Reform Albany

REFORM ALBANY
Replace the Two-Party Corporate State with Multi-Party Democracy
Fix the Legislature:
Democratize the Rules of the Assembly and Senate
Workers' Wages for Elected State Officials
Abolish Member Items
Fair Elections in a Multi-Party Democracy:
Proportional Representation for Legislative Elections
Instant Runoff Voting for Executive Office Elections
Initiative and Referendum
Public Campaign Financing
Independent Redistricting Commission
Fair Ballot Formats
Fair Ballot Access
Voter Information Booklets
Multi-Party Boards of Elections
Strengthen Accountability and Disclosure:
Democratic Oversight of Public Authorities
Strengthen Disclosure Laws for Lobbying and Election Expenditures
The Key Demand: Proportional Representation for Multi-Party Democracy
Good government groups advocate many good reforms that we support. But these reforms will do little to change who has the power and what is done in Albany if we do not get at the root problem: the domination of state government by the big corporate interests through their two-party system of corporate rule.
Corporate power manifests itself not only in campaign financing and lobbying, but even more powerfully in the “virtual legislature” of the vested interests in permanent session in the financial markets. This economic power translates directly into political power: the power of the vested interests to use their investment decisions to veto government reforms in the public interest. They can lower  government bond ratings and raise interest rates for government borrowing. If need be, they can organize a strike by capital, sit on their money or move it out of state, wreck the economy, blame the reformers, and finance the political reaction.
Usually just a veiled threat of an economic veto blackmails government into submission. But corporate  interests will follow through on their threats if they have to. For example, Cleveland Mayor, now US Representative, Dennis Kucinich, was elected in 1977 on a platform of reversing a plan by a private utility and associated banks to privatize the municipal power utility. When Kucinich followed through on his election promise, six banks refused to finance a longstanding routine rollover of $15 million of Cleveland's debts, forcing the city into default and laying the basis for Kucinich's defeat in his 1979 re-election campaign. It should also be noted that government can fight corporate power and win. Though Kucinich paid a short-term political price, he succeeded in forestalling the privatization of Cleveland's municipal power utility. Cleveland Public Power has saved Cleveland consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in utility rates over the ensuring years compared to neighboring private utilities, a result which laid the basis for Kucinich's successful return to elected office.
The virtual legislature of the financial markets is exerting its power today as the banking oligarchy dictates its terms to the elected legislature: deep cuts in public spending and no hikes in taxes on the rich. The financial oligarchs want to make sure middle-income taxpayers cover the costs of their Wall Street bailouts and guarantee the future value of the government bonds they own.
Where are the political parties and their elected officials who challenge this corporate power? They are excluded to a great degree by the plurality winner-take-all system of elections, which tends to reproduce a two-party system. The result is a very sophisticated two-party system of corporate rule which presents the illusion of choice when both Democrats and Republicans are largely funded by and indentured to the big corporate interests.
Only a multi-party democracy with more voices and choices for voters can clean out the corruption in Albany and stand up to the corporate interests. And that requires a system of Proportional Representation for legislative elections and Instant Runoff Voting for executive branch positions, as we outline below.
New York's fusion rule for multi-party cross endorsements is no substitute for Proportional Representation and a true Multi-Party Democracy. Fusion means confusion. For 75 years, fusion in New York has meant the two major parties are reinforced by a few satellite minor parties that act as factions of one or the other major parties and cross-endorse their candidates. That is not more choices. It is just a slicker version of the same old illusion of choices.
Reform the Legislature
Democratic Rules: Democratize Rules of the Assembly and the Senate to empower rank-and-file representatives and end the power of the Assembly Leader and Senate Majority Leader to control whole legislative process. Robert's Rules would serve as a good model for revised rules.
Public Transparency: Open the legislative process to public scrutiny through public hearings, records, reports, and votes.
Empowered Committees: Empower the committee system to develop legislation. Require every bill voted out of committee to be considered by the full house. Require conference committees to reconcile differences between bills passed by each house.
Defund Legislative Political Machines: Abolish member items and legislative leaders' special earmarks. Equal staffing and budgets for all legislators.
Workers' Wages for Legislators and Elected Executive Officials: State legislators and elected executive branch officials should be paid workers' wages, defined as two-times the state minimum wage, plus decent benefits and realistic expense accounts for the official duties of legislators and executive branch officials. Public service should not be a road to riches. Elected officials should be remunerated at the level of most of the public. Elected office should not entail extraordinary salaries and extravagant expense accounts. State elected office is a full-time job and earning income from private employment and consulting while in office should be prohibited as a distraction from their official duties and a potential source of conflicts of interest.
Independent Redistricting Commission
The dividing up of the state by the two major parties into safe, one-party districts for their own incumbents must end. Pass legislation or preferably a constitutional amendment that provides for an independent redistricting commission to draw up districts based on six principles:
1. Compliance with Federal Voting Rights Act
2. Equality of Population (with prisoners counted for their home districts, not their district of incarceration).
3. Contiguity
4. Compactness
