June 17, 2016
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Announce Agreement on 5 Point Ethics Reform Plan

TOP Governor Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Announce...

Agreement Enacts Nation’s Strongest Protections to Combat Citizens United; Prohibits Coordination between Candidates and Independent Expenditure Committees in New York State Election Law for the First Time; Mandates Across the Board Disclosure of Donors and Staff

Elected Officials & Policy Makers Convicted of Corruption to Forfeit their Pension

 

Legislation Establishes New York State’s First-Ever Disclosure Requirements for Political Consultants; Strengthens Disclosure Requirements for Lobbyists, c(3) & c(4) Organizations; Increases Penalties for Lobbying Violations

Exclude Communications with Journalists from JCOPE Lobbying Regulations

WYSIWYG

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein today announced an agreement on a 5 Point Ethics Reform Plan to toughen election, lobbying, and ethics enforcement laws, including first-in-the-nation legislation to curb the power of independent expenditure campaigns unleashed by the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, and require elected officials and policy makers convicted of corruption to forfeit their pension. 

 

The 5 Point Plan includes:

1.) The nation’s strongest independent expenditure reforms to end coordination in political campaigns
2.) Pension Forfeiture
3.) First Time Disclosure Requirements for Political Consultants
4.) Lobbying Disclosure Reforms
5.) Issue Advocacy Reforms

 

“Citizens United is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in history and in just six years has already had a profoundly corrosive impact on our democracy. It decimates the right to free speech by allowing it to be eclipsed by paid speech, devaluing the right of individuals to participate in the political system,” said Governor Cuomo. “For the first time, independent expenditure groups and PACs will be required to adhere to unprecedented disclosure requirements, and New York will have the nation’s strongest rules defining and governing coordination and independence. Until the Supreme Court reverses its decision or Congress acts to change the law, states should follow New York’s lead and use their powers to rein in the devastating impact of Citizens United. This reform package includes new disclosure requirements and stiffer penalties that will shine a light on what now is the shadowy intersection of government, lobbying, and political consulting. Together, this legislation will help bring more transparency, trust, and faith to state government.”

 

Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan said, “Today, we have taken another critical step forward in restoring the public trust and giving hardworking New Yorkers a government they can be proud of. Under our agreement, elected officials and policymakers who commit a felony will no longer be eligible for a public pension, a priority of our Senate Republican Conference since we first passed the measure last year. In addition, we have strengthened our campaign finance laws to crack down on coordination between candidates and Independent Expenditure groups, who all too often operate in the shadows while enjoying an outsized influence on our politics. I thank the Governor, Senator Klein, Speaker Heastie and Senate Ethics Committee Chair Tom Croci, along with all of my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly for working together to craft a strong campaign and ethics package for New York.”

 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, “Restoring the public’s trust in our government is essential. This agreement builds on the accomplishments we enacted last year by further limiting the influence of outside money in our elections and taking pensions away from corrupt public officials. Additionally, these reforms will close the gaps that have allowed lobbying organizations and outside groups to gain undue influence on state government. Citizens deserve an effective and ethical government so they have the confidence that their interests are truly put first. Earlier this year, the Assembly adopted new rules to increase transparency and improve its operations, and I am committed to making our government work for the people of this state, which is why we have more work to do. The Assembly has taken up and passed legislation to close the LLC loophole, limit outside income, and prevent legislators from leveraging their office for personal gain. We will continue our fight for these and other measures and we look forward to working with our partners in government to continue the momentum we have built.”

 

Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein said, "The people of New York State expect and deserve the highest ethical standards from their elected officials and when the public's trust is abused it is our job to restore their faith in government. Today, we send a strong message that if a public official commits a crime while earning a living on the taxpayers dime we will strip them of their pensions. We will enhance transparency by requiring consultants to disclose the elected officials with whom they do business and I thank my colleague Senator Tony Avella for coming up with this idea. Together, we will enact sweeping reform to independent expenditures to keep shadowy money out of elections. These are major steps forward that will help the voters believe in our democracy again.”

 

The agreement prohibits coordination between candidates and supposedly independent expenditure groups, and requires that any former staffers or immediate family members of a candidate remain autonomous from independent groups supporting the candidate. The agreement also strengthens disclosure requirements for lobbyists, increases penalties for lobbying violations and requires disclosure of political relationships and behaviors widely recognized to be influential, but which operate in the shadows. 

 

1.) Independent Expenditure Reforms

 

Ending Coordination in Political Campaigns 

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision unleashed a torrent of dark money into electoral politics. By permitting entities to receive and spend unlimited amounts of funds on elections, the Court bestowed unlimited power on society’s most powerful individuals and entities, and revoked what little power ordinary citizens had left in our electoral process.

