Apr 15th - 5:29 pm
Senate Democrats today unveiled their own reform package in the wake of the twin corruption scandals that engulfed both chambers of the Legislature nearly two weeks ago.
Their package includes plans for a public funding of political campaigns, retroactively stripping pension beneifts of a public official who has been convicted of felony corruption charges, restricting the use of campaign funds for criminal defense and tighten campaign disclosure reports to identify lobbyists.
The proposal is the latest in a series of ethics reform packages to be intrdouced in the wake of the arrests of Sen. Malcolm Smith and, in a separate case, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out a plan to tighten anti-bribery laws last week and the Independent Democratic Conference later would release a kitchen sink-style package of bills ranging from campaign finance changes to strengthening the role of the state attorney general.
Cuomo has called his plan step two.
Senate Democrats say the plan is just to keep the conversation going with anti-corruption while the public cares about the issue, not dissimilar to what Cuomo has said about pushing through his own plan.
“The strategy is beginning — just as everyone is — the conversation about the need for enhanced bills and enhanced transparency and enhanced guidelines,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “I think the strategy is just that we’re in a crisis and clearly we need to respond to it. And that response means getting good bills on the floor that allow for us to vote and take a public stand for how we feel about serving the public.”
The Senate Republicans, meanwhile, took issue with the public funding proposal, which has also part of Senate Co-President Jeff Klein’s proposal and backed by Cuomo as well.
“Taking ethics or campaign finance advice from the Senate Democrats is more likely to get you investigated or indicted than it is to get you real reform,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif. “While we believe there is more that can be done to increase disclosure and tighten up our existing laws, allowing politicians to use taxpayer money to finance their campaigns is not a solution. With dozens of documented incidences of abuse, it’s been a recipe for disaster in New York City, and there’s no reason to believe it would be any different statewide.”
Apr 15th - 5:08 pm
As noted earlier, Sen. Malcolm Smith is in an organizational no-man’s land when it comes to which legislative conference he is a member of.
Smith, who bolted from the mainline Senate Democratic Conference late last year, was defenestrated by the Independent Democratic Conference after he was arrested for his alleged role in a sweeping bribery scheme to put himself on the GOP mayoral ballot in New York City.
But with Smith in a conference of one, it has thrown the committee assignments out of whack.
That’s because the Senate rules adopted earlier in the year that laid out the nuts-and-bolts agreement for the IDC-GOP majority coalition included specific percentages for committee composition.
Sen. Mike Gianaris argued today that because Smith is not a majority coalition member, that could mean a reduction in the number of majority coalition members on committees.
The move was left unresolved at the end of today’s Senate session.
“At this point in time like we have always done whether a member passes on or quits the Senate, the leaders or in this case the coalition leaders, will determine the specific make up of those specific committees in accordance to the rules as we move forward,” Sen. Tom Libous, R-Binghamton, told reporters this afternoon after the legislative session.
But he did say the situation is somewhat unusual, given the Senate rules laying out committee asisgnments based on proportionality.
“I’d have to look at the makeup. They’re going to follow the rules and do whatever the rules say. This is a little unique because the makeup has not alwasy been in the rules, it’s always been just a determination by the majority leader,” Libous said. “I’m sure Senator Klein and Senator Skelos will get together and determine what the make up of those committees should be.”
Yes, it’s all a little inside baseball on the composition of the committee assignments, but it’s just another subtle wrinkle from the Smith arrest and the Senate rules adopted this year.
As for anti-corruption measures, Libous said the GOP conference is interested in taking a look at the governor’s proposals, but wouldn’t go as far as endorsing public matching funds for political campaigns, which has the backing of mainline Democrats in the Senate and the IDC.
“I think right now we’re looking at everything that’s being proposed,” Libous said. “I think our conference has some thoughts on different things that could be helpful. If someone is put in the situation where they do what Senator Smith did, it’s hard to legislate against that. I think we can do some things to make the laws tougher.”
Apr 15th - 4:49 pm
With Tax Day upon us, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his 2012 tax documents, showing he paid an effective tax rate of 19.69 percent on $187,499 in gross income.
Cuomo paid $40,153 in taxes and is due a $3,234 refund from the federal government.
