Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Schneiderman proposes wide-ranging ethics reforms

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 1:10 PM

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has released a package of reforms for the State Legislature. The proposed legislation is probably dead on arrival, however, since it includes public financing of campaigns.

Schneiderman unveiled his End New York Corruption Now Act this morning. It'd give the attorney general's office the ability to investigate and prosecute public corruption, which it doesn't currently have authority to do, according to a press release from Schneiderman's office. The act contains more than a dozen other changes to state law. The changes include:

  • Banning legislators from earning outside income. Good-government groups have called for the prohibition because the earnings can create conflicts of interest for legislators;
  • Banning per diem expense payments to legislators for days they spend in Albany. Critics say some legislators use the payments as an additional income source;
  • Raising legislators' pay;
  • Increasing legislators' terms from two years to four, which Schneiderman says would allow legislators to focus on governing instead of politics;
  • Lowering campaign contribution limits;
  • Eliminating party housekeeping accounts, which Schneiderman refers to as "barely regulated slush funds" for political parties;
  • Closing a loophole that allows LLC's to contribute to candidates. The loophole allows wealthy donors to circumvent individual campaign contribution limits;
  • Creating a public financing system where the state would match individual contributions between $10 and $175 at a six-to-one ratio. The law would cap the public match, with amounts varying by office.
Schneiderman's proposal would also alter the definition of bribery. Right now, the definition centers on an agreement or understanding that a public official will take a certain action for a certain benefit. Under the proposal, "a person is guilty of giving a bribe when he or she confers a benefit on a public servant 'with intent to influence' his or her official conduct," says the press release.

This year, former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos have been arrested and charged in separate federal corruption cases. Both legislators are accused of taking official actions from which they have or could have benefited. Both have pleaded not guilty and profess their innocence. 

In the press release, several good government groups offer enthusiastic support for the End New York Corruption Now Act.

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