Governor Andrew Cuomo included several election law reforms in his budget and State of the State presentation yesterday. Ranging from closing the LLC loophole, permitting early voting and creating a commission to prepare for the 2017 constitutional convention ballot question, the proposals follow here:
This year, Governor Cuomo proposes the most
ambitious ethics and good government reform package
ever to restore New Yorker’s confidence in their
representatives. The Governor will propose closing the
“LLC Loophole,” limiting outside income for members of
the New York State Legislature, devising a system for
publicly financing campaigns, enacting comprehensive
reforms to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to
increase transparency, requiring any legislators
convicted of corruption to forfeit their New York State
pensions, strengthening the enforcement powers of
JCOPE, and enacting new ethics and campaign finance
reporting requirements. The Governor also proposes
authorizing an expert commission to prepare for a
constitutional convention and proposes voting reforms
to institute early voting and automatic voter registration
to enable more New Yorkers to have their voices heard on Election Day.
Proposal: Close the LLC Loophole and Increase Campaign Disclosure
In order to preserve open, free, and fair elections
that are not captured by wealthy public interests, state
law limits the amounts that both corporations and
individuals may donate directly to state candidates.
However, because of a quirk in the way that present
election law is interpreted, wealthy individuals and
corporations are able to use Limited Liability Companies
(“LLCs”) to avoid New York’s campaign donation limits.
This “LLC Loophole” in campaign finance law has
allowed special interests to circumvent both
contribution limits and disclosure requirements. The
Governor proposes closing the LLC Loophole for all
elected officials. It is our responsibility to even the
playing field so that rich and poor New Yorkers alike
have their voices heard in our political process.
Currently, campaigns must disclose campaign contributions only
twice a year and at certain intervals before elections. In our digital
era, money and news move lightning-fast yet laws on campaign
caught up to the reality of our times. To provide greater transparency in
campaign contributions, the Governor proposes that
candidates disclose campaign contributions to the Board of Elections every 60 days.
Proposal: Limit Outside Income for Legislators
The Legislature’s part-time structure allows
professionals from diverse industries and backgrounds
to serve the public. This offers the distinct advantage of
legislators who are not career politicians but, instead,
have a diverse set of interests and experiences. To strike
the right balance, the Governor proposes that New York
The Governor proposes closing the LLC Loophole for all elected officials. It is our responsibility to even the playing field so that rich and poor New
Yorkers alike have their voices heard in our political process.
State adopt limits on outside income for legislators akin
to the limits our federal government places on
legislators’ outside income. The proposal will limit state
legislators’ outside income to 15 percent of their base salary.
Proposal: Adopt a Voluntary Public Campaign
Current election laws favor wealthy donors and
special interests. Simply put, there is no incentive for
candidates to rely on ordinary, everyday people for
campaign donations. In the 2006 elections, for example,
candidates in New York relied less on small donors ($1-
$250) than in all but three other states nationwide.
The only comprehensive way to fix this problem and
restore the voices of all New Yorkers is to adopt a
voluntary public financing system for political
campaigns that focuses on matching funds from small
donors. To accomplish this goal, the Governor proposes
a voluntary public campaign financing system.
Proposal: Enact Other Campaign Finance Reforms
Unlike federal law, New York allows unlimited
contributions to party “housekeeping” accounts by
individuals and corporations. These accounts are
supposed to be used for non-campaign party activities,
but they serve as a backdoor for big money to influence
political races. Our current system also allows
intermediaries of campaign contributors, known as
“bundlers,” to pass large groupings of individual
contributions to campaigns and gain political influence
without disclosing their identities. The Governor
proposes to fix both issues by placing a $25,000
contribution limit on housekeeping accounts and
requiring bundlers’ identities to be disclosed.
Proposal: Promote Transparency through New
Reforms to FOIL
The New York Freedom of Information Law
(FOIL) governs the public’s right to access government
records and provides transparency for citizens into the
workings of state government. The Governor proposes a
comprehensive reform of FOIL to improve transparency
and promote openness in state government. But
transparency cannot just be limited to the Executive, and
therefore the Governor proposes that FOIL apply equally
to the Legislature. Additionally, the Governor proposes
that both FOIL and the state’s open meetings law apply
to both JCOPE as well as the Legislative Ethics
Commission to further ensure transparency and
accountability and enhance public confidence in our
Proposal: Require Legislators Convicted of
Corruption to Forfeit Pensions
It is only fair to taxpayers that public servants
who are convicted of corruption should not continue to
collect a pension earned during public service.