5. Concurrent Districts: Minimize the crossing of city and county lines and maximize Assembly Districts within State Senate Districts and State Senate Districts within Congressional Districts.
6. Proportional Representation: Only a system of proportional representative can insure that all elections are competitive, every vote counts, and every community of interest is fully represented.
Proportional Representation
Our current single-member-district, winner-take-all system makes almost every district a one-party district for the party with the plurality of enrolled voters in the district. Elections under the single-member-districts, winner-take-all system are uncompetitive elections in most cases. Every party and interest not supportive of the plurality winner has no representative. An independent redistricting commission, without redistricting for proportional representation, will not end uncompetitive elections, one-party districts, and no representation for any communities of interest except the plurality winner.
Proportional Representation ensures that every election is competitive, every vote counts toward representation the voter supports, and every party and community of interest is fully represented. There are many methods of proportional representation. What they all have in common is that each party is represented in legislative bodies in close proportion to the votes their candidates receive in an election.
New York should enact a mixed-member system of proportional representation for the state legislature which combines district representatives to represent geographical constituencies and party representatives to proportionally represent each party according to the overall votes their party receives. In a mixed-member system of proportional representation, voters vote once for their district representative and once for their party representative. After the district winners are determined, the party representatives are seated to provide overall proportionality in the legislative body according to each party's overall vote. Mixed-member proportional representation is used for legislative elections in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, and Wales.
Instant Runoff Voting
New York should enact Instant Runoff Voting for single-seat executive branch elections. It should also be used for the election of district representatives in a system mixed-member proportional representation.
In Instant Runoff Voting, voters rank their choices in order of preference: 1, 2, 3, and so on. If no candidate receives a majority on the first count, the last place candidate is eliminated and that candidates' votes are transferred to those voters second choice. This is the "instant runoff." This process continues until a candidate receives a majority of votes.
Under our current system of plurality winner-take-all, voters often feel forced to vote "strategically" for a "lesser evil" our of fear that their vote for their favorite third party candidate will be "wasted" and help their most feared candidate. Instant Runoff Voting ends this problem by enabling voters to vote for their most favored candidate without fear of helping their least favored candidate.
Instant Runoff Voting should not be enacted as a substitute for Proportional Representation in the legislature. Instant Runoff Voting does not result in proportional representation that gives all communities of interest their full and fair share of representation.
For more information on Proportional Representation and Instant Runoff Voting, see www.fairvote.org.
Referendum and Initiative
New York should enact a constitutional amendment to provide Referendum and Initiative with the following features:
Petition Requirements: The petition requirements should be great enough to prevent trivial or marginal questions on the ballot and low enough to enable questions with significant citizen interest to make the ballot.
Spending Limits: Reasonable limits on contributions should be part of the referendum and initiative process to prevent well-heeled special interests from dominating the process.
Multi-Choice Format: A multi-choice format is needed because people may favor a referendum or initiative question in principle, but have problems with the particular formulation or the timing. A multi-choice format would give a better reading of what the voters want to do next with the question under consideration. A multi-choice format might provide the following options:
Yes - Support strongly.
Yes - Support, but not as a top priority.
No - Strongly oppose in principle
No - Support in principle. Nut not this formulation. Want to consider a reformulated proposal.
No - Support in principle. But not at this time. Want to reconsider at a later date.
Voter Information Booklet: The state Board of Elections should produce and mail to each voter a Voter Information Booklet to inform them about the questions on the ballot. The booklets should contain for each question a summary description, the full text, a proponents' statement, and an opponents' statement.
Public Campaign Financing
New York should enact a system of Public Campaign Financing that is voluntary in order to comply with the 1976 US Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which struck down mandatory spending limits by candidates as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, but also specifically affirmed that voluntary public campaign financing is permissible.
The system should provide funding that is adequate to reach the voters of an election with print and broadcast media. If a publicly financed candidate is outspent by a privately funded opponent, the law should provide a matching grant to the publicly funded candidate, up to a limit. Extra funding should also go to the publicly financed candidate if there is independent spending against a candidate by an outside group or individual, up to a limit.
The public campaign financing law should treat major party, minor party, and independent candidates equally with respect to qualifying requirements.
Fair Ballot Formats and Election Administration
Multiple Ballot Faces: End the crowding of all races on to one ballot face. Votes for each race and ballot question in an election should have their own section on a ballot face and multiple ballot faces should be used to post all races and questions.
Fair Ballot Access: Equalize the petitioning requirements between party and independent candidates. Independent candidates now must collect as much as three times as many signatures as major party candidates and cannot collect them until after the party petitioning period.
