NEW YORK, NY (01/17/2017)(readMedia)-- Joined by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and national anti-corruption activist Zephyr Teachout, Common Cause/NY laid out three priority reforms that the Legislature must enact to address the embarrassing spate of corruption scandals that continue to plague Albany:
1. Close the LLC Loophole
2. Comprehensive Contracting Oversight
3. Election Modernization: Early Voting (EV), Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), Electronic Poll Books
"New York is a national leader on so many issues, but a laggard when it comes to fair and functional democracy. We have an absolute crisis of corruption in this state that jeopardizes our standing as a guardian of democracy against the excesses of the incoming administration. We agree with Governor Cuomo, that government cannot do its job without the people's trust. Rhetoric is nice, but voters expect results," said Susan Lerner Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
New York State law treats limited liability companies (LLCs) as individuals, as opposed to corporations, subject to the much higher contribution limit. This "loophole" allows companies to wield outsize influence, drowning out the voice of average voters.
An individual or an LLC can give:
• $60,800 to a statewide campaign per election cycle
• $16,800 to a State Senate candidate per election cycle
• $8,200 to an Assembly candidate per election cycle
In contrast, corporations can only contribute $5,000 overall to political candidates and committees in a calendar year.
As a result, special interests can donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to individual candidates, in some cases over $1,000,000 annually to an individual gubernatorial candidate. The LLC loophole was a central issue in the corruption cases against Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver who both accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from New York City based Glenwood Management, in return for preferential treatment.
A 2016 Common Cause/NY analysis found that from 2005 through 2014, Glenwood Management contributed over $12.8 million to New York State candidates and committees. But, direct contributions made by the company itself, or through individuals such as CEO Leonard Litwin, made up only 10% of the spending overall.
The contributions made by at least fifty (50) coordinated LLCs steadily increased from $1.1 million in 2008 to over $2.5 million in 2014. In 2014, direct contributions made by Glenwood Management and affiliated individuals accounted for less than 2% of Glenwood's $2.6 million total giving.
This consistent increase over the past 10 years in LLC giving, with a concomitant diminution in direct giving, clearly illustrates how industries like real estate continue to consolidate power and buy influence in the Legislature. Policy agendas for important issues like the 421a tax abatement and New York City rent laws are being controlled by the industry they're designed to regulate through publicly elected leaders dependent on its largesse.
"Donald Trump is possibly the most conflict ridden President-Elect in modern history. When he assumes office he will almost certainly be in violation of the emoluments clause, which protects American democracy from foreign interference. But Trump says that 'unless you see proof, it's not bribery.' This should not be the same excuse Albany lawmakers use to justify the LLC loophole," said Zephyr Teachout.
Comprehensive Contracting Oversight
In September, the United States Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara, arrested high-level officials in the Governor's office for rigging economic development contracts worth more than $780 million. Cities like Syracuse have been directly affected by that scandal.
"Reforming our contracting practices, increasing voter participation, and closing the LLC loophole are important measures we must take to restore the voters trust in our state government," said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie A. Miner. "I'm pleased to endorse the Common Cause agenda and look forward to advocating for it in this session."
Common Cause/NY has previously joined with Citizens Union, the Citizen Budget Commission, the Fiscal Policy Institute, the League of Women Voters, Reinvent Albany, and NYPIRG to offer 5 Clean Contracting Reforms:
1. Require competitive and transparent contracting for the award of state funds by all state agencies, authorities, and affiliates. Use existing agency procurement guidelines as a uniform minimum standard.
2. Transfer responsibility for awarding all economic development awards to Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), and end awards by state non-profits and SUNY.
3. Empower the comptroller to review and approve all state contracts over $250K.
4. Prohibit state authorities, state corporations and state non-profits from doing business with their board members.
5. Create a 'Database of Deals' that allows the public to see the total value of all forms of subsidies awarded to a business – as six states have done.
Last week Common Cause/NY released a report, titled "Election Administration: How Does New York State Compare?" evaluating the state against the 19 recommendations made by the bi-partisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Endorsed by The Black Institute, Chhaya CDC, The Center for Law and Social Justice, APA VOICE, and the New York Immigration Coalition, the report found New York laws to be among the weakest in the nation earning it a D-. Some of the commission's proposed reforms include modernizing voter records, streamlining bureaucratic processes, increasing accessibility of polling sites for disabled voters, and establishing early voting in the state.
In his State of the State, the Governor again proposed several measures to make voting more accessible and efficient including Early Voting (EV) and Automatic Voter Registration (AVR).
Early voting is already available in 37 states, and the governor would replicate this proven strategy to make voting easier for all New Yorkers particularly seniors and people with disabilities.
"New York's arcane system of elections is completely out of step with the rest of the country, leaving voters routinely frustrated and even disenfranchised. The dysfunction in our campaign finance system and economic development policies is directly related to the in efficiency and inaccessibility of our elections," said Susan Lerner.
Additionally, Common Cause New York has proposed a set of recommendations similar to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, urging lawmakers to pass legislation in the 2017 legislative session to improve voting rights and the voter experience across the state:
· Modernize voter registration by making the process electronic and portable
· Shorten the deadline for registration to ten days before an election
· Allow pre-registration of voters aged 16 and 17 years
· Adopt a two-week period of early voting, including two weekends with sufficient public notice
· Transition to electronic poll books
· Revise ballots to make them more easily understandable to both poll workers and voters
· Upgrade poll worker recruitment, training, and standards to ensure effective poll site staffing