February 28, 2018
Albany, NY

Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo and Speaker Heastie Call for Swift Passage of Election Reforms to Increase Transparency and Protect the Integrity of Our Democracy

TOP Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo and...

Strongest & Most Comprehensive State Regulation of Online Political Advertisements Will Ensure Elections are Fair, Transparent and Free From Foreign Influence

Assembly Expected to Pass Democracy Protection Act Legislation Today

Executive Budget Includes $7 Million to Institute Early Voting, As Well As Automatic and Same-Day Voter Registration in New York

New Initiatives to Secure Election Infrastructure Will Protect Against Cyber Threats


Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Speaker Carl Heastie, joined by Constitutional Law expert Floyd Abrams of Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, and President of the Brennan Center for Justice Michael Waldman, called for swift passage of legislation to ensure New York's elections are fair, transparent and free from foreign influence. The Assembly is expected to pass the legislation, the Democracy Protection Act, today -- the strongest and most comprehensive reforms in the nation that mandate transparency in political advertising, require online platforms to maintain an archive of political ads, and protect State elections from foreign influence. The Governor's budget also includes $7 million to improve access to voting across the state by instituting early voting as well as automatic and same-day voter registration.

To increase transparency of online political advertisements and protect against outside influence, the legislation will expand New York State's definition of political communication to include paid internet and digital advertisements, require digital platforms to maintain a public file of all political advertisements purchased by a person or group for publication on the platform and require online platforms verify that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.

In addition, to further strengthen cyber protections for New York's elections infrastructure, the Governor's proposal will create an Election Support Center, develop an Elections Cyber Security Support Toolkit, provide cyber risk vulnerability assessments and support for local boards of elections and require counties to report data breaches to state authorities. More information on the Democracy Agenda is available here.

AUDIO is available here.

A rush transcript is available below: 

Governor Cuomo: Thank you all very much for joining us this morning. As the operator said, you'll hear from me. You'll hear from the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Assembly of the State of New York as you know, has a long tradition of being a progressive champion and passing progressive legislation that really moves the state forward. We're honored to have Floyd Abrams with us, who's a partner at Cahill Gordon and professor at Columbia. He is the nation's pre-eminent expert in my opinion on First Amendment and free speech. Michael Waldman, from the Brennan Center at NYU, also a great author of books: The Fight to Vote, Who Robbed America and actually I worked with Michael in the Clinton Administration where he was a policy advisor to the President and a great speechwriter, if I must say so myself.

We're talking specifically about the Democracy Agenda. Obviously it's part of a broader context. Speaking for myself, this is a federal government that I believe has shown a tremendous lack of leadership on the issues that are facing this nation and this state. You look at the issue that they said was most important, which was the issue of the struggling middle class. They then passed the tax bill that gave benefits to the rich and the rich corporations and left the middle class with a hope and a prayer. You have a crisis of explosion of revelations of sexual harassment against women and a deafening silence from the federal government. We have a renewed crisis with guns. There's a moment in history where real progress could be made. Overwhelming political will and consensus among the people of this nation, and the federal government is doing nothing. Their proposals are incremental at best. Bump stocks and change the age from 18 to 21. By the way, you change the age from 18 to 21, there have been 150 mass shootings in the last 50 years. 21 of those shootings have been by people under the age, 20 of those shootings have been under the age of 21. That's 13 percent of the mass shootings they would effect. This morning even Dick's Sporting Goods store, one of the largest sporting goods stores in the country, changed their policy. The NRA says they're against changing the age from 18 to 21. I think that is just a political charade. What difference does it make? The person's going to buy a gun in three years anyway. They don't lose any customers. But my point is, their proposals on guns are incremental and just political pandering. 

And then a looming crisis is the attack on our democracy. We have a situation where citizens, rightfully, can be distrustful of the outcome of an election. This is no longer a plot in a cheap spy novel. Russia hacked our elections. Russia hacked state elections. Russia stole identities of American citizens with the intent of influencing elections and what happened is a confluence of events.

You have the explosion of the power of social media which has transformed politics in a way no other transformation has, maybe television, but since television social media has had the most profound effect. And you have a total lack of regulation of the social media space. We're eight months from an election. You have to assume that it's going to happen again. And this is going to be a heated election, this is going to be a controversial election and at this rate, citizens can very well say, we're distrustful of the results of the election because of the outside interference that we know happens. It could be a crisis literally of democracy. You talk about a loss of trust in government, you'll have citizens who have a loss of trust in the elections. Forget hanging chads, you'll have hanging control of Congress and this is in eight months which is in the blink of an eye.

And my message to Washington is very simple, lead, follow, or get out of the way. The Republicans used to believe in state rights. That was their mantra. That was before they took control of the federal government. But if Washington is not going to act, then let the states act. New York State, I'm proposing a bill, the Speaker of the Assembly is going to pass a bill that requires social media companies to disclose who paid for social media advertising just like every other media platform. If you buy a TV ad, if you're sending out mail, you have to disclose who paid for it. Was it a PAC, was it an independent expenditure committee, who were the principles of that committee, and you then list that on a database and that database can then be policed and enforced. There is no logical reason that you would not require the same disclosure for advertising ono social media. Well, the internet companies don't want to do it. Frankly either they're part of the solution or they're part of the problem. And we believe if the federal government is not going to act, let the states act. What will then happen is the internet companies will have a choice. Either they have one system for state elections that requires disclosure and a separate system for federal elections that doesn't require disclosure, and in that situation the differentiation would be inexplicable. You can disclose, you do disclose for state elections but you don't for federal elections. Or the internet companies would have to say well we just won't participate in state elections that would make us disclose. Okay. Then don't do advertising in New York, there are other states that are poised to take similar actions, let us make a coalition like we did on guns, and let the internet companies say we're not going to participate in states like New York and California, etc. and see what that does to their business model.