Random Positioning of Candidates: End the placement of party candidates in order of the results of the last gubernatorial race. The order of the candidates for each race should be random.
Multi-Party Boards of Elections: The state and county boards of elections are now governed by the top two parties receiving votes in the last gubernatorial race, which as always been the Democrats and Republicans. Board of elections should include representatives of all ballot qualified parties. Any voter competent to do the job, not only voters enrolled in the two major parties as is now the case in most counties, should have an equal opportunity to work as a poll inspector paid by the county Board of Election.
Voter Information Booklets
Boards of Elections should publish and mail to voters a Voter Information Booklet containing a samples of all ballot faces, a statement from each candidate in each race, and for ballot questions: a summary description, the full text, a proponents' statement, and an opponents' statement.
Public Authorities
Over 1,300 public authorities, benefit corporations and other quasi-governmental borrowing entities are operating without adequate public oversight and annual audits.
Public authorities and corporations have a legitimate function when they finance capital expenditures for public infrastructure, public utilities, and business development that will generate the revenues needed to pay off the financing.
The problem is that too many public authorities and corporations have been financing projects that cannot generate sufficient revenues to pay off the bonds they issue. These bonds issued are backed, not by the project's revenues, but by the general revenues of the state, which should be used for operating expenses, not capital expenditures.
This kind of back-door borrowing has put New York State finances in a precarious position and, in too many cases, has been used to reward politically connected private interests with tax-free financing that should be reserved for public interest projects.
New York's vast network of public authorities, benefit corporations and other quasi-governmental borrowing entities needs to be brought under democratic control and accountability, consolidated into a manageable system, audited annually, and made transparent to the public in order to fulfill its legitimate mission of financing capital expenditures for public infrastructure, public utilities, and business development in the public interest that will generate the revenues needed to pay off the financing.
To achieve these goals, New York should enact the following reforms:
Public Enterprise Boards: Local governments (counties and the larger cities) should establish Public Enterprise Boards, whose members are elected in public elections, to oversee the activities of public authorities and other public enterprises in their jurisdiction. The members of these local Public Enterprise Boards would elect a state Public Enterprise Board to oversee the system of public authorities and enterprises. Membership on the state Public Enterprise Board would be a full-time position so the oversight process is run by the public representatives, not staff.
Consolidation: The first task of a state Public Enterprise Board should be to develop a plan to consolidate public authorities into a more manageable and transparent set of authorities.
Annual Audits: The state Comptroller's office should be allocated the resources it needs to conduct annual audits of all public authorities.
Transparency: The annual reports and audits and other relevant documents of every public authority should be available on the internet for public inspection as soon as they are finished.
Legislative Oversight: The Rules of the Assembly and the Senate must be democratized to empower legislative committees charged with oversight of public authorities and other corporations to fulfill their oversight responsibilities.
Lobbying and Ethics Reform
Lifetime Ban on the Revolving Door between Government and Lobbyists: No government official, elected or staff, should be able to use public service as a springboard to cash in on the lobbying business. A ban on lobbying is needed to insure public servants are looking out for the public interest, not special interests in hopes of landing a more lucrative lobbying job.
Ban Gifts and Honoraria: Ban gifts and honoraria to elected and public officials from lobbyists. Gifts are bribes. Speeches and public appearances are part of a legislator's responsibilities.
Create an Independent Ethics Commission: It should cover both the executive and legislative branches and include members appointed by the Assembly, Senate, Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller.
Disclosure of Campaign Expenditures
New York needs to strengthen its disclosure requirements for election expenditures so the public can see how special interests are spending money for government favor. This need will remain regardless of whether a voluntary system of public campaign financing is adopted.
New York should enact the following measures:
Reduce Contribution Limits: New York States campaign expenditure limits are too high for statewide races. New York should adopt the federal campaign expenditure limits: $2400 per individual and $5000 per political committee. Treat the subsidiaries of a parent corporation to be part of the same political committee, so corporations cannot get around the $5000 limit.
Ban Direct Corporate Contributions to Candidates: Corporate campaign contributions should be prohibited in New York elections as they are in federal elections.
Disclose Independent Corporate Campaign Spending: New York State should require full disclosure of all campaign expenditures from corporate treasuries on elections and ballot questions, which are now permitted if they are uncoordinated with candidates as a result of January 21, 2010 US Supreme Court decision in United Citizens v. Federal Election Commission.
Searchable Electronic Disclosure Reports: Require candidates for local government to report their contributions in electronic format and post those filings on the Internet like contributions for state office are posted. Require disclosure of the name of the employer or the occupation of the contributor. Improve the electronic software to make this database easier to search and analyze.
Strengthen Enforcement: New York State's Board of Elections is understaffed and limited by law in its ability to identify and punish election law violators, both contributors and candidates. Its staffing and power to identify and prosecute election law violators should be increased.

