Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Comptroller Campaign Finance Reform Act Passes Assembly

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's proposed bill to create a voluntary system of public financing of elections for the state comptroller's race, made it over a major hurdle today as it passed the Assembly. The Brennan Center sent this memorandum of support of the bill to Assemblymembers last week.

As we wrote when the bill was first introduced, this is a major step forward for public financing of elections in New York State. Modeled off of New York City’s small donor matching funds system, the bill would create a public financing fund that will match the first $250 raised from New York State residents on a $6-to-$1 ratio. Given the recent corruption scandals involving Alan Hevesi, it is appropriate that campaign finance reform begin with the comptroller’s office. Ultimately, we hope this program would be extended to New York’s other statewide and legislative elections as part of a comprehensive campaign finance reform.

We urge the Senate to act promptly on this bill and send it to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Major Campaign Finance Reform Step Today

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's proposed bill to create a voluntary system of public financing of elections for the state comptroller's race, introduced today, is a potential game changer for Albany.

The bill, A8367, modeled off New York City’s small donor matching funds system, contains many of the same measures we at ReformNY have been calling for in a state based system. Using a $6-to$1 match in public financing for the first $250 raised from New York State Residents, the bill encourages candidates to target average New Yorkers and allows candidates with grassroots support to run viable campaigns—without the backing of special interests. Under the proposed system, a voter’s $250 donation would become a $1,750 donation.

The bill also limits the influence of big donors by lowering contribution limits for participating candidates to $2,000 for the primary and general elections further increasing the voice of average New Yorkers.

After the scandal with former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who traded campaign contributions for investment in the fund, it is crucial that New York insulate this office from corruption. As the legislative session draws to a close, we urge lawmakers to act with a sense of urgency and pass this important reform. At the same time, we hope this bill will encourage lawmakers and the Governor to work towards creating a similar system for all statewide races in New York.

UPDATE: The Brennan Center issued this memorandum of support for the Comptroller Campaign Finance Reform Act.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Civic Groups Issue Memorandum of Support for Ethics Bill

The Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY, League of Women Voters/N.Y.S., and New York Public Interest Research Group issued the following memorandum of support for the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011:

Download PDF
Ethics Bill Group Support Memo 6-13-11

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Voter Friendly Ballot Act

The Voter Friendly Ballot Act is legislation to simplify New York State's paper ballot design, and is the product of collaboration between New York State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, the Brennan Center, the Usability Professionals Association, and AIGA, the professional association for design.

New York's 2010 primary and general elections were the first conducted with New York's new, Help America Vote Act-compliant optical scanning machines. Voters used the machines to scan their paper ballots, but a major Election Day complaint was that the ballots themselves were confusing and difficult to read. New York's ballot design is governed by strict guidelines codified in the state's election law, but these rules were written for the recently-replaced mechanical lever voting machines.

With new machines, New Yorkers have a right to expect new, user-friendly ballots. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act will set new standards to ensure New Yorkers can vote with ease and confidence while preserving flexibility for local election administrators.

Official information on the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, including the full text, sponsor memorandum, and co-sponsor list, is available via the State Assembly website and the State Senate's OpenLegislation database.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ethics Panel Issues First Finding Against a Sitting Legislator

Yesterday, the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC) issued a Notice of Reasonable Cause against Assemblymember William F. Boyland, Jr. The notice against Boyland – who was recently indicted on corruption charges alongside Sen. Krueger—finds reasonable cause that Boyland violated state ethics laws due having a financial relationship with Brookdale Hospital and MediSys facilities while simultaneously using his position as a legislator to win them state money through government contracts. This marks the first action taken by the LEC against a sitting legislator since its creation in 2007.

The commission voted to investigate Boyland nearly a year ago, after reviewing financial disclosure statements, a request for an advisory opinion regarding his outside employment at the hospital (which he later withdrew) as well as statements by the Assemblymember to LEC staff. According to the timeline in the notice, in July 2010, the Assemblymember’s attorney requested that the investigation be “held in abeyance” due to a “current investigation by a law enforcement entity involving the same line of inquiry of the Commission’s investigation.” The LEC made repeated requests for information to confirm the existence of the law enforcement investigation but received no response. The LEC waited until January 28, 2011 to issue a Notice of Further Investigation. Thus, it appears that the alleged ethics violator was able to stall his investigation for nearly seven months.

The Brennan Center of course has been critical of the legislature’s ability to effectively police itself through the LEC, which consists of members of the legislature and persons appointed by legislative leaders. While we do commend this action, it does beg the question, is this too little too late?

The timing of the release of this finding is also worth noting. As details on the promised ethics bill have been leaked, - which may come as early as tomorrow - it has been reported that the Commission on Public Integrity’s will be reconstituted with powers that will be expanded to include the ability to investigate legislators and refer those findings to the LEC.