Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/319 Mon, 11 Dec 2017 07:45:49 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Possible GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh Chances to Unseat Cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7329:possible-gop-gubernatorial-candidates-weigh-chances-to-unseat-cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7329:possible-gop-gubernatorial-candidates-weigh-chances-to-unseat-cuomo gop governor candidates

L-R: Harry Wilson, John DeFrancisco, Marc Molinaro, Brian Kolb


The Republican pool of candidates exploring an attempt to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 gubernatorial race appears to be shrinking. Now just four Republicans say they are exploring a run -- down from at least seven prior to this past Election Day -- with the potential candidates vowing to announce their decisions by Christmas.

Targeting the well-funded Democratic governor seeking his third term would typically be a bold but calculated bet. On one hand, Cuomo has significant vulnerabilities going into 2018, but the outcome of Election Day 2017, which many are interpreting as a “blue wave” of Democratic wins in reaction to the presidency of Donald Trump, may give some Republicans more pause.

A GOP gubernatorial win in New York, which has not happened since George Pataki won a third term in 2002, would require sizeable success in the New York City suburbs, but after voters handed GOP county executive seats in Westchester and Nassau to Democrats earlier this month, potential 2018 candidates must consider how the anti-Trump sentiment will play out next year.

"What looked to be a very deep pool suddenly got ankle-deep shallow, with the water still going down. That's what a mini-tsunami election will do to anyone rationally thinking of running against a political tide,” said William O’Reilly, a Republican strategist who runs the November Team. That wave seems to have both unseated and knocked from 2018 contention Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, an O’Reilly client who lost to Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Harry Wilson, a hedge fund manager from Westchester, is seen as a clear front-runner to become the GOP nominee next year, as he may be capable of coming closest to Cuomo’s immense fundraising capabilities and he performed well in his 2010 bid for state comptroller. The other three most-discussed potential GOP gubernatorial candidates are all current officeholders -- Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and state Senator John DeFrancisco -- who would begin a race with a solid local base of support and some name recognition.

“I would hope that Senator DeFrancisco or County Executive Molinaro will make the leap,” said O’Reilly, “but in the end the 2018 Republican candidate for governor may have to come down to a recruitment effort.”

For his part, Cuomo is heading toward his reelection year facing criticism from the right and the left for New York City’s subway crisis. Among other issues, he is also maligned for high property taxes around the state, not to mention corruption trials about to begin involving his economic development initiatives, which involve some of his closest associates. Cuomo is not especially popular outside of New York City, where his favorability remains fairly high, and the second-term Democrat may very well face a tough primary of his own, as he did in 2014, given that many in the left flank of his party see him as too centrist.

The New York State Republican Party has calculated that ideally it should avoid a primary to have a shot at victory -- assuming Cuomo is in the running -- so the four potential candidates are now courting GOP leadership for the nod. All four men say they are on good terms with each other and each is taking his own path to testing the waters. Molinaro and Kolb have discussed running on a ticket together for governor and lieutenant governor, but both say that no such decision has been made (and it is not clear which would run for what).

Publically, the party leadership is shrugging off the losses from Election Day, pointing to other victories like that of Republican Steve McLaughlin, an Assembly member elected county executive of Rensselaer. State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox, on Fred Dicker’s Focus on Albany radio show, chalked up Astorino’s loss to “third term-itis,” the same challenge now facing Cuomo, whereby it is notoriously difficult to win third terms in politics.

Regarding the election of Democrat Laura Curran to the historically-Republican Nassau county executive seat, Cox pointed to a Democratic voter base energized by opposition to the constitutional convention ballot question. Former County Executive Ed Mangano’s indictment last year on federal corruption charges also tainted the Republican Party and turned many independents, who make up a large segment of Nassau’s electorate, against GOP contender Jack Martins, he said.

Wilson, who did well in his 2010 run for state comptroller, losing to Democrat Tom DiNapoli 49.7 percent to 47.2 percent and has had private sector success, may be willing to put in $10 million or more of his own money. Molinaro, Kolb, and DeFrancisco would each be able to kick off fundraising from their local supporters.

With a governor that has $25 million and counting in the bank, and was recently in California courting major donors, Republican candidates might want to get an early start in fundraising, but that would require more commitment to exploring or declaring a run (on the Democratic side, for example, former state Senator Terry Gibson, considering a primary challenge to Cuomo, recently opened a campaign account so he could start raising money).