So I think letting the states act, frankly, is a way to achieve federal action because the social media companies won't be able to defend either the loss of business or the duality of the systems. And we are poised to go forward with that now. I want to thank the New York State Assembly. I want to thank the Speaker particularly for his leadership on this issue. I would like to see the national Democrats show this type of leadership. I would like to see the national Democrats put a real gun bill on the table, a real anti-sexual harassment policy on the table, a real tax reform plan on the table that takes back the 40 percent windfall, and the real election reform bill on the table. So at least Americans have a choice and they understand the differentiation in positions between the Democrats and the Republicans, but they are going to understand it in this State because we're going to do it on all of the above issues. With that let me turn it over to the esteemed Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Carl Heastie.

Speaker Heastie: Thank you, thank you Governor Cuomo of course thank you for your leadership on this and on other issues. Later today in the Assembly we plan on taking on a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Zebrowski that will make it harder for the special interests to exploit social media platforms in our State's elections. New York laws needs to reflect the rapidly changing nature of political campaigns. Social media and digital advertising has dramatically changed how we receive political advertisements in today's world. The recent elections have brought to attention a serious need to reevaluate how we safeguard the electoral process to ensure the integrity of our democracy. Our nation's democracy is dependent on our ability to conduct fair and most importantly honest elections. The use of the deceitful practices to influence public opinion, such as a spreading misinformation on social media and other online forums jeopardizes our ability to do that. We must bring greater transparency to political advertisements. Just as with political ads on TV, radio and in print, voters have a right to know who paid for these ads that they are seeing. Our bill will do just that while taking care to protect fundamental First Amendment rights. The Assembly has long led the way in New York in supporting measures that ensure fair and open elections and again I want to thank Assemblymember Zebrowski and all my democratic colleagues in the leadership and of course again Governor Cuomo for making this a priority. Our democracy is precious and we are serious about protecting it. Thank you. And now I'm going to hand it off to the esteemed Attorney, Floyd Abrams.

Floyd Abrams: Good morning and thank you Governor Cuomo for the chance to participate in this call. I've been in the business of protecting political speech and protecting First Amendment rights to express political and other views for more decades than I would like to say. And I've tried to be on the frontlines to make sure that speech is always protected. We face a new challenge today which is a threat to our free and open elections. Very often from external forces. We protect political speech more than any other country, but it is just as critical as we learned with regret in the last presidential election that anyone who sees a political ad should know who is speaking, who is paying for the speech, and where the speech comes from. Doing so, as the Supreme Court has observed, is consistent with the First Amendment since it ensures the voters are fully informed and can make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages. It's time for those protections to apply to digital ads and social media platforms. And there is nothing in the First Amendment or First Amendment law which restrains the states from doing so and indeed, everything in First Amendment law would support this legislation. So I'm proud to join the Governor and others today, the State Assembly and the like to support this proposal which will assure that we know who is engaging in First Amendment activity. And I'm confident that this proposed legislation does just that while at the same time, protecting our precious First Amendment rights. Thank you.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you very much. Now we'll hear from Michael Waldman, head of the Brennan Center, Michael.

Michael Waldman: Thank you Governor, and Speaker Heastie and Floyd Abrams and apologies to anybody listening—I'm in a noisy place and I hope that the ambient noise will not drown me out, but I will do my best. This is an extremely important initiative and we're very encouraged by it and it can help set a standard not only for our state, but for the country. In so many ways, American Democracy is under great stress. We all know that. We know that our Democracy urgently needs repair and it needs that kind of revitalization under a number of fronts. I want to acknowledge and draw some attention to some other things that are in the package the Governor has put forward, the Democracy Agenda, that are particularly important, as well as what has just been discussed.

New York State can upgrade the way upgrade the way we run elections to make it easier for all eligible citizens to get registered and to vote. Right now, one out of three Americans vote before election day. We really don't have that opportunity here in New York. This plan strengthens and supports early voting. We have automatic voter registration as a critical goal for all the Democracy reformers in our country because that would add millions to the rolls. And in fact, it's an idea that sort of was made in New York. The Brennan Center first developed it about a decade ago, now 11 states have enacted it and New York residents and citizen should have the chance to be automatically registered too. And we are really grateful to the Governor and the Speaker and those in the legislature for their focus on this. We look forward to working with you all to continue strengthening the bill so that it covers as many New Yorkers as possible. These alone are really significant and can help upgrade our Democracy of which we care so deeply. But as its been discussed, and we cannot minimize the significance of the attack our country faced in this last election. We all know now that Russia attempted to undermine our Democracy. We all know, with greater and greater granular understanding that basically Vladimir Putin had a dark money super Pac deeply engaged in trying to impact our elections. And we all know that they will be back. Not just Russia, but other actors who will try to undermine our system. So, we need Washington to act to protect our country and the security of our Democracy and unfortunately it is not doing so. It is not doing so yet, a real dereliction of duty. And it is vital that states like New York step forward to protect our citizens and protect our Democracy.

This is an important bill and I want to mention one particular thing about it. As the Governor said, it will not only impact New York but it will have implications nationwide. I do believe that tech companies will respond and in doing so that will basically create an infrastructure which could be applied nationwide for their monitoring and their requiring of disclosure. We need to do everything we can so that this next election is free and fair and accountable. And again, all those of us who study our democracy nationwide, are looking to this effort. New York can take the lead.

Contact the Governor's Press Office
Contact the Governor's Press Office