Friday, September 12, 2014

Money in New York Politics

The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. This week’s links were contributed by Eric Petry.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtags #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.


Despite Federal Indictments, State Senators Win Primaries
Three New York Senators – Thomas Libous, John Sampson, and Malcolm Smith – entered the primary election on Tuesday facing federal criminal charges. Despite these legal troubles, both Libous and Sampson managed to win their races by safe margins – 28 points and 25 points respectively. Smith, on the other hand, lost by more than 50 percentage points in a landslide. While it remains to be seen whether Libous and Sampson will win in the general election this November, the primary this week showed that the presence of pending criminal charges can be is not necessarily a death knell for New York legislators seeking reelection. Gubernatorial hopeful Zephyr Teachout made Albany corruption a primary campaign issue and garnered 34 percent of the vote, the highest of any primary challenge to a sitting governor since primaries were instituted in 1970.

Consultants Avoid Regulation as Lobbyists
New York politics is starting to see the emergence of a new group of political actors: non-lobbyist strategic consultants. These consultants function like lobbyists in terms of access and ties to politicians, but they are able to avoid registering as official lobbyists. Their unofficial status allows them to avoid disclosure requirements, as long as they do not “attempt to influence politicians.” While this practice technically falls within the law, it raises suspicions because of the inherent influence strategic consultants can possess. Jennifer Cunningham, for example, worked closely with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Governor Andrew Cuomo throughout her political career, helping to get them both elected in 2010. After they were elected, Ms. Cunningham deregistered as a lobbyist to “avoid even the appearance of a conflict” of interest and resigned her job at a top lobbying firm. In the role as a strategic consultant, which she has kept since 2010, however, Cunningham has continued to represent clients before the state government, working closely with Schneiderman on a consistent basis. So close, in fact, that the Attorney General’s office initially refused an open records request to provide communications between Schneiderman and Cunningham, claiming that the conversations fell under an exception for “intra-agency records” between state employees.

JCOPE Holds First-Ever Hearings
For the first time in its 20-month history, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics held a hearing to discuss specific allegations of lobbying law violations. While JCOPE has engaged in enforcement actions previously, none had ever proceeded far enough to reach a hearing. The hearing officer, former federal Judge George Pratt, recommended that the three entities found in violation of disclosure requirements – Blackboard, Inc., Community Redemption Center, and YL Management, L.L.C. – each receive fines between $4,000 and $10,000. 

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