Replace the Two-Party Corporate State with Multi-Party Democracy


Fix the Legislature:

  • Democratize the Rules of the Assembly and Senate
  • Workers' Wages for Elected State Officials
  • Abolish Member Items


Fair Elections in a Multi-Party Democracy:

  • Proportional Representation for Legislative Elections
  • Instant Runoff Voting for Executive Office Elections
  • Initiative and Referendum
  • Public Campaign Financing
  • Independent Redistricting Commission
  • Fair Ballot Formats
  • Fair Ballot Access
  • Voter Information Booklets
  • Multi-Party Boards of Elections


Strengthen Accountability and Disclosure:

  • Democratic Oversight of Public Authorities
  • Strengthen Disclosure Laws for Lobbying and Election Expenditures


The Key Reform: Proportional Representation for Multi-Party Democracy


Good government groups advocate many good reforms that we support. But these reforms will do little to change who has the power and what is done in Albany if we do not get at the root problem: the domination of state government by the big corporate interests through their two-party system of corporate rule. 


Corporate power manifests itself not only in campaign financing and lobbying, but even more powerfully in the “virtual legislature” of the vested interests in permanent session in the financial markets. This economic power translates directly into political power: the power of the vested interests to use their investment decisions to veto government reforms in the public interest. They can lower  government bond ratings and raise interest rates for government borrowing. If need be, they can organize a strike by capital, sit on their money or move it out of state, wreck the economy, blame the reformers, and finance the political reaction. 


Usually just a veiled threat of an economic veto blackmails government into submission. But corporate  interests will follow through on their threats if they have to. For example, Cleveland Mayor, now US Representative, Dennis Kucinich, was elected in 1977 on a platform of reversing a plan by a private utility and associated banks to privatize the municipal power utility. When Kucinich followed through on his election promise, six banks refused to finance a longstanding routine rollover of $15 million of Cleveland's debts, forcing the city into default and laying the basis for Kucinich's defeat in his 1979 re-election campaign. It should also be noted that government can fight corporate power and win. Though Kucinich paid a short-term political price, he succeeded in forestalling the privatization of Cleveland's municipal power utility. Cleveland Public Power has saved Cleveland consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in utility rates over the ensuring years compared to neighboring private utilities, a result which laid the basis for Kucinich's successful return to elected office.


