The Cuomo Reform Agenda

May 25, 2010

Gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has issued The New NY Agenda: A Plan for Action.  Among the report’s recommendations to “clean up Albany” and restore trust and accountability are to:
  • Set severely reduced contribution limits for public contractors and lobbyists.  These limits would apply to candidates for state and local offices and to political party “housekeeping accounts.”  In addition to lobbyists and contractors, the limits would extend to owners, senior managers, immediate family members, and controlled political committees (largely following the New York City doing business reform model).
  • Prohibit the award of State or local government contracts to companies at which associated persons exceeded these reduced limits (essentially following the New Jersey pay-to-play reform model).
  • Within the last 36 days of an election (the time period currently covered by a single 11-day pre-election filing by political committees), require the following contributors to make disclosure within 48 hours: lobbyists, public contractors, immediate family members, and controlled political committees.
  • Establish a voluntary public campaign financing system (like New York City’s), allowing for spending limits and debate requirements for participating candidates.
  • Subject party “housekeeping accounts” to contribution limits.
  • Reduce generally applicable contribution limits.  (The level of the proposed limit is not specified.)
  • Subject corporate subsidiaries and related limited liability companies to the current $5,000 annual limit on corporate contributions (i.e., treating related entities as a single source subject to a single limit).
  • Require public disclosure of a contributor’s employment and occupation (as under federal law).
  • Restrict Albany-area fundraisers during legislative session and require timely disclosure of funds raised at such fundraisers.
  • Specify permissible and impermissible uses of campaign funds and more clearly prohibit non-campaign related, personal uses of any kind.
  • Improve enforcement, such as by granting the Attorney General concurrent authority with the State Board of Elections enforcement counsel unit to investigate and prosecute criminal and civil campaign finance violations, directing the State Board to publish the names of violators (following the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s example) and increasing penalties for violations significantly.
  • Prohibit investment firms from making campaign contributions, charitable contributions or gifts to the State comptroller (or to pension fund trustees – another proposal).
  • Establish ongoing disclosure requirements for investment firms, including disclosure of information relating to campaign contributions (New Jersey State Investment Council rules might serve as a model).
  • In proposing the holding of a Constitutional Convention, the Cuomo plan first recommends reform of the delegate selection process, which would include relaxed ballot access requirements and public campaign financing.
All-in-all, it appears to be an impressive and ambitious set of reforms.  One cautionary note: in building a new structure of reform, it will be necessary to carefully re-examine current legal foundations.  For example, what lessons for the future legal definition of “contribution” should be drawn from the acquittals in the Anderson case?  This issue has particular significance since the concept of campaign contribution lies at the core of so many of the proposed reforms.

Tag: New York State