney general also recalled when the New York Observer, owned by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, published a cover depicting Schneiderman as “Clockwork Eric,” likening him to the 1971 movie “A Clockwork Orange” character Alex DeLarge, who is a violent rapist. The paper published an accompanying <a href="http://observer.com/2014/02/the-politics-and-power-of-a-g-schneiderman/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feature</a> on Schneiderman that accused him of “political opportunism,” “vindictiveness,” and cast doubt on his investigation into Trump.</p> <p>When he did mention more local state affairs, Schneiderman cited passage of legislation to end the so-called gun show loophole and development of a drug tracking system, along with changing his office’s mentality. “Consistent with my goal of keeping New York competitive, we have shifted the culture of our office by making it clear that lawyers on my team don’t just get credit for catching bad guys; they also get credit for helping good guys,” said Schneiderman, who succeeded Governor Andrew Cuomo as attorney general.</p> <p>State government was a distant second to national matters as they relate to New York, in keeping with the event’s intended purpose. The media advisory announcing the event stated Schneiderman was expected to “discuss his work fighting Trump Administration policies that he believes threaten New Yorkers and the rule of law. Attorney General Schneiderman will detail his office’s efforts on both fronts and articulate his priorities for the future in the fight to defend New York.”</p> <p>While it made sense for Schneiderman to omit state government ethics and voting reform from his remarks, the attorney general was holding his first public speaking event since the end of the scheduled legislative session in Albany, which included none of the reforms Schneiderman has proposed. Tuesday’s event was representative of a shift in focus by Schneiderman away from state reforms and toward taking on federal government policies with the aim of fighting for New Yorkers against a new presidential administration and Republican-controlled Congress.&nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Attorney General Schneiderman disputed this observation. “He can walk and chew gum at the same time, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing,” wrote Amy Spitalnick, the Schneiderman spokesperson, in an email to Gotham Gazette. But, while Schneiderman does oversee a large and busy office, the attorney general has been quiet regarding state reforms in recent months as major decisions are made in the state capital. Schneiderman's office explained that representatives from the AG's office have met with legislative leaders, relevant committee chairs, and advocates about Schneiderman's proposals.</p> <p>A review of Schneiderman’s May and June <a href="https://ag.ny.gov/press-releases" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">press releases</a> show that as the legislative year in Albany headed toward underwhelmingly conclusion, the attorney general spoke out against President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords; filed suit against Trump regarding energy efficiency standards; challenged the EPA on toxic pesticides; criticized Secretary of Education Betsy Devos over discontinuing student loan forgiveness policies; announced opposition to potential regulatory rollback in Senate legislation; voiced concern over infringement upon New Yorker’s contraceptive rights by Trump administration policies; and reaffirmed New York’s commitment to protecting so-called sanctuary city statuses; along with other pushbacks against policies originating in Washington.</p> <p>Schneiderman’s main public efforts have been to, as he sees it, protect New Yorkers from the new president’s policies, many of which he believes threaten New Yorkers rights and needed services. Schneiderman was the subject of profiles in major outlets such as Politico and New York Magazine, both focused on his efforts against Trump. Meanwhile, Schneiderman hired Revolution Messaging, Senator Bernie Sanders’ digital consulting group in April , to work on his political team -- the AG is expected to seek a third term in 2018, but is also regarded as a certain gubernatorial candidate when Cuomo is no longer in the picture.</p> <p>But the attorney general’s office insists that Schneiderman has been attentive to Albany-related efforts. “Anyone who follows the AG’s work knows he’s been very engaged in the fight for voting and ethics reform, including proposing his own legislative packages on both issues,” the Spitalnick wrote. “That’s in addition to his push to strengthen tenant protections, protect cost-free access to birth control, and more.”</p> <p>While he has been quiet on both recently, Schneiderman has pushed election and government ethics reforms. In February, he introduced the New York Votes Act, a bill that would institute automatic and same-day voting registration along with early voting. On ethics reform for the scandal-plagued state government, in May 2015 Schneiderman introduced legislation that would give investigatory powers to the attorney general to prosecute corruption by officeholders, ban lawmakers from receiving outside income, and make campaign donation laws more restrictive. None of Schneiderman’s proposals on these two fronts have made it into law, opposed at various turns by the powers that be in Albany, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic majority in the Assembly, and the Republican-led majority in the Senate.</p> <p>Asked for recent examples of how Schneiderman has pushed his electoral and ethics proposals, or for any plans to get them moving, the AG’s office pointed to examples in the more distant past. Schneiderman does not appear to have held a public event, issued a press release, or written an op-ed on either voting or ethics reform since February, when he released his electoral reform package. The state budget was passed in early April and the scheduled legislative session ended last week, both without any of these reforms.