Prior to his run for comptroller, Wilson flexed his business acumen and negotiating chops when he helped President Barack Obama execute the auto industry bailout early in Obama’s first term. One “prominent Republican county chairman” told The Daily News that “If Harry Wilson says he wants to be the nominee, he’ll be the nominee.” Wilson’s bipartisanship could prove helpful in a general election against Cuomo, as could his New York City-focused criticisms of the governor.

On Dicker’s show, on November 15, Wilson suggested that his current priority is raising his four daughters, two of whom are teenagers, and said he would decide over the holidays whether the timing was right for his family.

“In four years from now two of our girls will be out of the house. In eight years from now, all our girls will be out of the house and I’ll still be a young man,” said Wilson, referring to the possibility of holding off this year and running in the future. “It’s a question of that tradeoff of where I can be most useful, most effective, and balancing my commitment to my family and helping others.”

Meanwhile, Molinaro, a suburban county executive who felt the Nassau and Westchester losses close to home, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that those outcomes would likely factor into his own decision-making.

“What occurred certainly in the suburbs of New York City in 2017 should weigh on us,” said Molinaro. “I think what happened [on Election Day] is the result of an energized [Democratic] base, which is upset with the national politics -- no question -- and organized opposition to the constitutional convention question; those two things combined, with a few other local variables.”

Molinaro, who has been a vocal critic of Cuomo on social media and elsewhere, is especially critical of the administration’s failure to accompany the state’s property tax cap with adequate mandate relief, the heroin crisis, and failing schools, and has a good reputation as a county manager. Like Wilson, he has emphasized city metro area interests like fixing the subway system. He has also cited his young family, including a 6-month-old son, as one reservation about running.

On the more conservative end of the spectrum are the two upstate legislators, DeFrancisco and Kolb, both of whom have extensive legislative experience and have not been shy about criticizing the governor and his policies.

DeFrancisco, who has been representing the Syracuse area since 1992, says he recognizes Cuomo’s fundraising advantage and name recognition, but also sees many similarities between today and 1994, the year Pataki beat Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, who was then seeking a third term amid buzz about presidential aspirations, like those that surround Andrew Cuomo now.

“Back then people were leaving the state, exactly like it it is now. There was a deficit back then -- I remember it vividly -- of $5 billion. The Democratic comptroller is estimating that the budget deficit going into January is going to be $4 to $6 billion. Almost an identical situation,” said DeFrancisco. “And there was a feeling out there -- the same thing I’m hearing now -- that it’s ‘anybody but Cuomo.’ An individual by the name of George Pataki that nobody knew, the former mayor of Peekskill, a first-term senator, ends up being the nominee and beats him.”

DeFrancisco regularly attacks Cuomo, and he hasn’t hid his frustration with the fact that much of his legislation, including a bill to restore procurement oversight powers to the state comptroller, has not reached the Senate floor, even as the chamber is controlled by Republicans. “I believe the best way to make change and the fastest way to make substantial change is by having a Republican governor,” he said.

Kolb, as leader of the minority conference in the Assembly, has had the liberty of taking principled stands, such as pushing for significant ethics reform and advocating for a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention. The Republican from Canandaigua has consistently voted against legislation that is controversial in upstate’s more conservative, rural areas, like Cuomo’s signature 2013 gun-control legislation, the SAFE Act.

Kolb, who prior to taking office in 2000 was an entrepreneur and ran two manufacturing companies, Refractron Technologies and North American Filter Corporation, said he believes he has “the best blend of private sector and public sector experience.”

“I’ve created jobs. I know the obstacles and how to fix them. I’m problem solver and I’ve done it in the public sector and the public sector and I’ve also shown I could work across the aisle,” he said.

The Republican contenders all say they would work to capture the disillusionment in Cuomo’s policies felt on both sides of the aisle. In 2014, Cuomo endured a bruising primary amid criticisms from progressives that he empowers the Senate GOP alliance with rouge Democrats, impeding the state from moving in a more progressive direction, a rallying cry that has since picked up steam. Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham’s law school, won a surprising 34 percent of the Democratic vote in that primary after running a truncated campaign that began with no name recognition or money. Another tough primary in 2018, which Cuomo has done some work to avoid by passing more progressive legislation, could hurt the governor in a general election, largely depending on the opponent.

The potential GOP candidates said they plan to hold Cuomo accountable on issues like the subways, upstate’s crumbling infrastructure and outmigration, rising property taxes, his failure to tackle corruption in state government, and what they see as his failing economic development initiatives.

