2017 NYS Legislative Agenda: Support efforts to bring meaningful and comprehensive ethics, rules and election law reform to Albany

Support efforts to bring meaningful and comprehensive ethics, rules and election law reform to Albany

Ethics Reform.  The City Bar has long championed the need for a single independent agency that would be principally responsible for overseeing and enforcing ethics laws for the Executive, the Legislature and lobbyists alike.  After careful analysis of the work undertaken by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) since its inception in 2011, the City Bar and Common Cause concluded that JCOPE is not acting with sufficient vigor and, in certain circumstances, JCOPE is hampered by legislatively imposed limitations.  These changes could be undertaken immediately – without legislation – in order to strengthen JCOPE, along with the following legislative recommendations:  1) eliminate the express political test for gubernatorial appointments; 2) reduce gubernatorial appointments to four; 3) reduce legislative leader appointments to a total of six; 4) add appointments by the Chief Judge, the Attorney General and the Comptroller; 5) make the size of the Commission an odd number, namely thirteen; and 6) eliminate the political party component of the special vote requirement for enforcement decisions.  Read “Hope for JCOPE.

Rules Reform. We encourage both houses to hold public discussions of their operating rules and ways they can be improved, in a manner that takes into account the public’s interest in having a Legislature that is transparent, deliberative and accountable to the citizens of the state.  We urge the adoption of new rules that will: 1) limit legislators to serving on a maximum of three committees in any given time period; 2) require committee members to be physically present to have their votes counted; 3) require that all bills must be accompanied with the appropriate fiscal and issue analysis before receiving a vote and that all bills voted out of committee be accompanied by committee reports showing the work of the committee on the bill; 4) mandate a ‘mark-up’ process for all bills before they are voted out of committee; 5) explicitly provide each committee with control over its own budget; and 6) institutionalize conference committees, so that when bills addressing the same subject have been passed by both chambers, a conference committee will be convened at the request of the prime sponsor from each chamber or the Speaker and Majority Leader

Campaign Finance Reform.  The City Bar supports public campaign financing in New York elections.  We believe that, as guiding principles,  campaign finance reform can be best achieved through: 1) the voluntary public financing of political campaigns at levels designed to attract candidates into the public financing program; 2) stricter limits on political contributions; 3) enhanced disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures; 4) more effective enforcement of campaign financing laws; 5) curbs on transfers by legislative party committees; 6) effective regulation of “independent” expenditures on campaigns that are coordinated with a candidate and 7) stricter controls over the use of funds raised for campaigns.  The City Bar also supports closing the “LLC Loophole,” which allows large donors to circumvent contribution limits and disclosure requirements put in place to protect election integrity. 

Election Law Reform.  The City Bar supports: 1) a single primary for both federal and state offices and party positions, which would maximize voter turnout for the primary (which has been decidedly – and dangerously – low in recent election cycles) and cut the costs of running additional separate primary elections; 2) no-excuse absentee voting to allow New York registered voters who find themselves unable to appear at their local poll site on Election Day, regardless of the reason for their absence, to vote in advance of the election using an absentee ballot; and 3) amendments to the provisions governing personal use of campaign contributions, which are vague as drafted and could be interpreted so that virtually any personal use of campaign contributions can be justified.