</p> <p>Speaking with reporters following his Tuesday ABNY speech, the attorney general said the legislative session ending without ethics reform was a missed opportunity. “I think that it is essential that the state government show an ability to, and a willingness to, reform,” he said in response to a question from Gotham Gazette. “Otherwise, we're just going to have more scandals and a further erosion of public confidence.”</p> <p>“The willingness to get it done is there and I think there is an unfortunate tendency to cling to the status quo,” he added, though he did not cite evidence of the existence of any “willingness” and his spokesperson did not explain what he meant when asked in a follow-up email.</p> <p>Corruption has plagued New York’s capital for years, with legislator after legislator removed from office because of ethical scandal. Recently, former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were convicted separately on public corruption charges. Not long after that, charges were announced against nine associates of and donors to Gov. Cuomo in a massive alleged bid-rigging scandal. In September 2016, Schneiderman’s office <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/nyregion/cuomo-former-aides-charges.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">brought charges </a>against two former Cuomo aides along with state official Alain Kaloyeros as part of that scandal. In March, Schneiderman’s office also <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/23/nyregion/robert-ortt-george-maziarz.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">charged</a> state Senator Robert Ortt and former state Senator George Maziarz for embezzling funds, though the charges against Ortt were dismissed by a judge on Tuesday.</p> <p>Despite months of inaction on election and ethics reforms in Albany, Schneiderman said Tuesday he is hopeful. “I do really believe that we are at a point where the public is demanding reform and there are enough legislators who get the need and are willing to get a step towards it,” he said in the gaggle. “So I think that's something which should be coming.”</p> <p> </p> Will Latest Indictment Give New Life to Ethics Reform in Albany? Don’t Bet On It 2017-03-23T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-23T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6829-will-latest-indictment-give-new-life-to-ethics-reform-in-albany-don-t-bet-on-it Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rob_ort.jpg" alt="rob ortt" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>State Sen. Rob Ortt (photo: @SenatorOrtt)</p> <hr /> <p>Corruption charges brought against a member of the state Senate Republican majority Wednesday have provided an opportunity for Democrats to jumpstart the seemingly dormant conversation on government ethics as state budget negotiations enter their final week.</p> <p>Senator Rob Ortt, of Niagara County, pleaded not guilty in Albany County Court Thursday morning, following his indictment on three felony counts of filing a false instrument, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/23/ortt-pleads-not-guilty-three-felony-counts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to reports</a>. For state government, this is just the latest scandal in an unrelenting stream of misconduct cases brought against members of both legislative houses on both sides of the political aisle, as well as individuals from and associated with the executive branch.</p> <p>More than 30 current or former New York state lawmakers have been convicted of crimes or accused of wrongdoing over the last decade, according to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/07/23/nyregion/23moreland-commission-and-new-york-political-scandals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a New York Times tally</a>.</p> <p>The charges against Ortt, who maintains his innocence, come as legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo face an April 1 deadline for a new budget. They also add a new dynamic to the miniscule difference that accounts for party control in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a bare majority and Democrats are divided among themselves.</p> <p>The Senate’s mainline Democrats, eager to regain control of the house, quickly jumped on this latest scandal as an opportunity to once again push for ethics reform, something that leaders of the majority conferences and the governor have shown reluctance in addressing this year. Cuomo laid out an ambitious reform agenda in January, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has done nothing to promote it publicly since</a>.</p> <p>“Once again this highlights the need for real ethics reforms, something the Senate Democrats have been calling on for years, and really shows the absurdity that there has been no talk in this budget process of cleaning up Albany and passing the strong ethics reforms,” said Senate Democratic Conference communications director Mike Murphy in a statement.</p> <p>Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s probe of election fraud in Niagara County found that Ortt’s wife held a no-show job, allegedly in order to offset a $5,000 salary reduction in Ortt’s previous capacity as Mayor of North Tonawanda, according to the charges.</p> <p>A defiant Ortt denied the allegations to reporters after a court appearance Thursday with his lawyer Steve Coffey. “I am not guilty. I am not resigning. I believe I will be exonerated and vindicated,” said Ortt.</p> <p>Ortt and his attorney both maintain that the indictment brought by the attorney general’s office is politically motivated, a charge denied by Schneiderman.</p> <p>The Niagara County case was referred to Schneiderman by the state Board of Elections, a bipartisan agency. Schneiderman, a Democrat and former state senator, has prosecuted cases involving Democrats like former Senator Shirley Huntley of Queens, New York City Council Member Ruben Wills, and Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon, as well as Republicans.</p> <p>Additional charges related to the probe were brought against Ortt’s predecessor, former Senator George Maziarz, also a Republican, who is alleged to have “orchestrated a multilayered pass-through scheme that enabled him to use money from his own campaign committee” as well as the from the Niagara County Republican Committee, “to funnel secret campaign payments to a former senate staffer who had left government service amid charges of sexual harassment,” according to the Attorney General’s Office.