August 25, 2018

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v21)

(Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times photo)
Five years ago today, I did a post on campaign finance reform at the request of a right-leaning Facebook friend (yes, as a left-leaning centrist, I have those -- and I hope you, too, engage with folks on the other side of the ideological line on whatever social media platforms you use).

The post addressed not only taking care of things as the national level, but also at the meanwhile, back in Albany level.

I was reminded of that post and others today when I was going through my writing research pile and found an article from mid-July about the Legislature coming back for a special session to take care of ethics reform.

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) called for the special session mentioned in the article, to get the Sonofa Gov, the Democratic-controlled Assembly and the (barely) Republican-controlled Senate together to get something done on a handful-and-a-half of proposals, including:
  • the 'database of deals' that would track all taxpayer subsidies received by a corporation, how many jobs were created, the cost per job and so on -- all about transparency with this one.
  • limiting campaign contributions by the governor's appointees, and from vendors and contractors doing business with the state. Notably missing? Limiting contributions by appointees of the Legislature, such as on commissions and authorities, many of which include members appointed by the Gov, the Assembly and the Senate. 
  • restoring oversight by the state comptroller on spending related to the CUNY, SUNY and other 'centralized' contracts, which was removed several years ago. This bill would also prohibit state contracts from being 'passed through' state agencies or affiliated organizations.
  • budget transparency, via an independent stage budget office, which would make it harder for non-specific lump sum spending to be hidden away somewhere in the budget.
  • getting rid of JCOPE, the ridiculously ineffective Joint Commission on Public Ethics and also the Legislative Ethics Committee and replacing them with an independent watchdog agency. 
  • closing the LLC loophole which allows campaign contribution limits to be bypassed by donating through limited liability companies. This baby's been around since 1996, and has withstood repeated attempts to talk about limitations.
  • limiting outside income for legislators and executive branch employees.
In my opinion from five years ago, and just as strongly today, I do not believe they're going far enough. Several things are missing, including these:
  • term limits, something I think we need at every level
  • limiting fundraisers during the legislative session (here's a great read from 2016 on the same subject)
  • taking campaign donations only from actual human beings, and only then from folks who live within the legislative district.
  • limiting how campaign contributions can be used, including no personal use, no out of district use, and how to handle them when the politician leaves office
  • limiting or legitimizing franked mail, one of my least favorite legislative perks.
Since it's been a full month since the article on the special session was published, I think they're safe -there's no chance the Leg will come back to tackle ethics or anything else. 

Instead, they can spend the next several weeks roaming around their districts, as they do every election year, telling us how they take this stuff seriously. 

Seriously.