A key initial step for those exploring the race and possibly seeking the GOP nomination is to appeal to Republican county chairs, who make up the party committee and meetings have been taking place, with candidates touring the state. A deal may be cut in advance in order to avoid a primary, but there have been years when the committee votes are split between two or three candidates and an open contest for the GOP nomination is held. Candidates unhappy with or outside the party establishment process can always petition themselves onto the ballot whether an intra-party deal is struck or not.

Some watchers of state politics say that regardless of the GOP nominee, the math just doesn’t work for the Republican Party. “When you break it down arithmetically, they have to crack 35 percent in New York City to have a chance to win, and carry 57 percent of the vote of the Suburban downstate counties -- Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland -- and then pass 60 percent upstate,” said Bruce Gyory, a former advisor to three Democratic governors and now a professor at Albany University. “That was the Pataki model for his three terms and particularly his third term, and boy-oh-boy the Republicans are nowhere close to meeting that challenge in any region.”

In 2014, the Republican Party made strides from 2010 with Astorino as their candidate, grabbing 41 percent of the vote compared to Cuomo’s 57 percent. Astorino took 42 of 50 upstate counties, compared to just 13 upstate counties won by 2010 GOP candidate Carl Paladino. In the suburbs, Astorino also gained ground, but ultimately did not crack 50 percent in the crucial Westchester, Nassau, and Rockland counties. He drew approximately 15 percent of the vote in the five boroughs.

Cuomo’s approval rating took a hit earlier this year, apparently due to New York City’s ongoing subway woes, but his popularity has appeared to be on the rebound, with a Quinnipiac University poll from October showing that 70 percent of city voters approved of the Democratic governor, including more than 50 percent of Republicans.

Another threat to party-affiliated GOP candidates may be coming from Paladino, the Buffalo-area businessman and Donald Trump supporter. Paladino was reported to be mulling another run, but went silent after his removal from the Buffalo school board for allegedly leaking confidential information from executive board meetings. He also drew negative attention last year for racist comments sent to a Buffalo publication about former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. A Paladino entrance into the race could drag a prefered Republican establishment candidate to the right or cause other problems for the GOP, including additional focus on Trump or requiring Paladino's opposition to raise and spend significant money to win the primary. Paladino did not return a request for comment about whether he will run.

“I could see him coming to the conclusion that the only way to regain public prestige is to run again for governor and he could complicate the primary field a great deal because he could change the regional balance of power if he continues to have that hold on western New York,” said Gyory. “He's a man who, if you study him, his public person, he has a thin skin and great pride.”

Correction: A previous version of this article mistated the totals for the 2010 New York Comptroller's race.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Possible GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh Chances to Unseat Cuomo Sun, 19 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
With Session Ending and Trial Looming, No Legislative Response to Bid-rigging Scandal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7007:with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7007:with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal Cuomo Flanagan Heastie

Flanagan, Cuomo, Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)


With just three scheduled days left in the legislative session and the corruption trial of several close associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo for their roles in a bid-rigging scandal scheduled to commence in October, the Legislature has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to prevent such abuses of the procurement process.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has introduced a comprehensive bill to address the issue, which is the basis for a Senate bill sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, and sister legislation by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat. The legislation would restore authority of the Comptroller to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, particularly for SUNY and CUNY affiliated non-profits, a power that was stripped in 2011.

That year, Cuomo and legislative leaders (who are now headed to jail) said that the scaling back of oversight was necessary in order to expedite approval for the governor’s signature economic development initiatives. The idea that the Comptroller’s contract review slows down projects is misguided, according to budget watchdogs. The Comptroller has up to 30 days to approve a contract, but on average approves contracts within six days, according to April figures provided by DiNapoli’s office.

The absence of an independent oversight body appears to have cleared the way for the massive $800 million bribery scheme that took down close Cuomo associate and friend Joe Percoco, as well as then-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who Cuomo had heaped praise and responsibility on, and several major donors to Cuomo who were awarded large contracts. The alleged scheme was uncovered by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

More recently, Bart Schwartz, head of Guidepost Solutions LLC, who was hired by Cuomo to probe the contracting process and what might have gone wrong, found significant flaws. In his review of the $417 million awarded to vendors at Buffalo’s SolarCity project and other upstate initiatives, he found that at least $49 million was awarded using a “sloppy process.” The Buffalo News first reported the details of Schwartz’s report, which the Cuomo administration had failed to make public, but was obtained through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Schwartz was paid as much as $1 million for his investigative work and the Cuomo administration has indicated that it accepted his recommendations for cleaning up contracting processes.