</p> <p>“No-show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials — not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust — and we will hold those responsible to account.”</p> <p>Maziarz, who also pleaded not guilty Thursday, was charged with five felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing. If convicted, both Ortt and Maziarz face maximum sentences of one and a third to four years on each count.</p> <p>Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, in an appearance with reporters, stood behind Ortt, saying he was confident in the judicial system and that he would not expect his colleague to resign.</p> <p>“I’m going to continue to work with Rob, I’m sure he’s going to be back here tomorrow. The primary thing that he’s concerned about and I am concerned with is getting the budget done in a timely fashion,” said Flanagan.</p> <p>Typically, leaders of majority legislative conferences are resistant to increased oversight and transparency measures, as well as limitations on outside income or campaign contributions, while members of the minority conferences are for more reform. In the Legislature’s one-house budget resolutions, voted through last week, the Senate and Assembly presented ethics reform plans that were not particularly aligned. Notably, the Assembly’s resolution included more support for reform, including provisions for early and automatic voting, restrictions on use of campaign housekeeping accounts, and closure of the LLC loophole, which allows lawmakers to benefit from nearly unlimited and opaque campaign contributions.</p> <p>The resolutions are meant to serve as guiding documents during budget negotiations, which occur among the “three men in a room” -- in this case, Governor Cuomo, Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and, this year, a fourth man, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has been mostly silent on ethics</a> since introducing his wide-ranging plan for reform during his State of the State, which touched on campaign finance reform, increased contract oversight, and electoral reform. At a press conference earlier this week, Cuomo, who wields significant leverage over priorities addressed in budget talks, said policy matters, such as voting and ethics reforms, would likely be tackled after the budget was delivered.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo said in response to a question from a WNYC reporter. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about, we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>"[I]t’s hard to believe that charges against one senator and one former senator will move the needle when convictions against the former leader of the Senate and the former speaker of the Assembly didn’t,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG about the prospects of the latest indictments leading to reform.&nbsp;"It does remind everybody about how bad things are in Albany, that they have not really solved the problem," Horner said.</p> <p>Senate Republicans have opposed closure of the LLC loophole, which good government groups argue makes lawmakers particularly susceptible to pay-to-play politics. Earlier this week, when asked about calls from good government to include significant ethics reform in the state budget, Flanagan pointed to the Legislature’s moves to increase transparency.</p> <p>“I would say that the good government advocates have not been looking at what we’ve done in the past six years,” Flanagan said. “We have more transparency and more disclosure measures for elected officials than any other state in the country.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said that the increased transparency measures are good, but only meaningful campaign finance reform will stem the flow of corruption in Albany.</p> <p>“Transparency is the first step you take in the long road towards clean government,” said Kaehny. “The crucial steps that have to happen are restrictions on unlimited political giving, in particular, closing the LLC loophole and housekeeping accounts. Otherwise there’s just a gusher of money pouring in.”</p> <p>But will the latest indictment drive the Legislature to overhaul its laws? “I think that’s pretty unlikely,” said Kaehny.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rob_ort.jpg" alt="rob ortt" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>State Sen. Rob Ortt (photo: @SenatorOrtt)</p> <hr /> <p>Corruption charges brought against a member of the state Senate Republican majority Wednesday have provided an opportunity for Democrats to jumpstart the seemingly dormant conversation on government ethics as state budget negotiations enter their final week.</p> <p>Senator Rob Ortt, of Niagara County, pleaded not guilty in Albany County Court Thursday morning, following his indictment on three felony counts of filing a false instrument, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/23/ortt-pleads-not-guilty-three-felony-counts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to reports</a>. For state government, this is just the latest scandal in an unrelenting stream of misconduct cases brought against members of both legislative houses on both sides of the political aisle, as well as individuals from and associated with the executive branch.</p> <p>More than 30 current or former New York state lawmakers have been convicted of crimes or accused of wrongdoing over the last decade, according to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/07/23/nyregion/23moreland-commission-and-new-york-political-scandals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a New York Times tally</a>.</p> <p>The charges against Ortt, who maintains his innocence, come as legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo face an April 1 deadline for a new budget. They also add a new dynamic to the miniscule difference that accounts for party control in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a bare majority and Democrats are divided among themselves.</p> <p>The Senate’s mainline Democrats, eager to regain control of the house, quickly jumped on this latest scandal as an opportunity to once again push for ethics reform, something that leaders of the majority conferences and the governor have shown reluctance in addressing this year. Cuomo laid out an ambitious reform agenda in January, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has done nothing to promote it publicly since</a>.