“End New York Corruption Now Act” Would Strengthen Hands Of Local And State Prosecutors, Professionalize Legislature, And Reform Campaign Finance System
(Long Island, NY) Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that he would send a comprehensive ethics bill to the legislature in order to reform New York State government before the end of this year’s legislative session—a session in which the two highest-ranking leaders of the legislature were arrested on federal corruption charges. Attorney General Schneiderman’s bill includes the boldest systemic reforms backed by leading good government groups; measures to strengthen the hands of prosecutors, as proposed by the State’s District Attorneys; and new ideas on how to depoliticize and professionalize the legislature.
Among more than a dozen other changes to State law, the omnibus legislation would give the attorney general’s office permanent jurisdiction to investigate and criminally prosecute public corruption—an authority that consecutive attorneys general have asked to be granted by the governor. The bill would also ban legislators from earning outside income; ban per diem payments for lawmakers for days they spend in Albany, while increasing legislative salaries; and extend legislators’ terms from two years to four. In the area of campaign finance, the Attorney General’s bill would lower contribution limits, close the LLC loophole, restrict contributions by lobbyists, and create a public financing system with a 6:1 match ratio.
“The corruption we’re seeing in New York State government takes power from the hands of regular New Yorkers and taints the honorable work being done by the lion’s share of public officials. New Yorkers have had enough of so-called ethics reform that tinkers around the edges—what we need now is bold reform that gets to the root of corruption, equips law enforcement with the tools needed to fight it, and professionalizes our state legislature,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “It’s time to end the parade of prosecutions and restore people’s faith in their government.”
“New Yorkers can no longer afford a state government that is being bought by billionaires and their campaign cash,” said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York. “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman’s far-reaching proposals for campaign finance reforms, including public matching funds. By providing an alternative to pay to play politics, the AG’s plan will restore control of state government to voters not donors. AG Schneiderman is providing the kind of statewide leadership New York State needs.”
“New Yorkers are sick and tired of half measures – the public has lost patience with Albany’s inability to address New York’s continuing crisis of corruption,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/New York. “We are grateful that Attorney General Schneiderman has stepped forward to introduce this comprehensive package of needed ethics and campaign finance reforms, fleshing out the significant proposals he outlined in March. Common Cause/New York looks forward to working for the passage of these common sense and long-overdue measures to achieve meaningful and effective ethics oversight and enforcement.”
“Today, with the introduction of The End New York Corruption Now Act, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman introduces a bold piece of legislation to address ethical misconduct and abuse of power by public officials in our state. New Yorkers deserve the enactment of additional ethics reform, and this comprehensive legislative package embodies exactly what New York needs to effectively root out the corrosive culture of corruption in Albany,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union. “The large scale problem of corruption in this state can no longer be addressed adequately through a piecemeal approach which is why Citizens Union welcomes this extensive anti-corruption legislation package.”
Ian Vandewalker, Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said: “Like many New Yorkers, Attorney General Schneiderman recognizes that piecemeal reform is not enough. The tidal wave of scandals in recent months is further proof that we need comprehensive reform to our campaign finance system built around a statewide public financing system, to empower average voters and reduce incentives for corruption. Only fundamental, far-reaching reform can change the culture of corruption in Albany.”
Sally Robinson, President of the New York State League of Women Voters, said: “The League of Women Voters of NYS applauds the Attorney General for his robust proposals on campaign finance reform. It advances critical reform measures that should have been passed decades ago. The pervasive influence of money in politics is evidence enough that the time for action is long overdue.”
“We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman’s blue print for a massive overhaul of the state’s campaign finance system, and for ending the legal and illegal bribery that have given New York a national reputation for corrupt government,” said Dominic Mauro, an attorney with the watchdog group Reinvent Albany.
“We applaud the AG’s leadership on this important issue. New Yorkers deserve a working government that is responsive to their needs,” said Heather McGhee, President of Demos. “The only way Albany will regain the trust of New Yorkers is through meaningful reform, if officials are serious about turning the page they will enact the AG’s proposal, including public financing of elections.”
Attorney General Schneiderman has brought more than seventy cases against state and local officials and their cronies, including the conviction of a sitting State Senator and indictments against members of the State Assembly and the New York City Council. Many of these cases resulted from a partnership that Attorney General Schneiderman formed with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in 2011. “Operation Integrity,” a first-of-its-kind joint task force, uses the State Comptroller’s power to refer cases involving the abuse of public funds to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution. But despite the efforts of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau and those of U.S. Attorneys across the State, the cycle of corruption persists, in part due to the negligible impact of marginal reforms previously enacted in the wake of public corruption scandals.