He recorded a $3,000 capital gains loss, but after a sell off of securities recorded a larger loss of $27,575.
AMG National Bank has control of Cuomo’s investments that is in a blind trust the governor doesn’t control, an administration aide said.
On the state side, he paid a 6 percent effective tax rate and his refund is $3,161.
Cuomo’s income includes $168,910 in state salary, $1,657 in taxable interest and $17,003 in ordinary dividends.
As usual, his charitable contributions include a $9,000 donation to HELP, the housing program he founded before joining the Department of Housing and Urban Developmental in Clinton administration.
Cuomo does not pay property taxes on the Westchester County home he shares with girlfriend, Food Network star Sandra Lee. Both Lee and Cuomo split living expenses.
Apr 15th - 4:34 pm
Sean Eldridge, a Hudson Valley investor and political activist who is mulling a potential challenge next year to GOP Rep. Chris Gibson, has raised $311,215 over the past three months, according to a report filed with the FEC.
During that same period, Eldridge spent $31,517. (His expenses include $10,000 to KnickerbockerSKD, which has been handling the press for his unofficial campaign). He has $279,607 on hand.
“We’re grateful for the strong support and interest Sean is receiving as he considers a congressional bid,” Knickerbocker’s Mike Morey told me this afternoon.
The report covers a three-month period from January 1 to March 31.
A source close to Eldridge confirmed in early February that he was eyeing a possible run for Congress, and later that some month, Eldridge and his husband, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, reportedly purchased a $2 million home in Gibson’s district. (NY-19).
UPDATE: I’m told Eldridge and Hughes purchased their new home in January – before reports of Eldrirdge’s potential congressional run started to leak out.
Hughes maxed out ($5,200 – $2,600 each for primary and general) to Eldridge’s committee, but so far, the wealthy couple has not put a substantial amount of cash behind this endeavor – something that generally occurs in the form of a loan with potential self-funders.
There are a number of contributors of note in Eldridge’s filing, including Tim Gill, a prominent gay rights activist and donor ($1,500); and John Barabino ($2,600), who is a member of the Gill Foundation Board of Directors; and attorney and gay rights advocate Evan Wolfson ($1,000).
Also of note: George Soros gave $1,500, Jennifer Soros $2,600 and Jonathan Soros $2,600. Jonathan Soros (Friends of Democracy) and Eldridge (Protect Out Democracy) are both investing in a push by well-heeled New York Democrats to establish a publicly funded campaign finance system in New York. Both groups spent heavily in last year’s tight Senate race that was ultimately won by Democratic Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk.
Eldridge so far hasn’t formally announced he’s running, but this strong fund-raising show increases the likelihood he’ll ultimately throw his hat into the ring. (At the end of December 2012, Gibson had $15,016 on hand and just over $1,000 worth of debt).
Apr 15th - 3:41 pm
Sen. Malcolm Smith is a man without a conference.
The Queens Democrat is back in Albany today less than two weeks after he was charged in a bribery scheme with the alleged goal of putting himself on the New York City Republican mayoral ballot.
Smith seemed noticeably subdued in speaking with reporters, declining to discuss the charges.
“I stand by my lawyer’s statements,” he told Daily News bureau chief Ken Lovett and CapTon’s Bryan Terry.
Smith was booted from the Independent Democratic Conference after his arrest and was stripped of his leadership titles, including vice chairman of the conference and the chairman of the Senate Social Services committee.
“I’m still in the chamber, I understand, I’m still here to do my job,” he said.
It remains to be seen how effective Smith can be in the chamber, given that he is no longer a member of any of the three conferences. Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins today said at a news conference that Smith hasn’t asked to return to the Democratic conference and it would be highly unlikely if the conference wanted him back.
Smith’s seat in the Senate chamber has been moved to the far left-hand corner of the room, a chair previously held by Sen. Carl Kruger, who sat that spot after he was indicted on corruption charges.
“I have an obligation to serve my constituents,” Smith said of his reason fro being in Albany. “I’m interested in serving the constituents in my district,” he said.
Apr 15th - 2:34 pm
If you’re a fan of Robert Caro’s series of weighty tomes on Lyndon Johnson’s life, then you will likely enjoy Chris Smith’s profile and analysis of Andrew Cuomo’s political mind in New York Magazine.