The virtual legislature of the financial markets is exerting its power today as the banking oligarchy dictates its terms to the elected legislature: deep cuts in public spending and no hikes in taxes on the rich. The financial oligarchs want to make sure middle-income taxpayers cover the costs of their Wall Street bailouts and guarantee the future value of the government bonds they own.


Where are the political parties and their elected officials who challenge this corporate power? They are excluded to a great degree by the plurality winner-take-all system of elections, which tends to reproduce a two-party system. The result is a very sophisticated two-party system of corporate rule which presents the illusion of choice when both Democrats and Republicans are largely funded by and indentured to the big corporate interests.


Only a multi-party democracy with more voices and choices for voters can clean out the corruption in Albany and stand up to the corporate interests. And that requires a system of Proportional Representation for legislative elections and Instant Runoff Voting for executive branch positions, as we outline below.


New York's fusion rule for multi-party cross endorsements is no substitute for Proportional Representation and a true Multi-Party Democracy. Fusion means confusion. For 75 years, fusion in New York has meant the two major parties are reinforced by a few satellite minor parties that act as factions of one or the other major parties and cross-endorse their candidates. That is not more choices. It is just a slicker version of the same old illusion of choices.


Reform the Legislature


Democratic Rules: Democratize Rules of the Assembly and the Senate to empower rank-and-file representatives and end the power of the Assembly Leader and Senate Majority Leader to control whole legislative process. Robert's Rules would serve as a good model for revised rules.


Public Transparency: Open the legislative process to public scrutiny through public hearings, records, reports, and votes.


Empowered Committees: Empower the committee system to develop legislation. Require every bill voted out of committee to be considered by the full house. Require conference committees to reconcile differences between bills passed by each house. 


Defund Legislative Political Machines: Abolish member items and legislative leaders' special earmarks. Equal staffing and budgets for all legislators. 


Workers' Wages for Legislators and Elected Executive Officials: State legislators and elected executive branch officials should be paid workers' wages, defined as two-times the state minimum wage, plus decent benefits and realistic expense accounts for the official duties of legislators and executive branch officials. Public service should not be a road to riches. Elected officials should be remunerated at the level of most of the public. Elected office should not entail extraordinary salaries and extravagant expense accounts. State elected office is a full-time job and earning income from private employment and consulting while in office should be prohibited as a distraction from their official duties and a potential source of conflicts of interest.


Independent Redistricting Commission


The dividing up of the state by the two major parties into safe, one-party districts for their own incumbents must end. Pass legislation or preferably a constitutional amendment that provides for an independent redistricting commission to draw up districts based on six principles:

  1. Compliance with Federal Voting Rights Act
  2. Equality of Population (with prisoners counted for their home districts, not their district of incarceration).
  3. Contiguity
  4. Compactness
  5. Concurrent Districts: Minimize the crossing of city and county lines and maximize Assembly Districts within State Senate Districts and State Senate Districts within Congressional Districts.
  6. Proportional Representation: Only a system of proportional representative can insure that all elections are competitive, every vote counts, and every community of interest is fully represented.


Proportional Representation


Our current single-member-district, winner-take-all system makes almost every district a one-party district for the party with the plurality of enrolled voters in the district. Elections under the single-member-districts, winner-take-all system are uncompetitive elections in most cases. Every party and interest not supportive of the plurality winner has no representative. An independent redistricting commission, without redistricting for proportional representation, will not end uncompetitive elections, one-party districts, and no representation for any communities of interest except the plurality winner.


Proportional Representation ensures that every election is competitive, every vote counts toward representation the voter supports, and every party and community of interest is fully represented. There are many methods of proportional representation. What they all have in common is that each party is represented in legislative bodies in close proportion to the votes their candidates receive in an election. 


New York should enact a mixed-member system of proportional representation for the state legislature which combines district representatives to represent geographical constituencies and party representatives to proportionally represent each party according to the overall votes their party receives. In a mixed-member system of proportional representation, voters vote once for their district representative and once for their party representative. After the district winners are determined, the party representatives are seated to provide overall proportionality in the legislative body according to each party's overall vote. Mixed-member proportional representation is used for legislative elections in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, and Wales. 