While DeFrancisco’s bill has passed the Senate’s finance committee, and the Assembly on Wednesday tweaked its version of the bill to match the Senate’s, legislative leaders offered reserved endorsements of the legislation, and it has yet to be calendared for a floor vote in either house.

Both Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have said they support the restoration of pre-auditing powers to the comptroller’s office, but that they are working towards a “three-way agreement” with the governor before advancing the legislation, which is backed by good government groups and many rank-and-file lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the governor has been defiant, saying that the powers should not be returned to the Comptroller. Instead, Cuomo in his 2017 policy book proposed expanding the oversight powers of the state inspector general to include procurement at CUNY and SUNY nonprofits, as well as new inspectors general, appointed by and reporting to the executive branch. In the aftermath of the scandal, Cuomo also vowed to create a chief procurement officer in the executive branch.

“The proposed legislation does not address the issue and is both burdensome and duplicative,” said Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”

David’s statement highlights a key difference between the governor’s proposal and the “clean contracting” legislation backed by the comptroller and government reformers, which emphasizes prevention, making SUNY and CUNY projects subject to the same early scrutiny and standards as other state-funded projects, rather than after-the-fact oversight.

“The governor's proposal utterly and totally misses the point because it creates addition inspector generals who are appointed by the governor,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the government reform group ReInvent Albany. “The problem...was bid-rigging; the state contracts were rigged to favor one vendor over the others, and that could have been prevented by independent, pre-contract review.”

Representatives from the Reinvent Albany, New York Public Interest Group, League of Women Voters, and Citizens Budget Commission gathered at the Capitol this past Wednesday, with the blessing of other government reform groups, to call on Albany to pass the legislation -- with or without the governor’s support.

“If lawmakers are at all serious about addressing the problems that happened with last year’s bid-rigging scandal they need to support prevention of these crime -- and that means independent pre-contract review,” said Kaehny.

They noted that the Legislature is granted power to enact legislation without the governor’s support, first by passing it through both houses. If Cuomo does not then sign or veto the bill, it would automatically become law in 10 days. If the governor vetoes it, the Legislature could independently reconvene to override his veto. More than a majority, two-thirds of each house, must vote in favor in order pass legislation rejected by the governor. As a result, veto overrides are rare; the last time the Legislature successfully overrode a gubernatorial veto was in 2006, during a tumultuous budget negotiation that took place during the last year of Governor George Pataki’s final term, when legislative leaders went to bat over a property tax rebate and cuts to state university funding. 

Among those who floated the idea of the Legislature passing the bill without the governor’s support is Senator DeFrancisco, who expressed frustration the procurement reform legislation was not calendared earlier.

“I try to advocate for it all the time. I know the governor is apoplectic against it and he’d rather have an inspector general that he can control,” DeFrancisco told reporters at the Capitol on June 12. “Hopefully reason will prevail.”

When asked to elaborate on the problems with the governor’s proposal, DeFrancisco said, “What he wanted in the budget was to have an independent inspector general, appointed by him to review his contracts. I don’t think you have to be a lawyer, you just have to be somewhat sane to realize that that’s not a check and balance on anybody. He doesn’t want to lose that control and have that oversight. There’s no other logic why he wouldn’t do it.”

Speaker Heastie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, remained coy about the possibility of passing the legislation and reconvening to override a potential gubernatorial veto.

"Those are always options, that are there but again you are asking me what you are going to do on failure, I don’t like to report on failure,“ he said, adding that there is always “the summer” and “next session” to pass legislation.

“The end of session is a deadline, but it’s not the end of the world if there is ever a need for us to do anything legislatively. We said we’ll come back if the actions in Washington dictate us to come back,” he said. “If we have to come back, the members will come back."

Majority Leader Flanagan expressed only slightly more enthusiasm about the idea of procurement reform. Calling the oversight measure “extraordinarily important,” Flanagan said, “I expect we will have procurement reform before the end of the session, whether it’s [legislation proposed by] Senator DeFrancisco or a variation of that bill, I expect we will move in that direction.”

The bill has widespread support in the Legislature; minority leaders say they also support the comptroller-backed proposal, which also ends contracting for non-academic purposes by state-controlled non-profit organizations, and transfers all economic development awards to the the Empire State Development Corporation.

However, Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) Leader Senator Jeff Klein struck a different tone Thursday, saying he opposed DeFrancisco’s legislation. The IDC and GOP have a power-sharing alliance in the Senate. Klein said he intends to introduce a new bill this week, which instead of restoring the comptroller’s powers would appoint an independent investigator to look at claims of misconduct. When pressed, he did not clarify how this proposal differed from the governor’s proposal.

“Right now the power of the comptroller is post-audit -- so what I would assume is if there is any problem in the procurement process, you’d be able to spot any problem post-audit. Then why would you need to have pre-audit ability?” said Klein. “I think what we need is a downright investigator -- someone who has the power to investigate the contracting process as it moves forward, to make sure there’s no favoritism, to make sure there’s no bribery.”

This past week, the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Peoples-Stokes, also expressed second thoughts about how the legislation could slow the approval for contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses that are awarded grants by the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, or impact healthcare organizations like Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a public not-for-profit that would be subject to increased scrutiny.

“The last thing we want is processes to slow down their ability to grow...At first blush, it seems like great legislation, when you delve in there’s some things that need to be tweaked,” said Peoples-Stokes. “I’m grateful there’s some lawyers and a team around here that can help me straighten something out. I think what happened in 2011, that maybe we should takes some looks at, but all these other things.”

Earlier this year, a month after talks of a long-awaited pay raise for lawmakers turned sour, legislative leaders seemed ready to take a different approach than they are now, vowing to stand up to the executive branch.

In January, during his remarks on opening day of the 2017 session, Flanagan urged his fellow lawmakers to stand up to the governor over the economic development programs, which were marred by the alleged bid-rigging scandal and other accountability problems. Urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils, Flanagan cited the Legislature’s power as a check on the governor.

“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said in January. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”

In the budget deal passed in April, Cuomo’s signature economic development and infrastructure programs were fully-funded and no new oversight measures were passed.

Another bill, sponsored by Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican, would create a searchable “database of deals,” cataloguing all businesses that have been awarded state subsidies -- a system in place in six other states -- has made no headway in the Senate or Assembly.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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With Session Ending and Trial Looming, No Legislative Response to Bid-rigging Scandal Sun, 18 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
SAFE Act Haunts Movement on Gun Safety Legislation http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5728:safe-act-haunts-movement-on-gun-safety-legislation http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5728:safe-act-haunts-movement-on-gun-safety-legislation students NYAGV

Student activists in Albany (photo: @NYAGV1)


Earlier this month, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence brought 150 school children from the Bronx and Harlem to Albany to recite poetry, sing songs, and perform skits about the impact gun violence has on their daily lives.

They didn't get the warmest of welcomes. Kicked out of the space they had booked - the very public well of the legislative office building - they were forced into a hearing room. They were replaced in the well by a wine tasting.

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SAFE Act Haunts Movement on Gun Safety Legislation Mon, 18 May 2015 01:42:51 +0000
Advocates: Cuomo, Legislature Squandered Moment for True Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5670:advocates-cuomo-legislature-squandered-moment-for-true-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5670:advocates-cuomo-legislature-squandered-moment-for-true-reform Cuomo Nolan

Gov. Cuomo & AM Nolan shake on an ethics deal (photo: the Governor's Office via flickr)


The arrest of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was supposed to spark the moment for true reform in Albany. It felt to many a simultaneously shocking and galvanizing event, strong enough to splinter, if not destroy the dam, allowing the flow of real discussion about regulating lawyer-legislators, loopholes allowing unlimited LLC donations to candidates, and conflicts of interest. It was a time for bold leadership.

"There was no appetite for incremental change," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, of good government groups, legislators, and others rejecting Governor Andrew Cuomo's ethics reforms as "tinkering around the edges."

"The governor could have challenged the Legislature by imposing on himself restrictions that would have bolstered his efforts and shamed them by leading by example," Dadey added, expressing the general sense of regret that many have around what is being called another missed opportunity to drastically reform the culture in state government.

Cuomo did come out swinging after Silver's arrest, loudly proposing a five-point ethics reform plan he said he was so committed to that he would hold up passage of the budget if necessary. But as the governor engaged in discussions with leaders of the state Legislature, the proposals that many had originally called too weak became even less bold and the final compromise included in the budget deal landed with less than a thud.