The profile, which Cuomo cooperated for, is an argument in favor of transactional politics, the give-and-take series of deal making the public imagines is dirty and abhorrent and that is the worst example of “politics.”
For the transactional politician like Cuomo, the bigger sin is not doing anything at the expense of ideologies.
Cuomo notes in the profile with some grim satisfaction that Eliot Spitzer couldn’t get anything done. He frequently contrasts Albany’s relatively new functionality to how Washington is broken thanks in part to either end of the political spectrum not being able to bend on anything.
Thank the Caro books, in part, for the restoration of transactional politics and rehabilitating the art of the possible. Steven Speilberg’s presentation of Abraham Lincoln as a politician who grasps politics, too, painted that aspect of the 16th president in a heroic light, even as he sent away to Albany for lobbyists adept at shady work.
It would have been quite unusual, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, for a politician to be favorably compared to LBJ (keep in mind, Caro’s series has not gotten to Vietnam, yet).
But the domestic agenda of Johnson was bold and expansive, pushing through social and economic reforms despite legislative intransigence.
Cuomo and Johnson seized moments. They know how to talk to legislators. They know when to bully, when to charm.
A vivid exmaple of the Cuomo-Johnson parallel is same-sex marriage and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In the aftermath of JFK’s assassaination, Johnson knew he had a window of time to pass through legislation that languished when JFK was alive. It included a tax cut bill and a stronger Civil Rights measure than the watered-down one Johnson as majority leader pushed through.
Unlike Kennedy and his aides, Johnson knew both pieces of legisaltion were tied together, so he reduced the budget to make the tax cut more amenable to fiscal conservatives. All of sudden, the log jam was broken.
Cuomo had to get the same-sex marriage bill through a Republican Senate, but he knew the GOP needed something in return to let it on the floor for a vote.
In the end, a property tax cap was tied together with an extension of rent control for New York City, satisfying both the Senate’s suburban base and the Assembly’s urban base. The vote on same-sex marriage in the Senate passed just after the tax cap legisaltion.
As Chris Smith rightly points out, these traits don’t necessarily make you the most beloved public official. The flip side of being known as “effective” is “scheming” or “Machiavellian.”
Apr 15th - 12:55 pm
Yes, it’s that time of year again.
The oldest political gridiron show in the nation is back this June: The Legislative Correspondents Association Show.
For the uninitiated, the LCA show features Capitol reporters, often in embarrassing dress, singing (sometimes poorly) songs ribbing state government and its principals. Somtimes it is actually funny.
The 2013 LCA show will be held at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11 at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. A cocktail reception begins at 7 p.m.
The open dress rehearsal for the general public and staff will be held the previous day, Monday, June 10, at 8 p.m.
This year’s trailer, which is below, features Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is surprisingly adept at French (a translation is available for those of us who never went beyond 11th grade conjugations).
This year’s official “rebuttals” on the Democratic side features Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. On the Republican side, it’s Sen. Lee Zeldin.
For tickets to Tuesday’s dinner gala, visit Jean Gutbrodt in the LCA Pressroom or call (518) 455-2388. Tickets can also be purchased via PayPal at the following link:
Apr 15th - 11:27 am
Here’s yet another data point on how much the Ultimate Fighting Championship league wants to legalize mixed-martial arts in New York: The UFC today released its code of conduct after a letter from anti-domestic violence advocates to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver raised questions about the sport.
The letter from UFC Chief Operating Officer Ike Lawrence Epstein to Silver comes as the Assembly considers the legalization bill following Senate passage earlier this year.
“We fully embrace the spirit of the letter, which is a call for the UFC and all corporations — sports, entertainment and otherwise — operating in New York State and throughout the United States to do their part to root out speech and conduct derogatory toward women or that in any way perpetuates an environment that condones violence toward women, racism, sexism, homophobia, and relgious bigotry. We fully accept that we have a responsibility to join with elected officials, advocates and all citizens to do our part,” the leader reads.
Epstein adds that the UFC applauds Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s efforts to dissuad the NFL from interviewing players about their sexual orientation.
The letter is yet another show of responsiveness from the UFC, which has an extensive lobbying effort over the past several years to bring MMA to New York.
After Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters in March that he was interested in determining the economic benefits of MMA, the league pledged to hold multiple fights in the coming years in major upstate cities.
Apr 15th - 10:45 am
From the morning memo:
They’re back again.
The Legislature is returning to Albany for what could be a tumultuous post-budget legislative session that will test Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ability to pass major reforms through both chambers and whether the IDC-GOP coalition can hang together in the Senate in the wake of a corruption case that engulfed Sen. Malcolm Smith. In the Assembly, meanwhile, Speaker Sheldon Silver continues on as friction with the second floor could mount from a report that Cuomo wants him ousted from the post.
Here’s what to watch for through the end of June:
1. Can Cuomo Bust Corruption?
The odds are high the governor will want to tackle the anti-corruption effort first and foremost. Cuomo last week proposed a trio of bills that would strengthen anti-bribery laws and called for public officials to report any possible corrupt activities. The bills dealt with the enforcement end of things, but not the structural causes. Attacking of the root of corruption will be harder and Cuomo knows that his window of time is quite short to do so before the public turns its attention to other issues.
IDC Sen. Jeff Klein, the Senate co-president, launched a kitchen-sink initiative late last week, vowing to introduce a package of measures that essentially runs the gamut of what’s been talked about: Everything from public matching dollars for political campaigns, strict new contribution limits, a ban on corporate donations and an end to Wilson-Pakula. The word is the bill will run more than 200 pages.
The political feasibility of ending Wilson-Pakula, striking a blow to the small, but influential minor parties in New York, seems quite low. Though Cuomo has never been especially close with the Working Families Party, the labor-aligned group is helping fund the effort for campaign finance reform with the public matching system at its core. Most New Yorkers probably don’t know the mechanics of cross-party endorsements, but if Cuomo seeks to pick a fight with the WFP on Wilson-Pakula, an effort on more overarching reforms could be in trouble.
2. Dream On
Latino lawmakers in the Assembly were deeply upset in March that the $142 billion budget agreement did not include funding for the children of undocumented immigrants to attend college. Some of the legislators, including the now departed Assemblyman Nelson Castro, were so incensed they considered voting against portions of the budget in order to send a largely symbolic message to the governor and legislative leaders. In fact, one lawmaker was so upset he told a top Cuomo aide that the governor could have a “Latino problem” later this year if the Dream Act isn’t pushed for in the post-budget session. Still, the Dream Act faces an uncertain future in the state Senate, were Republicans have generally opposed the move to expand tuition assistance.
It’s too early to tell if Cuomo believes support from the Latino community is an essential cog in his 2014 path to re-election. Cuomo’s targeted base is middle-income suburbanites or outer-borough residents. Whether the growing Latino voter base withholds its support from Cuomo’s re-election hurts him down the road (cough, 2016, cough) is another matter.
3. The Women’s Agenda
Of all the sticky matters Cuomo will find himself in, the issue of enhancing abortion rights in New York in order to codify Roe v. Wade will be the most high-profile. Despite the focus on corruption and waiver to gain cross-ballot access named after two long dead politicians the current obsession in political circles, nearly all voters have an opinion on abortion.
The women’s agenda is a 10-point plan Cuomo unveiled at the State of the State in January. The measures range from the relatively uncontroversial, such as tightening up domestic abuse laws, to the more politically risky, such as pay equity. But pushing for the Reproductive Health Act, Cuomo took on a political hot potato that could stretch the coalition of the GOP and IDC in the Senate.
In a meeting earlier this year with the state Conservative Party, Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos called the RHA an expansion of existing abortion rights that was akin to partial-birth abortion. Advocates strenuously deny that’s what the RHA would actually do. Later, Cuomo not-so-subtly declared he wasn’t taking up the RHA as written by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Instead, he plans to introduce his own abortion-rights bill. As usual, Cuomo is holding his cards close to the vest before he publicly makes the language available.
4. Will The GOP-IDC Remain Tight?
The mainline conference of Democrats in the state Senate are just itching for the coalition of Republicans and (now) four Independent Democrats to royally mess up. So far, the coalition of the compromising has been able to strike deals on issues the political extremes view through a Manichean lens, including deals on raising the minimum wage and the January gun control law.
