Voters give governor, lawmakers lackluster grades on ethics reform efforts

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By a better than two-to-one margin — 56 to 27 percent — New Yorkers say the ethics reform legislation passed in the recently completed legislative session will not lead to a reduction in corruption in state government, according to a new Siena College poll of New York state registered voters released Thursday.

Although Governor Andrew Cuomo called the recently completed session, “probably the most successful in modern history,” only 23 percent of voters agree with him. Sixty percent agree with newspaper editorial boards that take issue with the governor’s description. Voters give the Governor a grade of “C” for the legislative session and each house a grade of “C-.”

A last-minute ethics reform deal reached by the governor and legislative conference leaders in the final hours of session would strip the pensions of any public officer who is convicted of corruption. Because the proposed reform would amend the state Constitution, the Legislature would have to adopt the resolution again next session and the voters would have to approve the referendum on a statewide ballot before it goes into effect.

Good government groups had called for more stringent reforms including better regulation of lawmakers’ outside income and increasing transparency in the budget-making process. They also want to close the state’s election law “loophole” that treats limited liability companies as individuals, allowing these companies to make larger contributions to candidates and political parties.

Under the current law, corporations can donate $5,000 to candidates while LLCs are allowed donate more than $60,000 to candidates. Under the loophole established by the Board of Elections in 1996, donors hoping to influence state lawmakers and other officials can establish multiple fake companies for the purpose of donating nearly limitless campaign financing to the governor, legislators or other elected officials.

“When it comes to ethics reform, the governor and Legislature did little to win over the hearts and minds of New Yorkers,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “A strong majority says that legislation passed this session will not reduce state government corruption. That sentiment is shared by half of Democrats, more than 60 percent of Republicans and independents, a plurality of New York City voters and a majority of non-City voters.

The voters also give Cuomo an overwhelmingly negative job performance rating on the specific issue of reducing corruption, with only 23 percent rating him positively and 71 percent giving him a negative rating.

“Not more than one-third of any demographic group agrees with him. Maybe that’s why his session grade has dropped to a new low,” Greenberg said.

Thirty-nine percent of New Yorkers would give Cuomo either an “A” or “B” for the 2016 session, while 25 percent would fail him or give him a “D.” His overall GPA is 2.09 — a solid “C” — his lowest post-session grade ever in the Siena poll, and down from 2.35 the last time Siena asked in 2013, according to Greenberg.

“The good news for the Assembly and Senate is that their grades haven’t fallen as much as the governor’s; the bad news is that their grades — both have GPAs of 1.88 — are worse than the governor’s, earning both the Senate and the Assembly grades of ‘C.’”

In the poll conducted from June 22 to June 28, Cuomo has a 56-to-38 percent favorability rating, up a little from 54-to-40 percent four weeks ago, and his job performance rating is a negative 40-to-59 percent, down a little from negative 42-to-58 percent in late May. If he runs for re-election in 2018, 46 percent of registered voters say they’re prepared to re-elect him, compared to 48 percent who would prefer “someone else,” an improvement from 42-to-49 percent last month.

“Cuomo’s overall job performance rating, significantly under water, is at least better than the 64 percent of voters who give him a negative job performance rating on each of three key issues: ethics, education and the economy,” Greenberg said. “Even his fellow Democrats give Cuomo negative ratings on the three Es: ethics, education and the economy.”

This Siena College Poll was conducted June 22 to 28, 2016 by telephone calls conducted in English to 803 New York state registered voters. Respondent sampling was initiated by asking for the youngest male in the household.  It has an overall margin of error of 4.0 percentage points.