Reform-minded legislators and good government groups say that as ethics reforms were molded they were shut out by the Cuomo administration, which has become increasingly standoffish. It is said that good ideas went unused because Team Cuomo refuses to entertain anything it doesn't come up with first and in the end what could have been a transformative moment resulted in more of the same, Cuomo's third incremental ethics reform package in four years (see timeline below), revealed to most legislators with a heap of voluminous budget bills only hours before they came to a vote up against the final deadline.

A number of legislators were expecting much more drastic reform after Silver's arrest. They feel that the ethics discussion should focus on preventing legislators from earning any outside income, or at least disallowing lawmakers from practicing law in the private sector. Silver is charged with using his power as a legislature to advance the interests of a law firm that paid him for referring cases.

Some lawyer-legislators are leading by example.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat and non-practicing attorney, said that a new commission included in the budget to study legislative pay raises could answer some objections that legislators aren't paid enough not to have outside income. Legislators currently make a base salary of $79,500 a year, a rate that has not been increased in more than fifteen years.

Sen. Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, broke with his Republican allies, saying the ethics plan doesn't go far enough because it fails to ban outside income. Klein divested himself from his law firm following Silver's indictment. "During this crisis we need to win back the voters' trust," Klein said. "I think the way we do this is to not have any potential conflicts at all moving forward. I think this is sort of a clarion call for all. If you want to earn outside income, you shouldn't be in public service," Klein told State of Politics in February.

Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos is reportedly under investigation related to his outside income. He is of counsel at Ruskin, Moscou & Faltischek. Senate Republicans appear to be steadfast against banning outside income and at least one Republican lawmaker was insulted by questions about conflicts of interest. As part of a sweeping set of reforms he unveiled in a speech at a Citizens Union event, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a former state senator himself, called for an all-out ban on legislators' earning outside income.

During the budget debate, Hoylman, insisted that lawyers should not be allowed to be legislators, citing their loyalty to clients that comes from cash retainers. He advocated banning outside income completely. Republican State Sen. John DeFrancisco, chair of the finance committee, objected, calling Hoylman's comments "out of line" and "discrimination" against lawyers.

DeFrancisco also challenged Democrats' characterization of the law that allows donors to use LLCs to donate unlimited funds as a "loophole." Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Democrat, introduced a hostile amendment to end the LLC loophole, and quoted a series of newspaper editorials that suppot its end in his argument that the amendment was germane to the budget discussion. He and his amendment were shot down. Then, DeFrancisco challenged Squadron's use of the word "loophole" and said it was simply part of the law.

The new ethics package - being hailed as transformative by the governor and some legislative leaders - includes increased financial disclosure requirements for legislators, gives the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) much-needed funding, and forces legislators to use a swipe card to check in at the Capitol to get their travel reimbursements. As Capital New York reported, the changes do not address the types of corruption Albany has seen most over the years. There is one other reform in the works that could take legislators' pensions away if they are convicted of corruption.

The changes come with loopholes. Lawyer-legislators can apply to two agencies to keep their disclosures private (while JCOPE is already controlled by legislative and gubernatorial appointees and has proved generally ineffective).

Never on the table, it seems, was closing the massive LLC loophole. Cuomo is the largest beneficiary of the system that allows corporations and individuals to funnel unlimited campaign funds to candidates through various LLCs.

John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said it does not generally behoove good government groups to attack reform measures. "You quickly become the boy who cried wolf," said Kaehny. "You hit a single this year, and another next year, but that just isn't happening." Kaehny said that with lawyer-legislators protected from full disclosure the package lacks any real meat.

"What are you left with? A swipe card system that can be easily defrauded," said Kaehny, who notes the standard in the corporate world is biometric ID systems that are not easily cheated and are relatively inexpensive.

Dadey said that the reforms are not insignificant but that they should have come much sooner. "These changes were significant but would have been more significant in 2011. This is what we wanted to see in 2011," said Dadey. "This ethic reform is bigger than what we got in 2014 but it is not as big as it needed to be to battle corruption in Albany. We always suspected corruption bigger than we knew and the speaker's arrest blew it up. This was a huge opportunity to change Albany's ethics."

Dadey and representatives of other good government groups say that in past years they were included in discussions on ethics reforms early in the process but this year were only consulted when a deal was in place.

