Democrats introduce ethics legislation package

albany

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Democrats in the state Senate introduced legislation Tuesday to curb the government corruption that has tarnished New York politics.

The announcement of the nine bills comes amid backlash over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to shut down a commission he created to investigate corruption. Since then, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has taken control of the files the commission gathered and vowed to finish its work.

“Year after year, we’re still talking about some of the basic things that can be done to improve the ethics in a place that badly needs ethics improvement,” said Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris.

Democratic Senate leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is proposing a bill that would establish a public financing system for state campaigns. The state would match $6 to every $1 contributed up to $250.

The state budget passed this month included a watered-down public financing system for the comptroller’s race only. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli called it inadequate and opted out.

The new legislation seeks to lower contribution limits, regulate how candidates spend campaign funds, ban the use of campaign money for criminal defense, require disclosure on bundled donations and cap contributions to housekeeping accounts to $25,000.

According to January records filed with the Board of Elections, the Democratic Senate campaign committee’s housekeeping report shows that the party did not receive any donations of $25,000 or more during the filing period. Meanwhile the Senate Republican campaign committee’s housekeeping records had received more than 10.

The conference also introduced a bill that would strip pensions from any state or local official convicted of a felony related to public office. Under current law, only lawmakers elected after 2011 can have their pensions voided if convicted.

Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Democrat from Manhattan, would cap donations from limited liability companies at $5,000. Currently, LLCs are treated the same as individuals and can donate up to $150,000 a year.

Statewide elected officials and members of the Legislature are also not required to file disclosure reports if they are retiring or not re-elected. Proposed legislation would close that loophole and require disclosure forms for the entire time the official served in office.

Some of the bills were introduced in the past but gained no momentum in the Senate, controlled by Republicans and a breakaway faction of five Democrats.

“A lot of times you want things that don’t happen the first time,” Stewart-Cousins said. “But I think the public is demanding us to do something. They want us to act.”

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