For the first time since former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were found guilty on corruption charges, ethics reform legislation has passed in the Assembly.
The bill (A.09535), which passed in the Assembly by a 138-4 vote on March15, would limit outside income for legislators to 40 percent of the annual salary of state Supreme Court justices, or about $77,200 a year.
This is significantly less stringent than Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal from January which would limit legislators’ outside income to 15 percent of their base salary, or about $11,900 a year.
The legislation would also end the LLC loophole, subjecting LLCs to the same $5,000 contribution limit that currently exists for corporations. LLCs would also be required to identify their owners in order to prevent rich donors from anonymously floating money to legislators and breaking contribution limits.
The legislation would also increase public disclosure requirements for lobbying groups regarding where they get their funding.
A February Siena College Research Institute poll found that 89 percent of the New Yorkers say corruption in state government is a serious problem. Advocates for the bill see this as a big step towards fighting corruption in Albany.
“By closing the LLC loophole and limiting outside income, we are sending a clear message that we all must play by the same rules,” said Assemblywoman Addie Russell, D-Theresa. “This will help level the playing field.”
Although most lawmakers agree the bill has positive aspects, others say the bill does not do enough.
“While this bill addresses some issues, it does not include any language that would prevent corrupt ex-politicians like Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, both convicted of job-related felonies, from collecting their taxpayer-funded pensions,” said Assemblyman Steve Katz, R-Yorktown.
According to a calculation from the state Comptroller’s Office, Silver’s pension comes to $79,224 a year. Skelos is estimated to make $95,832 from his pension this year.
The Senate passed legislation to strip convicted ex-politicians from receiving their pension in 2015, but the Assembly did not pass the bill.
In his State of the State speech earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo called for state officials convicted of public corruption charges to lose their state pensions. In the same speech, Cuomo also called for a public campaign finance system to reduce the influence of money on legislators, a plan that has not received widespread support from Albany lawmakers.
Good government groups have been disappointed with Gov. Cuomo’s action on ethics reforms. When asked during a press conference last week if Cuomo was doing a good enough job on the issue of ethics, Blair Horner of NYPIRG, Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters and Dick Dadey of Citizen’s Union all answered with a resounding “no.”
“The governor talked a very good tale but doesn’t seem to be putting his political capital or his bully pulpit to it,” Bartoletti said.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he and fellow lawmakers “are still open to seeing what can be done by the end of the season.”
The bill does not yet have a Senate version. Cuomo said last week that his ethics reform proposals will probably have to wait until the state budget is adopted.
Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, blasted the Assembly Majority’s ethics reform plan as a “flimsy rehash of warmed-over proposals that will do little to fight corruption in Albany.”
Tedisco notes the Democratic Conference’s plan does not contain provisions for pension forfeiture for convicted felon elected officials who betray their oath of office, term limits for leaders, truth in spending to end quid pro-quos, or giving rank-and-file members the ability to bring legislation to the floor for a vote.
He is also criticizing the way the legislation was unveiled.
“In classic, Albany news dump fashion, the majority’s ethics plan was quietly announced around 7 p.m. on Friday evening to ensure the least amount of press coverage and scrutiny as possible.” Tedisco said.
“It took over a year to bring these rehashed reforms forward? Is this an early April fool’s prank or do they just think the taxpayers, real reform minded legislators, and the media are fools?
“If this was 1776 and this crew were the patriots, we’d still be under a kingship,” said Tedisco.