Instant Runoff Voting


New York should enact Instant Runoff Voting for single-seat executive branch elections. It should also be used for the election of district representatives in a system mixed-member proportional representation.


In Instant Runoff Voting, voters rank their choices in order of preference: 1, 2, 3, and so on. If no candidate receives a majority on the first count, the last place candidate is eliminated and that candidates' votes are transferred to those voters second choice. This is the "instant runoff." This process continues until a candidate receives a majority of votes. 


Under our current system of plurality winner-take-all, voters often feel forced to vote "strategically" for a "lesser evil" our of fear that their vote for their favorite third party candidate will be "wasted" and help their most feared candidate. Instant Runoff Voting ends this problem by enabling voters to vote for their most favored candidate without fear of helping their least favored candidate. 


Instant Runoff Voting should not be enacted as a substitute for Proportional Representation in the legislature. Instant Runoff Voting does not result in proportional representation that gives all communities of interest their full and fair share of representation.


For more information on Proportional Representation and Instant Runoff Voting, see www.fairvote.org.


Referendum and Initiative


New York should enact a constitutional amendment to provide Referendum and Initiative with the following features:


Petition Requirements: The petition requirements should be great enough to prevent trivial or marginal questions on the ballot and low enough to enable questions with significant citizen interest to make the ballot.


Spending Limits: Reasonable limits on contributions should be part of the referendum and initiative process to prevent well-heeled special interests from dominating the process.


Multi-Choice Format: A multi-choice format is needed because people may favor a referendum or initiative question in principle, but have problems with the particular formulation or the timing. A multi-choice format would give a better reading of what the voters want to do next with the question under consideration. A multi-choice format might provide the following options:

Yes - Support strongly.

Yes - Support, but not as a top priority.

No - Strongly oppose in principle

No - Support in principle. Not not this formulation. Want to consider a reformulated proposal.

No - Support in principle. But not at this time. Want to reconsider at a later date.


Voter Information Booklet: The state Board of Elections should produce and mail to each voter a Voter Information Booklet to inform them about the questions on the ballot. The booklets should contain for each question a summary description, the full text, a proponents' statement, and an opponents' statement.


Public Campaign Financing


New York should enact a system of Public Campaign Financing that is voluntary in order to comply with the 1976 US Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which struck down mandatory spending limits by candidates as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, but also specifically affirmed that voluntary public campaign financing is permissible. 


The system should provide funding that is adequate to reach the voters of an election with print and broadcast media. If a publicly financed candidate is outspent by a privately funded opponent, the law should provide a matching grant to the publicly funded candidate, up to a limit. Extra funding should also go to the publicly financed candidate if there is independent spending against a candidate by an outside group or individual, up to a limit.


The public campaign financing law should treat major party, minor party, and independent candidates equally with respect to qualifying requirements.


Fair Ballot Formats and Election Administration


Multiple Ballot Faces: End the crowding of all races on to one ballot face. Votes for each race and ballot question in an election should have their own section on a ballot face and multiple ballot faces should be used to post all races and questions.


Fair Ballot Access: Equalize the petitioning requirements between party and independent candidates. Independent candidates now must collect as much as three times as many signatures as major party candidates and cannot collect them until after the party petitioning period.


Random Positioning of Candidates: End the placement of party candidates in order of the results of the last gubernatorial race. The order of the candidates for each race should be random.


Multi-Party Boards of Elections: The state and county boards of elections are now governed by the top two parties receiving votes in the last gubernatorial race, which as always been the Democrats and Republicans. Board of elections should include representatives of all ballot qualified parties. Any voter competent to do the job, not only voters enrolled in the two major parties as is now the case in most counties, should have an equal opportunity to work as a poll inspector paid by the county Board of Election.


Voter Information Booklets


Boards of Elections should publish and mail to voters a Voter Information Booklet containing a samples of all ballot faces, a statement from each candidate in each race, and for ballot questions: a summary description, the full text, a proponents' statement, and an opponents' statement.