Legislators who violate their duty to the people of New
York should not continue to be paid by the people of New
York in any way. The Governor proposes the adoption of
a joint resolution that will require pension forfeiture
after a legislator is convicted of a crime related to their
public office, regardless of when that legislator was
elected to office.
Proposal: Increase JCOPE Transparency and
Enforcement and Strengthen Ethical Requirements
The JCOPE Review Commission issued a report in
2015 that detailed multiple changes to enable JCOPE to
do its job better.
In response, the Governor proposes a package of much-needed changes to JCOPE to increase transparency and enhance its enforcement powers.
All public officers are required to file Financial
Disclosure Statements (FDS), but good government
groups and the public alike have called for strengthening
these disclosure requirements. Governor Cuomo
therefore proposes legislation that would authorize
JCOPE staff to seek documents in support of statements
made on the FDS, increase enforcement authority against
public officers who fail to comply with JCOPE audits, and
create District Attorney oversight over those who
willfully submit deceptive financial information on the
FDS. This legislation would also eliminate the categories
of value on the FDS to require public officers to report
actual amounts. Finally, this legislation would impose
financial penalties for all violations of the Public Officers
Code of Conduct contained in Section 74 of the Public
Officers Law, and would create “accessory liability” to
allow JCOPE to fully prosecute persons who aid and abet
violations of the Public Officers Law.
Proposal: Convene a Constitutional Commission
As Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “the
ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President or
senators and congressmen and government officials, but
the voters of this country.” The New York Constitution
provides that, every 20 years, New Yorkers must vote by
referendum on whether to hold a convention to amend
the state constitution.
The next referendum will take place in 2017, and the stakes could not be higher. From ethics enforcement to the basic rules governing day-to-
day business in Albany, the process of government in
New York State is broken. Governor Cuomo believes a
constitutional convention offers voters the opportunity
to achieve lasting reform in Albany. The Governor will
invest $1 million to create an expert, non-partisan
commission to develop a blueprint for a convention. The
commission will also be authorized to recommend fixes
to the current convention delegate selection process,
which experts agree is flawed.
Proposal: Early Voting in 139 Locations
New York has 19.8 million residents.Only 11.7 million New Yorkers are registered to vote.
In the last non-presidential election year, only 29 percent of
registered voters participated – less than one in three.
In the last presidential election, only 53.6 percent of
registered voters participated.
New York ranked 44th in the nation for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election.
Research has shown that scheduling conflicts
with work or school and being too busy are some of the
main reasons voters cite for not participating.
As Lyndon Johnson said, “The vote is the most powerful
instrument ever devised by man for breaking down
injustice.” Governor Cuomo is committed to making
reforms that ensure fairness and increase participation
in New York’s democratic system.
According to the Brennan Center, early voting
leads to shorter lines on Election Day, early identification
and correction of registration errors, and greater access
Currently, New Yorkers can vote early via
absentee ballot, but only if s/he meets certain
qualifications such as being absent from his or her
county on Election Day or being unable to get to the polls
due to a disability. For many working New Yorkers, it can
be difficult to get to the polls on Election Day.
Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia
already allow voters to cast ballots in person, before
To increase voter participation,
Governor Cuomo proposes legislation that will allow
New Yorkers to vote early in all elections. This legislation
will require every county to offer residents access to one
early voting polling place that will allow residents to vote
for 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters will have
at least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on
weekends to cast early ballots. Counties must have one
early voting polling site for every 50,000
residents and the bi-partisan county boards of
elections will determine the specific location of
early voting polling places, subject to
standards of convenience and accessibility. Early voting will increase participation
and make our elections more inclusive and democratic.
Proposal: Automatic Voter Registration
To increase voter participation, Governor
Cuomo proposes legislation that will
allow New Yorkers to vote early in all elections.
Our voter registration system is outdated and
makes it difficult for people to participate. Paper
applications can introduce errors to the voter rolls, and
inaccurate registrations sometimes lead to voters being
turned away at the polls. Governor Cuomo is committed
to modernizing the voter registration system. Voter
registration should be a presumption, not a hurdle.
This year, the Governor will make New York the
third state in the nation—and the first on the East
Coast—to adopt automatic voter registration at the
Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Citizens can already register to vote at the DMV, but the current
process is unnecessarily onerous, requiring a potential
voter to include additional voting information in their
application for a DMV service. Under the new system,
unless a DMV user opts out, the information used in any
DMV application will be automatically sent to county
boards of elections to register the applicant or update
registration information. New Yorkers who do not wish
to register to vote can simply check an “opt out” box. This
change will help maintain accurate voter rolls and
facilitate New Yorkers’ participation in elections.