Apr 12th - 2:45 pm
Not surprisingly, state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long is not at all pleased with the talk in Albany these days of going away with so-called fusion voting by repealing or amending the Wilson-Pakula statute that requires candidates who aren’t enrolled in a particular party to get permission from that party’s leaders to run on their ballot line.
New York is one of just eight states that allow cross endorsements, which are really the lifeblood of the
three four third parties with ballot access – the Working Families Party, the Conservative Party and the Independence Party. Note: I forgot the Green Party, which, thanks to its 2010 gubernatorial candidate, Howie Hawkins, now has automatic ballot access through the 2014 election.
Often, a third party ballot line provides the margin of victory for candidates in close elections. (The Conservatives like to note that no statewide Republican candidate has won an election without their support since 1974). But cross endorsements are also how minor parties maintain their ballot status, since their ability to maintain their lines is contingent on their gubernatorial candidate receiving at least 50,000 votes every four years.
Needless it say, it’s alot easier for a well-known major party candidate like Andrew Cuomo to his that threshold than some no-name challenger – unless, of course, that challenger is really controversial (like Carl Paladino) or really rich (like Tom Golisano, whose self-funded and unsuccessful quest to win the governor’s office created the Independence Party).
Cuomo has not yet formally proposed any electoral reforms in the wake of last week’s back-to-back corruption scandals, but he has talked about the possibility of rescinding the Wilson-Pakula law following Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith’s arrest for allegeding trying to bribe his way onto the GOP line in the New York City mayor’s race.
The idea now has some legs, thanks to IDC leader Jeff Klein’s wide-ranging campaign finance/electoral reform proposal that includes repeal of Wilson-Pakula.
In a CapTon interview that will air tonight at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., Long called ending Wilson-Pakula a “wrong headed” idea that would provide “an easy way out” for the governor. And he warned that minor parties like his won’t be the only casualties of this change.
“In his mind, it makes it look like he’s really doing some big reform,” the chairman said. “If they do away with Wilson-Pakula, and do away fusion voting eventually, we would probably go out of business but we’re not going to go out of business right away.”
“So, an awful lot of people are going to get hurt in the process because we’re going to run canddiates up and down the state of New York on the Conservative Party line. We’ll run ‘em for governor, United States Senate, Assembly, Senate. If that’s what he wants to do, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
“…Why do this feel good reform? Why not do something that has teeth in it, like making it very clear to those who have the public trust, those who get elected to office…that if they break the law and teh game the system and they’re found guilty and they’re convicted of a felony, guess what? You just lost your pension.”
(For the record, Long doesn’t like public campaign financing, either).
It seems highly unlikely that the Wilson-Pakula piece will end up in the final reform deal – assuming there is one – agreed to by y the legislative leaders and Cuomo, although much depends on how hard the governor pushes for this particular change.
I can’t imagine that either Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, whose members benefit greatly from the Conservative Party’s line; or Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has the same situation with the labor-backed Working Families Party; is going to go along with this at the end of the day.
Apr 11th - 1:14 pm
ICYMI: This was today’s morning memo…
Back when Andrew Cuomo was state attorney general, he issued a scathing report on the so-called Troopergate scandal, condemning then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s botched use of the State Police to smear his political rival, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.
The scandal dragged on for months (actually, it outlived the tenures of both Spitzer and Bruno), with the Senate Republicans milking every last drop of publicity possible from the mess.
Part of the GOP’s strategy to extend Troopergate was a series of hearings convened by now former Sen. George Winner. At one of these little get-togethers, a trio of top Cuomo aides appeared to testify, making a plea for more power in the AG’s office to prosecute public corruption cases.
“If we had subpoena power, this investigation would be over,” Cuomo’s former chief of staff, Steve Cohen, told the senators, noting the AG’s office does have that ability in some cases – environmental cases, Medicaid fraud cases, securities cases (via the Martin Act, which was used to the fullest extent by Cuomo’s predecessor, Spitzer) – but not when it comes to public integrity.
“This is one of those problems that the more you look at it the more you realize that this is a glaring hole in our arsenal, and the more you realize that, unlike in most cases, the fix is not that complicated,” Cohen continued.
“…What you really want is to have one regulatory body, or more, but at least one, that has the ability to pursue cases wherever they think it’s necessary. It would seem to me that the appropriate place to vest that power…is in the statewide attorney general’s office.”
That was then.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that the biggest corruption-busting case brought by Cuomo while he was AG felled former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi. When it comes to putting away crooked state lawmakers, the prize goes to US Attorney Preet Bharara.
