When Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos were arrested within weeks of each other in 2015, good-government advocates hoped that corruption charges against the leaders of the Assembly and state Senate would finally lead to robust ethics reforms in Albany.
Good-government groups and some lawmakers will once again push for ethics reforms during the 2017 legislative session. There is a glimmer of hope: In mid-November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement vowing to propose stricter ethics reforms, including a 15 percent outside income cap for lawmakers, campaign finance reform, public financing for candidates and broadening JCOPE’s authority to cover local government.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron called the list a good starting point for negotiations.
“It’s a good list to start with, but we’ve seen this movie before and most of these things don’t happen,” Squadron said. “Every year now for the last two years there have been aggressive and admirable proposals put forward and then they negotiated in a closed room in the way things happen in Albany. A few things happen – more don’t – and the fundamental problems remain.”
Squadron has sponsored a bill to close the so-called “LLC Loophole,” which he says allows nearly unlimited and often anonymous corporate dollars to be donated to political campaigns.
He also supports broader campaign finance reform and more public financing of campaigns.
“I think a good goal for this session would be coming out of it having changed enough that we don’t have the annual cry for changes in how Albany works and ethics reform, but that we actually change some laws and do it in a way that really fundamentally changes the way things work.”
Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate are currently awaiting the final recount of two Long Island races to determine which party will hold the majority in the chamber. Squadron said that if Democrats win the majority they will enact rules changes to allow bills brought by the party in the minority to more easily reach the floor for a vote.
Cuomo and Squadron also noted the need to reform the process for procuring state contracts. Earlier in the year, two former close aides to Cuomo werearrested on corruption charges for soliciting bribes from companies seeking state contracts. Because of this, Cuomo is likely to feel renewed public pressure to push more ethics reforms next year.
Cuomo announced he would appoint a “chief procurement officer” to review all state contracts for wrongdoing and would no longer accept campaign contributions from companies seeking state contracts.
“To end decades of chronic conflicts of interest – both perceived and real – legislators should no longer be allowed to serve two masters,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We must enact strict limits on outside income to end chronic conflicts of interests that have plagued the New York state Legislature for many years. If you’re going to be a public servant, you shouldn’t be able to have other interests on the side.”
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have both criticized the commission’s ruling, arguing a pay raise should not be tied to legislative action, and promised to focus on issues that “truly matter” to New Yorkers.
“It is unfortunate that the governor’s appointees to the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation once again felt the need to demand legislative action in exchange for an increase in compensation,” Flanagan and Heastie said in a joint statement. “Despite the governor’s appointees’ refusal to discharge their duties, the Legislature will continue to focus on issues that truly matter to New Yorkers and help move our state forward.”
WHAT GOT DONE
- Pension forfeiture
- Stronger independent expenditure reforms
- New lobbying disclosure reforms
- Required 501(c)(4) organizations to disclose sources of funding
- Strengthened FOIL laws
WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA
- Close the LLC loophole
- Public financing of campaigns
- Campaign finance reform
- Limiting outside income
- Reforming the state’s contract procurement process