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Several months ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo created a commission to investigate public corruption. The commission has just released a report that contains a stinging indictment of the scope of corruption in New York’s state government, political campaigns, and elections.
The commission investigated the effectiveness of New York’s campaign finance laws, the management and affairs of the New York Board of Elections, the weaknesses of laws relating to lobbying, conflicts of interest, public ethics, the use of tax-exempt organizations to influence public policy and elections, and the strength and effectiveness of New York's criminal laws with respect to public corruption and abuses of public trust.
The commission said that the results of its investigation led it to conclude that “reform cannot wait.” New York “needs comprehensive reform to restore the public trust and change the permissive culture of both illegal and legal corruption in state government.”
William Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the commission, said, “In just a few months since tasked with this mission by Governor Cuomo, the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption has, among other things, uncovered clear relationships between cash and legislative actions, gaps in campaign and outside income disclosure requirements, ineffective enforcement of the state’s election law, deficiencies in the state penal law addressing public corruption, and has recommended, consistent with the beliefs of numerous government officials, the need for public financing of campaigns.”
Kathleen Rice, co-chair of the commission, added, “This report is a stinging indictment of our state’s porous laws and of many of the politicians, patrons and political players who protect and benefit by them. We have unearthed widespread compliance apathy and have isolated the structural flaws that have made all of this possible. Our recommendations include new reform ideas and also potential fixes previously shelved by a disinterested legislature. This report is a blueprint for how we can start fixing the problems that have given rise to the dysfunction. These fixes won’t happen naturally... It’s now up to us all to transition from this preliminary fact-finding phase to an era of implementation and legislative action.”
The report is divided into four areas that the commission has focused on thus far in its investigation: campaign finance, enforcement at the Board of Elections, the adequacy of current laws for effectively prosecuting corruption, and outside income of legislators and legislative discretionary funding.
The key findings and recommendations of the Commission’s preliminary report include the following:
Reform New York’s Campaign Finance System with Public Financing, Robust Disclosure, and Tighter Rules
The commission said that Albany’s pay-to-play political culture is “greased by a campaign finance system in which large donors set the legislative agenda.” Wide-open loopholes allow “virtually unlimited contributions through vehicles like limited liability companies and party ‘housekeeping’ accounts.” Meanwhile, the commission found, “outside spending groups make unlimited independent expenditures to influence our elections, hiding behind out-of-state dummy corporations to shield their donors in the absence of robust disclosure rules.”
The commission said that its investigation revealed that public financing systems, such as the one in place in New York City, “make a real difference, empowering regular citizens, reducing the power of massive checks and special interests, and increasing the accountability of officials to those they serve.”
The commission said that New York “needs comprehensive campaign finance reform.” The commission recommended, among other things, “lowering contribution limits and closing campaign finance loopholes, empowering regular New Yorkers with a small donor matching system of public financing, limiting the use of campaign funds, and creating tough new disclosure rules for shadowy outside spending groups.”
Create an Independent Election Law Enforcement Agency
The commission found that the New York Board of Elections “lacks the structural independence, the resources, and the will to enforce election and campaign finance laws.” The board’s “bipartisan” structure “has effectively led to a tacit, bipartisan agreement to do nothing – or, as one former enforcement counsel said, to ‘do the basement.’” The commission said that the board’s practices “are marked by a haphazard intake process for complaints; lengthy, inexplicable delays in making even initial determinations; an extreme paucity of actual investigations; and an abject failure to use legal and human resources for enforcement.”
According to the commission, New York “needs an independent, professional watchdog for our elections and campaign finance laws.” The commission recommended creating an entirely new, structurally independent election and campaign finance law enforcement agency, headed by a director appointed to a fixed, five year term by the governor with New York Senate confirmation, and removable only for cause.
The agency would be structured “for professional, nonpartisan, vigorous enforcement. All staff would be hired without partisan considerations, and would be free to conduct timely investigations, using all of the tools at their disposal, without the cumbersome burden of political hurdles, and without a politicized approval process. All election law enforcement would benefit from a non-partisan, structurally independent, professional enforcer whose sole purpose is safeguarding the integrity of our elections and our political system.”
Provide Powerful New Tools for Prosecutors.
In the commission’s view, New York’s criminal laws “are not strong enough to allow New York prosecutors to aggressively fight corruption and self-dealing.” In particular, the commission found that the state’s bribery statute “is singularly weak; we have no law on the books against undisclosed self-dealing; we have no means of preventing corrupt officials from re-entering public life; and our criminal procedure laws make it difficult to crack open inherently insular corruption schemes.” The commission recommended “tough new laws, and penalties that fit the crime.”
Increase the Required Disclosure for Elected Officials.
The commission said that its investigation revealed that corruption and the appearance of corruption thrive when actual and potential conflicts of interest are shrouded in darkness. The commission strongly urged greater transparency from New York legislators, and within the legislative process.
Learn more: http://publiccorruption.moreland.ny.gov/sites/default/files/moreland_rep...
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