Fast forward to 2011, when Cuomo has become governor and former Sen. Eric Schneiderman – a man widely known not to be Cuomo’s first choice as a successor – had won a crowded and hard-fought primary and general election to make it to the AG’s office.
Schneiderman told the TU he had unsuccessfully raised the issue of a so-called “blanket referral” from the governor’s office via an executive order that would enable him to investigate public corruption cases.
Apr 9th - 2:14 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo just unveiled Step One in what will be a multi-pronged reform proposal in the wake of last week’s back-to-back corruption cases: Empowering local district attorneys to better ferret out and prosecute wrongdoing by dirty elected officials at all levels of government in New York.
Cuomo said he had decided to start here because the DAs are essentially the first line of defense in busting bad pols. Increasing penalties and creating new crimes – like making it a misdemeanor to fail to report bribery – through the Public Trust Act, as the governor has dubbed it, is also arguably the low-hanging fruit when it comes to getting legislative support.
The governor has said he wants to strike while the iron is hot, and believes state lawmakers are ”receptive” to approving reforms in light of recent events. But more political efforts, like doing away with fusion voting and creating a publicly funded campaign finance system, could still be a tough sell.
Notably left off Cuomo’s law enforcement proposal today was any mention of the state attorney general, who has repeatedly asked for more power when it comes to investigating public integrity cases.
Most notably, the AG lacks subpoena power in corruption cases, which hamstrings him considerably – so much so that AG Eric Schneiderman has resorted to teaming up with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who does have suboena power, to prosecute the misuse of public funds.
Asked (by NY1′s intrepid Zack Fink) why the AG isn’t part of his proposal, Cuomo said his quest is to “maximize all political offices” when it comes to corruption busting, adding that the attorney general has “an important role” to play.
That’s a very different tune than the one Cuomo himself was singing back when he was AG.
In the wake of the so-called Troopergate scandal, in which Cuomo issued a scathing report on then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s botched attempt to use to the State Police to smear his political rival, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, Cuomo’s top aide, Steve Cohen, said the following at a Senate GOP hearing:
“This is one of those problems that the more you look at it the more you realize that this is a glaring hole in our arsenal, and the more you realize that, unlike in most cases, the fix is not that complicated…What you really want is to have one regulatory body, or more, but at least one, that has the ability to pursue cases wherever they think it’s necessary. It would seem to me that the appropriate place to vest that power…is in the statewide attorney general’s office.”
At the time, the Senate Republicans were calling on Spitzer to make Cuomo a special prosecutor with the subpoena power so he could take a deeper dive into investigating Troopergate.
They even drafted legislation that would require the state inspector general to refer cases to the AG, and confer subpoena power to that office in the process, any time a conflict of interest arises in a case – as it did in Troopergate, pitting the executive and legislative branches against one another.
Needless to say, Spitzer did not heed that call, and the bill in question never went anywhere.
Apr 4th - 12:55 pm
ICYMI: This was today’s morning memo. (Sign up on our State of Politics home page if you haven’t already).
The fallout from the ballot rigging/real estate/bribery scandal will likely continue for some time, with a plethora of proposals floated by elected officials and good government advocates anxious to demonstrate to an exasperated public that they are doing everything they can to prevent this sort of this from happening again…and again…and again.
Already, the calls are coming for campaign finance reform – specifically, a publicly funded system that ostensibly would free candidates and incumbents from going, hat in hand, to deep pocketed donors, labor unions and corporate interests that, in turn, wield undue influence in the halls of power.
There are some naysayers, however, including Bob McManus, who writes in this morning’s NY Post that what likely fueled Sen. Malcolm Smith’s desire to bribe his way into a race he had close to zero chances of winning was access to oodles of taxpayer-based matching funds through NYC’s campaign finance system.
It’s true that, as another key figure in this scandal, NYC Councilman Dan Halloran put it, this mess was all about the “f*#@ing money,” and reducing the power of cash in the system very well could reduce the opportunities for those bent on corruption to put their dirty plans into action.
But there’s another reform highlighted in this morning’s New York Times that would likely be far more effective at preventing a ballot-for-sale scandal like this one – and it’s a proposal that will likely be far less popular with elected officials than the idea of free campaign cash at the taxpayers’ expense.
The Gray Lady’s editorial page says remedy No. 1 to this particular scandal is the resignations of the “compromised” pols involved, starting with the “sleaze-spattered Mr. Smith.”