If the first three months of the year proved anything it is this: The Coalition will be habitually tested through a series of wedge issues with outcomes that will anger the base of both parties. Pressure will remain on both Skelos and Klein to either reject proposals or not to water down pieces of legislation supported by important blocs.
Back in January, both Senate presidents hailed the gun control law as an early test of the coalition. The next test will be whatever abortion rights bill Cuomo introduces. Klein is most likely keenly aware the onus will be on him to get a strong abortion measure on the floor and passed. Skelos, too, understands that his conference can only take so many votes on liberal legislation.
5. What Does Shelly Want?
Ah, the million-dollar question!
The Albany sphinx and powerful Assembly speaker will likely only be strengthened by the Fred Dicker report that Cuomo is seeking his ouster, no matter how many times top aides to the governor deny that’s the case. Whenever Silver faces a challenge from an outside entity, it becomes an occasion for rank-and-file lawmakers to rally around him.
Silver, who has survived two Cuomos, a Pataki and the tumultuous Spitzer-Paterson years, not only survives Albany, he thrives in it. Silver has in recent months previously telegraphed what he wants done in the legislative session, including the millionaires tax, a raise in the minimum wage and the public funding of political campaigns. While the Senate is under the gun, so to speak, to compromise more than ever with the governor, Silver as usual, has all the time in the world to be patient, move the goal posts as he sees fit and get the deal he would like.
Expect to see a push on the restoration of some cuts to the developmentally disabled, funding for the Dream Act and a plan to decriminalize marijuana, as well as a push for more legislative input on the issue of siting casinos.
There are 30 legislative session days left on the calendar.
Apr 15th - 8:23 am
It’s the first day back for lawmakers in the post-budget session, so it’s sure to be a very busy day.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public events planned for now.
At 10:30, Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton will be discussing the recently passed state budget at the Manlius Public Library, 1 Arkie Albanese Ave, Manlius.
Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy will be delivering remarks at 1:30 at the Vietnam Gallery Rededication Ceremony Robert Abrams Building for Law and Justice on State Street in Albany.
Senate session is scheduled for 3 p.m.
At 5 p.m., New Yorkers for Life holds a candlelight vigil to protest Cuomo’s abortion proposal, West Capitol Park, State Capitol, Albany.
New provisions for the state’s sweeping gun control law passed in January are due to kick in today, including a ban on loading more than seven rounds into a 10-round magazine.
Add the Times Union’s editorial board to those criticizing the half-a-loaf compromise on gun control in the U.S. Senate.
It’s unlikely Gov. Cuomo’s plans for ethics reform will include the nuclear option of the Moreland Act Commission to investigate legislative wrongdoing.
More grist for the ethics reform mill: The Board of Elections rarely refers complaints of wrongdoing to law enforcement.
Rep. Chris Gibson tells the TU he has no plans to challenge Cuomo in 2014, though the Hudson Valley Republican says he thinks the governor is vulnerable when running for a second term.
As he continues to test the waters for his own mayoral run, former Rep. Anthony Weiner has released a 21-page policy pamphlet, with much of it a rehash from 2009.
Fred Dicker takes a look at the Senate Republicans who may be considering retirement or running for another office and what this means for GOP Leader Dean Skelos (the last item).
Newsday finds that specifics on Cuomo’s plan to strengthen abortion rights through codifying Roe v. Wade remain rather elusive.
Block out some time today for Chris Smith’s must-read profile in New York magazine on Cuomo as LBJ.
Azi Paybarah digs up an invitation to a fundraiser for Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s council run.
Western New York Democrat Martha Robertson is on something of a listening tour a year and a half before the next House election.
RWDSU is now part of a coalition backing the legalization of medical marijuana with the hopes of unionizing the workers who dispense it.
Ray Kelly says he’ll spend the rest of his tenure working on education and improving technology at the NYPD.
The state’s new Common Core testing standards are troubling for both students and teachers.
Advocates for the developmentally disabled fret over the $90 million to service providers in cuts approved in the state budget.
A warning for all those who live in Binghamton: Hugh Grant is filming a movie there.
Politico has a quiz on how well readers know New York’s own U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Unofficial diplomat-at-large Dennis Rodman is heading back to North Korea.