Governor Cuomo Proposes Election Law Reforms

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

Financing System

 

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.

268

 

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

government.

 

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

for Lobbyists

 

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

to voting.

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

Election Day.

 

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.

 

 

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One response to “Governor Cuomo Proposes Election Law Reforms

  1. Pingback: The Effects of New York's Restrictive Voting Laws - Castwb

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