Kaehny said that the he believes the administration needs to start leading by example to sway the debate. But, he said he doesn't have a great deal of faith that that is going to take place as, for example, Cuomo has not taken unilateral action to end his administration's 90-day email deletion policy, saying, "The governor has absolutely not led by example on this - he has led backwards."

Rather than ending the policy (as Schneiderman did in his office) that good government groups have called "devastating to transparency," Cuomo defended the policy, then attacked the Legislature for not being open to the Freedom of Information Law, and proposed an email summit to occur before the end of March. That deadline has passed and good government groups and stakeholders including the offices of the attorney general and the comptroller say they have not been contacted.

"Its disappointing because we have a strong decisive governor," said Kaehny. "The proof is in his actions, but here he is trying to mislead, distract, and throw up smoke and mirrors. To this day we haven't gotten a response - not acknowledging our letter [requesting an update on the summit], not saying: 'we disagree and we are gonna yell at you.' So we are exasperated and disappointed in this lack of leadership."

Reform-minded legislators and good government groups agree that it is likely that a discussion about a new ethics reform package will start again before end of the upcoming legislative session, which will run from April 21 to mid-June. "This ethics fight isn't over," said Dadey. "We will need to be talking about it again very soon when the U.S. Attorney comes out with a new set of indictments," he added, referring to Preet Bharara, who has brought charges against Silver and others. "We peeled off one layer of the onion this time," Dadey continued, "but we will get to the core, if only because the public will demand it."

A look at Cuomo's attempts at reform:

2011: The Clean Up Albany Act established The Joint Commission on Public Ethics to investigate corruption in the legislative and executive branches. Labeled "independent," the agency is actually headed by gubernatorial and legislative appointees with deep connections to those elected officials. It only takes three votes out of 14 members to stop an investigation. A required review of JCOPE's effectiveness in 2014 was not undertaken and the latest ethics law extends the deadline for such a review.

Cuomo's quote: "This bill is the tough and aggressive approach we need. It provides for disclosure of outside income by lawmakers, creates a true independent monitor to investigate corruption, and spells out tough, new rules that lobbyists must follow. Government does not work without the trust of the people and this ethics overhaul is an important step in restoring that trust."

2013: After a slew of legislators are indicted, Cuomo announces a package of reforms that good government groups call "watered down," but legislators balk. Cuomo threatens to convene a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in the Legislature and makes good on the promise in June. Moreland began holding hearings and taking testimony across the state but was quickly hampered by interference from the Cuomo administration when it began investigating major Cuomo donors.

Cuomo's quote: "Since the Legislature has failed to act, today I am formally empanelling a Commission to Investigate Public Corruption pursuant to the Moreland Act and Section 63(8) of the Executive Law that will convene the best minds in law enforcement and public policy from across New York to address weaknesses in the State's public corruption, election and campaign finance laws, generate transparency and accountability, and restore the public trust."

2014: Cuomo goes into details of a budget deal on a Saturday press conference call with reporters and reveals he has shuttered The Moreland Commission in exchange for a set of reforms that he sought the previous year. Those reforms include stronger bribery laws, a trial campaign finance system that only applied to the 2014 Comptroller's race, and a new enforcement position at the Board of Elections. Good government groups slammed the move and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara launched an investigation into Cuomo's involvement in the commission.

Cuomo's quote: "It's not a legal question. The Moreland Commission was my commission. It's my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? It's my commission. I can't 'interfere' with it, because it is mine," Cuomo told Crain's.

2015: After Silver's arrest Cuomo gives a speech at the NYU School of Law where he discusses major reforms like a full-time legislature and a public campaign finance system. He says he is willing to have a late budget if it means getting his proposed reforms. However, a following statement from his office indicates the bigger reforms are not part of his ultimatum. When the budget deal is finally reached it includes more funding for JCOPE, a swipe card system for lawmakers to prevent per diem fraud, and a set of new rules he calls "The nation's toughest diclosure laws."

Cuomo's quote: "I said I would not sign a Budget without real ethics reform, and this Budget does just that, putting in place the nation's strongest and most comprehensive rules for disclosure of outside income by public officials, reforming the long-abused per diem system, revoking public pensions for those who abuse the public's trust, defining and eliminating personal use of campaign funds, and increasing transparency of independent expenditures."

Unlike years past, Cuomo and leaders of the Legislature did not hold a press conference to discuss the budget or the ethics reforms.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Advocates: Cuomo, Legislature Squandered Moment for True Reform Sun, 05 Apr 2015 16:06:14 +0000