“The harder job will be getting rid of the pay-to-play culture,” the editorial continues. “This means repealing the law that gives party leaders the right to allow outsiders to run in primaries.”
“For years, the Republican line in New York City has been sold to high bidders who – like Mayor Michael Bloomberg – make legal contributions to the party treasury. (Mr. Smith is accused of illegally funneling cash to personal accounts.) This invites corruption and misleads voters who presume a Republican is actually a Republican.”
Ah yes, Mayor Bloomberg.
Let us not forget that the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent billionaire has pretty much bought his way onto the GOP and Independence Party lines for three terms running now.
But in his case, it’s all completely legal, thanks to the fact that 1) party housekeeping accounts have no contribution limits, and 2) his contributions were reported, as required by the state’s highly permissive election laws.
New York is one of just eight states in the nation that allow so-called “fusion voting,” neatly defined by Wikipedia as “an arrangement where two or more political parties on a ballot list the same candidate, pooling the votes for that candidate.”
Apr 2nd - 1:36 pm
In announcing the three-pronged bribery scheme that appears to have felled state Sen. Malcolm Smith, two local Rockland County officials and several NYC GOP leaders, US Attorney Preet Bharara today condemned – yet again – the culture of corruption in New York politics.
Bharara called for something other than the “blunt” prosecutorial tools of his office to be brought to bear in an attempt to finally clean up the system.
The US attorney didn’t make any specific recommendations about how to purge the state of dirty pols, but he did make clear that the growing list of cases against elected officials at the state and local levels brought by his office indicate that the problem is far from solved – despite claims to the contrary by any number of self-appointed “reformers.”
“(W)hat can we expect when there continues to be – even after a parade of politicians have been hauled off to prison – a lack of transparency, a lack of self-disclosure, a lack of self policing, a lack of will, and a failure of leadership?” Bharara said. “What can we expect when transgressions seem to be tolerated and nothing seems to ever change? New Yorkers should demand more.”
“…I think that any time you have a situation where something happens again and again and again, and it happens on the part of people who should know better, and it happens on the part of people who should be able to engage in a decent and reasonable calculus about whether or not it’s worth going to jail and being separated from your liberty for a few thousand dollars, that something is broken in the system,” he continued a bit later.
“…I think there are a lot of folks in and around the state who are people of good will and decency who are in a position to do something about the structure that exists in Albany and in other places.”
Smith has been in investigators’ crosshairs for some time, and speculation has run rampant for years now that he would likely end up indicted – although it must be said that the circumstances under which he was finally charged comes as something of a surprise (at least to me).
But Bharara’s blistering attack on politics, writ large, must sting a little for any number of people – including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who, in his previous job as state attorney general, pledged to clean up Street State, much the way his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, had taken on Wall Street.
Cuomo did expose a massive pay-to-play state pension fund scandal that felled a number of high-profile individuals, including former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and his long-time political advisor, Hank Morris. But he didn’t focus terribly much on the Legislature during his four years as the state’s top attorney.
Back in 2010, Cuomo chose to launch his gubernatorial campaign in front of the former Manhattan courthouse named for Boss Tweed, the corrupt political boss of Tammany Hall. At the time, he told supporters: “Unfortunately, Albany’s antics today could make Boss Tweed blush. Our message today is simple. Enough is enough.”
Since then, however, the parade of pols slapped with corruption charges has only continued, including yet another member of the Senate Democratic conference, Carl Kruger, (Cuomo called his case “unfortunate”); former Westchester Sen. Nick Spano (who pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges); and, of course, Brooklyn Assemblyman William Boyland Jr., whose case (his second time fighting charges) is ongoing.
(For the record, Bharara declined to say that the epicenter of corruption in Albany lies in the Senate, despite the fact that it has been home to the majority of fallen legislators, saying: “(F)rom what I understand in the papers, not every state legislator has this degree of criminality that’s been exposed.”
Part of Cuomo’s gubernatorial platform was an ethics reform pledge. The governor did accomplish that during his first year in office, scrapping the existing watchdog commissions in Albany and replacing them with JCOPE, which has had a troubled tenure almost since its inception.
UPDATE: Here’s a copy of Bharara’s formal remarks from this morning’s press conference, as prepared for delivery:
Jun 26th - 1:22 pm
ICYMI: Sean Eldrige and Steve Cohen joined me on CapTon last night to discuss Protect Our Democracy, a new campaign that will work with the Cuomo administration on a coordinated push for campaign finance reform using a similar model to the one successfully employed last year to get a same-same marriage bill passed in Albany.
