Dems hope to close loopholes, open voting

Dems hope to close loopholes, open voting

New York Democrats hope Andrew Cuomo closes voting loopholes
October 3, 2017

A month before last year’s presidential election, New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Toobin told the site’s readers what many New Yorkers already knew: “The state with one of the worst records on voting rights is the nation’s great citadel of liberalism: New York.”

Since then, another state legislative session has passed in the great citadel of liberalism, and, although Gov. Andrew Cuomo highlighted some proposed voting reforms in his State of the State addresses, none of the major reforms became law. Now, some lawmakers are hoping that Cuomo pushes harder for those same voting reforms in 2018 – and reforms campaign finance law while he’s at it.

"It’s long, long past time that we closed the LLC loophole,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat on the Elections Committee. “It’s the worst-kept secret in Albany. Every year we pay lip service to reform, and every year we kick the can down the road.”

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The “LLC loophole” allows limited liability companies to avoid the state’s campaign contribution limits. Cuomo included closing the loophole as one of his 2017 State of the State proposals, saying in a release that such a reform would “even the playing field so that rich and poor New Yorkers alike have their voices heard in our political process.”

But that proposal failed to become law in 2017, just as it failed in previous years, when Cuomo also called named it as a priority. Notably, Cuomo has benefited from the loophole, getting free rent for his campaign office and reportedly raising at least $1 million from other LLCs.

The Democratic-led Assembly passed a bill that would’ve closed the LLC loophole last year, but the Republican-led state Senate never brought the bill to the floor for a vote. Krueger thinks that could change this year with enough of a push from Cuomo.

“Whether it’s through legislation, through the budget or through the state Board of Elections, we really have no excuse not to act this year,” she said. “The governor should make closing the LLC loophole a line in the sand.”

Other reforms met the same fate last year. Cuomo included a package of voter reforms in his State of the State proposals, such as allowing early voting, automatic voter registration and registration on Election Day. Those bills passed the Assembly, but not the state Senate.

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan defended Republicans by arguing that a number of ethics reforms have already been implemented in recent years.

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“In the last five or six years there’s been very, very significant ethics reforms in the state of New York in ways that people don’t even realize yet,” Flanagan said in March, according to New York State Public Radio.“We have more transparency and more disclosure for elected officials in the state of New York than any other state in the country.”

But 2018 may see some new electoral reform proposals too. A number of legislators stepped down from their seats in the past few months in ways that allowed their replacements to be chosen directly by political party leaders, instead of in open elections. Pressure to reform the special election process is growing, and Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi told The New York Times that the administration was examining the issue and that the status quo was “counter to the spirit of the democratic process, and reforms should be put into place to open it up.”

Assemblyman Michael Cusick was the Democratic chairman of the Election Law Committee until he was named chairman of the Energy Committee on Sept. 28. He had been planning to discuss special election reform in his committee hearings.

“I haven’t seen any pieces of legislation introduced yet in our house, but our committee would certainly take a close look at it and see where we could fix anything that this house is in favor of doing,” he said.

And if a bill were to ever come to the state Senate, you could expect it to have Krueger’s support.

“Our special election process is clearly flawed,” she said. “The people need to have a voice, regardless of whether or not a vacancy occurs after some arbitrary date.”

Jeff Coltin
is a staff reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.