The new omnibus legislation would enact major changes in three broad areas: Reforms to the Legislature, Criminal Law Reforms, and Campaign Finance Reforms. They include the following provisions:
Reforms to the Legislature
Bans outside income for State legislators
- Prohibit legislators from earning income from outside employment, apart from exceptions such as payment for military service; book or artistic royalties; and pensions from prior employment.
Bans Per Diem Payments
- The new law would allow compensation only for documented travel expenses, and ban per diem payments—which provide a daily allowance for legislators while they are in the Capitol.
Increases Legislative Salaries
- Require that the newly constituted Commission on Legislative, Judicial, and Executive Compensation recommend a legislative salary of no less than $112,500, and no more than $174,000:
Amends the Constitution to Create Four-Year Legislative Term
- Initiate a process to amend the state constitution to increase the length of legislative terms from two to four years, to help shift legislators’ focus from politics to governing.
Criminal Law Reforms
Establishes Criminal Jurisdiction for Attorney General’s Office to Prosecute Public Corruption
- Amend Executive Law 63(3) to authorize the AG’s office to investigate and criminally prosecute public corruption.
- Such authority has already been granted to the attorney general by the governor’s office with respect to Medicaid Fraud, Auto Insurance, and Money Laundering; in the absence of such action on public corruption, this bill offers a legislative solution.
Creates New Crime for Undisclosed Self-Dealing
- Creates new felonies for public servants who intentionally abuse their official position to confer an undisclosed financial benefit on themselves, their family members, or their business associates.
Expands Criminal Liability for Bribery
- Replaces the requirement of an agreement or understanding as an element of the crime of giving a bribe. Instead, a person is guilty of giving a bribe when he or she confers a benefit on a public servant “with intent to influence” his or her official conduct.
Strengthens Pension Forfeiture Provision
- Repeals language enacted earlier this year establishing an exception for a spouse who benefits from a legislator’s pension. This provision currently protects a portion of a public servant’s otherwise forfeited pension for the use of an “innocent spouse” and his or her dependent children.
- Repeals language enacted earlier this year that could potentially soften pension forfeiture determinations.
Campaign Finance Reforms
Creates A New Public Financing System Administered By The Board Of Elections
- A 6:1 match ratio for contributions of between $10 and $175 in each of primary and general.
- A cap on total matching funds that each candidate may receive in the primary and general elections, varying for each office.
Lowers Campaign Contribution Limits, Which Are Among Highest In The Nation
- Lower contribution limits for candidates participating both in and outside the public finance scheme:
- Assembly: $2,000 primary and $2,000 general ($4,000 total)
- Senate: $3,000 primary and $3,000 general ($6,000 total)
- Statewide: $5,000 primary and $5,000 general ($10,000 total)
- Lowers annual contribution limit to party committees from $62,500 to $25,000.
Eliminates the LLC Loophole
- The loophole that allows limited liability corporations (LLC’s) to funnel virtually limitless amounts of cash to campaigns would be closed.
- Bill would amend Election Law to treat campaign contributions from LLCs the same as contributions from partnerships. This would attribute all LLC contributions over $2,500 to its individual members based on their percentage of ownership.
Eliminates Party Housekeeping Accounts
- Housekeeping committees now operate as barely regulated slush funds for political parties and legislative campaign committees, and would be eliminated.
- Bill will repeal language allowing separate housekeeping accounts to receive unrestricted contributions.
Sharply Limits Campaign Contributions from Individuals Doing Business with the State
- Persons with business relationships with the state – i.e. contracts for goods, service, or construction – would be restricted to giving campaign contributions of no more than $400.
- This would restrict not only the relevant entity, but also the CEO, CFO, COO, an equivalent officer, senior managers, or owners of more than 10% of the entity.
Sharply Limits Contributions and Fundraising by Lobbyists for Public Officials
- Bars lobbyists from soliciting contributions that benefit a public official or party committee.
- Lowers the cap on the personal contributions from lobbyists to a public official or party committee to no more than $250 per election.
- Apart from the $250 contribution, prohibits public officials from knowingly accepting or soliciting a contribution from a lobbyist.
Bans the Use of Campaign Funds for Personal Clothing or Tuition
- Amends recently enacted budget language restricting personal use of campaign funds to prohibit their use for: Clothing for the use of the candidate or the candidate’s family; or tuition Payments.