Just like with gay marriage, the focus will again be on the closely-divided Senate. Eldridge, who, along with his fiance, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, seeded Protect Our Democracy with $250,000, said the organization’s first focus will be on trying to elect reform-minded senators in the upcoming fall elections.
I found that particularly interesting, since Gov. Andrew Cuomo has so far studiously avoided taking sides in the re-match between the Democrats and Republican for control of the majority (although it could be, and has been, argued that he showed his preference by signing the GOP’s redistricting plan into law).
I asked Eldridge and Cohen if Protect Our Democracy is a back door effort by the governor to help the Democrats win back the majority.
“It is not so much the Democrats and Republicans and the party affiliations that matter, but building a coalition for change that may transcend those particular lines,” replied Cohen, Cuomo’s former chief of staff, who spearheaded the same-sex marriage campaign.
“It’s certainly not a back door effort by the governor. The governor is going to take whatever positions he wants, and whatever he deems appropriate, with respect to the elections in November. This is an effort beyond that to try to get real reform in the state of New York.”
Eldridge and Cohen also said that they’re not backing any particular piece of campaign reform legislation at this moment. There are several bills floating around out there, including one sponsored by Senate Minority Leader John Sampson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon SIlver that establishes a public campaign finance system.
Protect Our Democracy should not be confused with NY LEAD, a pro-campaign finance reform effort launched by a number of well-heeled political donors, with which Elrdridge is also associated. NY LEAD was intended to be a public information campaign, Elrdridge told me, whereas Protect Our Democracy will have a political focus via a 501(c)(4).
May 23rd - 6:44 am
Here’s the video that served as Sen. Mike Gianaris’ response at last night’s LCA show, in which he and his fellow reform-minded Democrats poked fun at their quixotic quest for an independent redistricting process.
The seven-minute spoof opens with Gianaris, who has been pushing for an overhaul of the state’s political line-drawing system since he was in the Assembly, brainstorming with Sens. Kevin Parker and Liz Krueger about how to make Gov. Andrew Cuomo stick to his pledge to veto the Senate GOP’s gerrymandered plan.
At his colleagues’ urging, Gianaris places a personal call to the governor’s office, only to be hung up on by a secretary.
He plays through, however, pretending for his fellow senators’ sake to to give the governor a piece of his mind while in reality, the dial tone is echoing loudly in his ear.
Other cameos: Former Gov. David Paterson, former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, state Sens. Gustavo Rivera, Daniel Squadron and Jose Peralta, Common Cause NY’s Susan Lerner and, of course, the granddaddy of redistricting reform, former NYC Mayor Ed Koch.
Also, kudos to my NY1 colleagues Zack Fink and Errol Louis for playing themselves so well.
May 18th - 11:46 am
The organization Fair Elections for NY, which is calling for public financing of campaigns, has for weeks now been trying to raise awareness about the current system by revealing the donations that state lawmakers have recieved from corporations and interest groups. Tomorrow, they are going to continue that push by holding press conferences across the state targeting 8 specific senators.
The group is going to outline the donations each senator has recieved from members of the Business Council of New York State. On their list are 6 Republicans and 2 Democrats, Sen. Martin Dilan from Brooklyn and Sen. Dave Valesky from Oneida.
The Senate is seen as the biggest stumbling block for campaign finance reform and has been the focus of the groups efforts. The Assembly has already put forth a bill on campaign finance reform and the Governor has voiced support for the issue, while maybe not the specific bill in the Assembly.
“Our communities, our children, our families, and our economy can no longer withstand the overwhelming weight of influence that CEO campaign contributions have over our electoral process,” said Ivette Alfonso, President of Citizen Action of New York.
“When corporations and their big money lobbyists pay for election campaigns, they’re effectively buying public policy. The integrity of our democracy requires that we, as constituents, have an audience with the officials we elect. Until New York has public financing of elections, we can’t be sure we’re truly being represented in our government.”
All this information is public to all and can be found on the state board of elections website, though I think it is fair to say that few people comb through individual donations to candidates.
A list of tomorrow’s events is after the jump.
May 14th - 1:12 pm
Albany County Legislature Chairman Shawn Morse seized on the conviction of former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. on four counts of felony theft (so far) from his taxpayer-funded Soundview Health Clinic to tee off on his Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Neil Breslin, for voting to accept Espada back into the conference following the 2009 coup.
