- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - From tighter campaign finance rules to term limits to a full-time Legislature barred from working outside jobs, there’s no shortage of proposals to clean up the corruption that has long plagued New York state government.

But with each measure facing its own set of political challenges, it remains to be seen whether the conviction of former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will prompt lawmakers to take action on a problem that many inside and outside the state Capitol identity as a crisis.

Instead, politicians in Albany praise modest changes passed earlier this year and point the finger at the opposing party for blocking bigger overhauls.

The new call for changes comes after Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was convicted by a jury in federal court of taking $4 million in kickbacks. Ex-Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, is also on trial, accused of extorting jobs and payments for his son. More than 30 lawmakers have left office since 2000 facing criminal charges or allegations of ethical misconduct.

“The public is tired of the ever-expanding litany of scandals and this must be a wake-up call to the leadership in Albany that real, comprehensive solutions must be enacted for the few who have let power go to their heads,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause-New York. “This is no time for piecemeal ethics reform.”

Here are some of the main proposals that lawmakers will confront when they reconvene in January:



Good-government groups have long said one way to prevent corruption is to pay lawmakers more and restrict how much they can make from outside jobs.

Legislators now make $79,500 per year for what is technically a part-time job. Many Democrats support raising legislative pay and limiting outside work - or prohibiting it altogether.

A bill passed earlier this year will make lawmakers disclose more about their outside income, though the rule contains large exemptions.

More than two-thirds of lawmakers report less than $20,000 in outside income. Only 21 of them say they make $100,000 or more from outside work.

“Obviously change has to come,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, a supporter of limits on outside income. “Sometimes it’s forced on people by outside circumstances. Maybe this is one of those times.”

But giving lawmakers a raise - in an effort to make them more honest - may not go over well with voters. And Republicans in the Senate say allowing lawmakers to work in other professions brings real-world perspective to the Capitol.

“My guess is a majority of the legislature is opposed to it on philosophical grounds,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “The Senate feels very strongly that the constitution is about a citizen Legislature.”



Current law allows wealthy individuals and corporations to circumvent campaign finance limits by creating limited liability corporations which can contribute vastly higher amounts while disclosing little about the actual donors. The so-called “LLC loophole” has allowed tens of millions of dollars to flood New York politics. Closing it has been a priority for government watchdogs, and while the Assembly has voted to end it the Senate has not.

“When unlimited, anonymous corporate dollars enter government and politics, everyday New Yorkers get muscled out,” said Sen. Daniel Squadron, D-Brooklyn.



Republicans say term limits on legislative leadership positions would prevent insiders from accumulating too much influence. But it’s a non-starter with Democrats. Senate Republicans have voted to impose eight-year limits on the Senate leader, Assembly speaker and minority leaders and committee chairpersons in both chambers. Senate GOP leaders have already adopted voluntary term limits.

But the idea hasn’t gotten traction in the Democratic-run Assembly, where Silver was speaker for 20 years.

“When you look at the abuse of power by those in charge, it’s a clear signal that the system that everybody has enjoyed over the years has to change,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua.



Voters will decide in 2017 whether to hold a constitutional convention to consider changes to the state’s governing document. If a convention is called, voters would get to pick the delegates and would have to ratify any changes.

Tighter limits on campaign finance, public campaign financing, a better redistricting process or even a smaller Legislature are all possibilities. Voters rejected calls for a convention in 1997 after labor unions, environmentalists and top lawmakers came out in opposition.



Proposals to use public money to fund political campaigns have long been seen as a way to curb the influence of well-heeled contributors and encourage more people to run for office. But a trial run of the idea in the 2014 state comptroller’s race was seen as a bust: Democrat Thomas DiNapoli, who won a second term in the race, declined to participate and his Republican challenger failed to raise enough money on his own to qualify for the public match.



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