</p> <p>“Once again this highlights the need for real ethics reforms, something the Senate Democrats have been calling on for years, and really shows the absurdity that there has been no talk in this budget process of cleaning up Albany and passing the strong ethics reforms,” said Senate Democratic Conference communications director Mike Murphy in a statement.</p> <p>Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s probe of election fraud in Niagara County found that Ortt’s wife held a no-show job, allegedly in order to offset a $5,000 salary reduction in Ortt’s previous capacity as Mayor of North Tonawanda, according to the charges.</p> <p>A defiant Ortt denied the allegations to reporters after a court appearance Thursday with his lawyer Steve Coffey. “I am not guilty. I am not resigning. I believe I will be exonerated and vindicated,” said Ortt.</p> <p>Ortt and his attorney both maintain that the indictment brought by the attorney general’s office is politically motivated, a charge denied by Schneiderman.</p> <p>The Niagara County case was referred to Schneiderman by the state Board of Elections, a bipartisan agency. Schneiderman, a Democrat and former state senator, has prosecuted cases involving Democrats like former Senator Shirley Huntley of Queens, New York City Council Member Ruben Wills, and Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon, as well as Republicans.</p> <p>Additional charges related to the probe were brought against Ortt’s predecessor, former Senator George Maziarz, also a Republican, who is alleged to have “orchestrated a multilayered pass-through scheme that enabled him to use money from his own campaign committee” as well as the from the Niagara County Republican Committee, “to funnel secret campaign payments to a former senate staffer who had left government service amid charges of sexual harassment,” according to the Attorney General’s Office.</p> <p>“No-show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials — not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust — and we will hold those responsible to account.”</p> <p>Maziarz, who also pleaded not guilty Thursday, was charged with five felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing. If convicted, both Ortt and Maziarz face maximum sentences of one and a third to four years on each count.</p> <p>Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, in an appearance with reporters, stood behind Ortt, saying he was confident in the judicial system and that he would not expect his colleague to resign.</p> <p>“I’m going to continue to work with Rob, I’m sure he’s going to be back here tomorrow. The primary thing that he’s concerned about and I am concerned with is getting the budget done in a timely fashion,” said Flanagan.</p> <p>Typically, leaders of majority legislative conferences are resistant to increased oversight and transparency measures, as well as limitations on outside income or campaign contributions, while members of the minority conferences are for more reform. In the Legislature’s one-house budget resolutions, voted through last week, the Senate and Assembly presented ethics reform plans that were not particularly aligned. Notably, the Assembly’s resolution included more support for reform, including provisions for early and automatic voting, restrictions on use of campaign housekeeping accounts, and closure of the LLC loophole, which allows lawmakers to benefit from nearly unlimited and opaque campaign contributions.</p> <p>The resolutions are meant to serve as guiding documents during budget negotiations, which occur among the “three men in a room” -- in this case, Governor Cuomo, Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and, this year, a fourth man, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has been mostly silent on ethics</a> since introducing his wide-ranging plan for reform during his State of the State, which touched on campaign finance reform, increased contract oversight, and electoral reform. At a press conference earlier this week, Cuomo, who wields significant leverage over priorities addressed in budget talks, said policy matters, such as voting and ethics reforms, would likely be tackled after the budget was delivered.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo said in response to a question from a WNYC reporter. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about, we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>"[I]t’s hard to believe that charges against one senator and one former senator will move the needle when convictions against the former leader of the Senate and the former speaker of the Assembly didn’t,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG about the prospects of the latest indictments leading to reform.&nbsp;"It does remind everybody about how bad things are in Albany, that they have not really solved the problem," Horner said.</p> <p>Senate Republicans have opposed closure of the LLC loophole, which good government groups argue makes lawmakers particularly susceptible to pay-to-play politics. Earlier this week, when asked about calls from good government to include significant ethics reform in the state budget, Flanagan pointed to the Legislature’s moves to increase transparency.</p> <p>“I would say that the good government advocates have not been looking at what we’ve done in the past six years,” Flanagan said. “We have more transparency and more disclosure measures for elected officials than any other state in the country.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said that the increased transparency measures are good, but only meaningful campaign finance reform will stem the flow of corruption in Albany.</p> <p>“Transparency is the first step you take in the long road towards clean government,” said Kaehny. “The crucial steps that have to happen are restrictions on unlimited political giving, in particular, closing the LLC loophole and housekeeping accounts. Otherwise there’s just a gusher of money pouring in.”</p> <p>But will the latest indictment drive the Legislature to overhaul its laws? “I think that’s pretty unlikely,” said Kaehny.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>