“I am glad to see today’s guilty verdicts for disgraced ex-Senator Pedro Espada,” Morse said. “This is yet another step in cleaning up our state Government and giving New Yorkers the Legislature they deserve. ”
“While I hope this is the final end of Pedro Espada’s role in government, we still need to take ahard look at how this situation arose, and the bad choices that were made that allowed him to lie, cheat and steal from the taxpayers for as long as he did.”
“My opponent, who was one of those who supported Mr. Espada in exchange for keeping his position in the Majority, now admits that he ‘shares in the guilt’ and the ‘shame’ for his past support. Mr. Breslin may admit his guilt now, but it would have been far better if he never supported Mr. Espada for Majority Leader in the first place. ”
“The damage that Neil Breslin’s support of Mr. Espada did to the state, to his reputation, and to the reputation of Democrats as a whole is still being felt. The next time Mr. Breslin is offered the chance to support a criminal in exchange for more power, I hope he thinks better of it.”
Breslin has repeatedly made clear his less-than-friendly feelings about Espada – at one point (after the coup was settled and the Democrats had returned to the majority, thanks to the retun – with strings attached – of Espada and his co-conspirator, former Sen. Hiram Monserrate, to the fold) even saying that his colleague was a “crook” who belonged “in jail.”
The senator even used that statement in a campaign ad back in 2010 – the year he successfully fended off a primary challenge from Luke Martland.
But it’s also true that Breslin ultimately did not object when his fellow Democrats voted to allow Monserrate and Espada to return to the conference, restoring him to his post as Insurance Committee chairman. Last January, Breslin was tapped by Democratic Leader John Sampson to serve as deputy minority leader, a position that carries a $20,500 stipend (lulu).
NOTE: A reader reminds me that Morse has a Senate Democrat connection of his own. He hired the consulting firm Red Horse Strategies to run his campaign. The firm’s founders left the public payroll in 2008, but have retained ties – and contracts – to the conference on and off since then.
UPDATE: Breslin’s response:
“I believe we as elected officials need to hold ourselves to a higher ethical standard. The people entrust us to do what is right and we have a duty to represent them in the most honest and ethical way possible. No one with a criminal record should ever be elected to office.”
“I called for former Senator Espada’s ouster long before his conviction today. I am proud to say that I have been one the most outspoken voices of reform in the New York State Senate. I will continue to be that voice of reform because the people of Albany and Rensselaer Counties, and all of New York State deserve no less.”
May 3rd - 9:08 am
ICYMI: Filmmaker Steve Cowan joined me on CapTon last night prior to the screening of his documentary, “Pricele$$”, about the absolute power of money in national politics, and expressed confidence that Americans are finally sufficiently fed up to demand reform.
It would be extremely helpful, Cowan said, if New York would take a leadership position in this fight.
The Assembly Democrats have proposed a bill to establish a public campaign finance system, but so far, the Senate GOP isn’t interested and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, while in favor of the concept of taxpayer-funded campaigns, hasn’t put any muscle behind the measure.
“I think change is coming, and I don’t know when it’s coming for the state of New York,” Cowan told me. “But I think all eyes are actually on New York.”
“The whole national movement to mandate this kind of reform…if New York got into a position to really lead on this, I think it would help change in Washington, D.C.”
“Other states have done it already: Airzona, Maine, Connecticut. But New York is the Big Apple, so to speak.”
Cowan’s visit to the Capital Region from his home state of Oregon just so happened to fall on a day when Cuomo decried the power of money at the Capitol, calling it “unbelievable,” just hours before he headed to Buffalo for a $5,000-a-head fundraiser to benefit his 2014 re-election campaign.
The Buffalo News’ Bob McCarthy reported this morning that Cuomo’s take from the event was about $450,000, making it one of the most successful political fundraisers in WNY history.
That sum, according to McCarthy, is thought to be the most ever earned locally for a gubernatorial campaign.
On April 25, Cuomo, who made public campaign finance part of his 2010 campaign reform agenda and highlighted it in his 2012 State of the State address, had this to say on whether action might be taken this year:
“Campaign finance, which is going to be difficult to get an agreement, I think if you listen to the two sides of the issue on this, you’ll get a sense right away of the gap.”
The Senate Democrats held a press conference this week to declare their collective support for campaign finance reform, and insisted the popular governor could convince their Republican colleagues to move on this if he really wanted to.
Cuomo had just over $14 million on hand as of Jan. 15. He’s expected to have far more than that when the next filing is made public in mid-July.