 

Under this agreement, independent spending groups may not be formed by candidates or run by the candidate’s family members or former staffers. The agreement also requires independent spenders to report the identity of anyone exerting control over the group, as well as any former staffers and immediate family members of candidates. This bill institutes the strictest anti-coordination law in the nation. 

 

Specifically, the agreement will:

  • Strengthen the definition of “coordination” between independent expenditures and candidates and define the following scenarios as expressly prohibited coordination:
    • The spending entity was formed by the candidate or the candidate’s agents;
    • The candidate or his agents fundraises for the spending entity;
    • The spending entity employs the candidate’s former staffers;
    • The spending entity is operated by a member of the candidate’s immediate family;
    • The candidate and the spending entity retain a common vendor;
    • The candidate shares or rents space from an entity making expenditures;
    • The spending entity reproduces non-public campaign-related material;
    • The candidate or the candidate’s agents requested or suggested the communication;
    • The candidate or the candidate’s agents were materially involved in the communication;
    • The spending entity engages in strategic discussions with the candidate or the candidate’s agents in the two year period prior to the relevant election;
  • Require additional periodic disclosures for individuals and entities making independent expenditures; and
  • Establish that any criminal penalties resulting from election law violations shall require a knowing and willful violation in accordance with existing section 14-126 of the election law.
  • Establish a civil penalty on independent expenditure committees and political action committees for a knowing and willful violation of the spending restrictions; 
  • Require persons making independent expenditures to register as independent expenditure committees and require additional disclosures for such committees upon registration;
  • Require campaign housekeeping accounts to be deposited in segregated accounts to make uses of such account moneys more transparent;
  • Prohibit independent expenditure committees from contributing directly to candidates;
  • Prohibit political action committees from making contributions to independent expenditure committees operating under common control;
  • Require political action committees to disclose individuals with operational control; and
  • Require that a campaign account must be wound down within two years of the candidate or elected official’s death and provides for several legitimate uses for moneys in accounts that are wound down. These uses include:
    • Returning donations to the contributor;
    • Donating the funds to a charity;
    • Donating the funds to SUNY or CUNY;
    • Donating the funds to the state general fund;
    • Contributing the funds to a candidate or party.

This agreement includes provisions to overhaul the New York State lobbying, ethics and public officer’s law. It will strengthen disclosure requirements for lobbyists and increase penalties for lobbying violations by requiring lobbyists to disgorge profits received from illegal contingency fee arrangements. Additionally, it will explicitly exclude communications with journalists, including editorial boards, from the definition of lobbying and exclude these communications from lobbying regulation. 

 

2.) Pension Forfeiture

 

Under the agreement reached, any public officer who is convicted of corruption will be prohibited from collecting a pension earned during public service. Public officers who violate their duty to the people of New York should not continue to be paid by the people of New York in any way. The legislature will adopt a joint resolution that will require pension forfeiture if any legislator or policymaker is convicted of a crime related to their public office, regardless of when the policy maker entered service or when the legislator was elected to office.

 

3.) First Time Disclosure Requirements for Political Consultants:

 

For the first time, political consultants providing services to sitting elected officials or candidates for elected office and who also have clients with business before the state or a locality will be required to register with the state and disclose their clients.

 

4.) Lobbying Disclosure Reforms:

 

  • Lower the financial threshold for reporting by organizations that lobby on their own behalf from $50,000 to $15,000 and require those lobbyists to disclose their source of funding to the Joint Commissioner on Public Ethics;
  • Lower the financial reporting requirements for lobbying for individuals from $25,000 to $2,500 and require those lobbyists to disclose their source of funding to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics;
  • Lower the size of a contribution that triggers disclosure to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics of a donor to an organization that lobbies from $5,000 to $2,500; and
  • Increase fines for lobbyists entering into contingency agreements, which are currently prohibited, from $1,000 to up to $10,000 or the amount of the fee, if greater.

 

5.) Issue Advocacy Reforms:

 

  • Require 501(c)(4) organizations, which are entities that can engage in unlimited lobbying, to disclose financial support and in-kind donations from 501(c)(3) organizations, which are organizations that are not permitted to engage in political activity. This reform prevents organizations from corrupting the political process and utilizing funds that are not intended for political purposes; and
  • Require 501(c)(4) organizations to disclose their sources of funding if they engage in activities to influence electoral politics using “issue advocacy.”

 JCOPE:

The agreement reached today also:

 

  • Explicitly excludes communications with journalists, including editorial boards, from the definition of lobbying and exclude these communications from lobbying regulation; and
  • Provides for more due process rights for persons under investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, including notice of the charges and an explicit opportunity to be heard on those charges.

 

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