Public Authorities


Over 1,300 public authorities, benefit corporations and other quasi-governmental borrowing entities are operating without adequate public oversight and annual audits. 


Public authorities and corporations have a legitimate function when they finance capital expenditures for public infrastructure, public utilities, and business development that will generate the revenues needed to pay off the financing.


The problem is that too many public authorities and corporations have been financing projects that cannot generate sufficient revenues to pay off the bonds they issue. These bonds issued are backed, not by the project's revenues, but by the general revenues of the state, which should be used for operating expenses, not capital expenditures.


This kind of back-door borrowing has put New York State finances in a precarious position and, in too many cases, has been used to reward politically connected private interests with tax-free financing that should be reserved for public interest projects.


New York's vast network of public authorities, benefit corporations and other quasi-governmental borrowing entities needs to be brought under democratic control and accountability, consolidated into a manageable system, audited annually, and made transparent to the public in order to fulfill its legitimate mission of financing capital expenditures for public infrastructure, public utilities, and business development in the public interest that will generate the revenues needed to pay off the financing.


To achieve these goals, New York should enact the following reforms:


Public Enterprise Boards: Local governments (counties and the larger cities) should establish Public Enterprise Boards, whose members are elected in public elections, to oversee the activities of public authorities and other public enterprises in their jurisdiction. The members of these local Public Enterprise Boards would elect a state Public Enterprise Board to oversee the system of public authorities and enterprises. Membership on the state Public Enterprise Board would be a full-time position so the oversight process is run by the public representatives, not staff.


Consolidation: The first task of a state Public Enterprise Board should be to develop a plan to consolidate public authorities into a more manageable and transparent set of authorities.


Annual Audits: The state Comptroller's office should be allocated the resources it needs to conduct annual audits of all public authorities.


Transparency: The annual reports and audits and other relevant documents of every public authority should be available on the internet for public inspection as soon as they are finished.


Legislative Oversight: The Rules of the Assembly and the Senate must be democratized to empower legislative committees charged with oversight of public authorities and other corporations to fulfill their oversight responsibilities.


Lobbying and Ethics Reform


Lifetime Ban on the Revolving Door between Government and Lobbyists: No government official, elected or staff, should be able to use public service as a springboard to cash in on the lobbying business. A ban on lobbying is needed to insure public servants are looking out for the public interest, not special interests in hopes of landing a more lucrative lobbying job.


Ban Gifts and Honoraria: Ban gifts and honoraria to elected and public officials from lobbyists. Gifts are bribes. Speeches and public appearances are part of a legislator's responsibilities. 


Create an Independent Ethics Commission: It should cover both the executive and legislative branches and include members appointed by the Assembly, Senate, Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller. 


Disclosure of Campaign Expenditures


New York needs to strengthen its disclosure requirements for election expenditures so the public can see how special interests are spending money for government favor. This need will remain regardless of whether a voluntary system of public campaign financing is adopted.
New York should enact the following measures: 


Reduce Contribution Limits: New York States campaign expenditure limits are too high for statewide races. New York should adopt the federal campaign expenditure limits: $2400 per individual and $5000 per political committee. Treat the subsidiaries of a parent corporation to be part of the same political committee, so corporations cannot get around the $5000 limit.


Ban Direct Corporate Contributions to Candidates: Corporate campaign contributions should be prohibited in New York elections as they are in federal elections.


Disclose Independent Corporate Campaign Spending: New York State should require full disclosure of all campaign expenditures from corporate treasuries on elections and ballot questions, which are now permitted if they are uncoordinated with candidates as a result of January 21, 2010 US Supreme Court decision in United Citizens v. Federal Election Commission.


Searchable Electronic Disclosure Reports: Require candidates for local government to report their contributions in electronic format and post those filings on the Internet like contributions for state office are posted. Require disclosure of the name of the employer or the occupation of the contributor. Improve the electronic software to make this database easier to search and analyze.


Strengthen Enforcement: New York State's Board of Elections is understaffed and limited by law in its ability to identify and punish election law violators, both contributors and candidates. Its staffing and power to identify and prosecute election law violators should be increased.

Additional information