Cuomo Avoids Real Ethics Reform

Cuomo Avoids Real Ethics Reform

Hawkins says Governor Cuomo's 5 Point Plan falls Far Short of Real Ethics Reform

Howie Hawkins, the recent Green Party candidate for Governor, issued the following statement today in response to the announcement that Governor Cuomo would require state lawmakers to adopt a 5 point ethics reform plan as part of the state budget process.

Real Ethics Reform

The ethics reform package announced by Governor Cuomo today doesn't reform. It doesn't get at the root of corruption in the money that wealthy individuals and special interests shower on elected officials in the form of campaign contributions and outside salaries. Cuomo wants more disclosure of influence buying, the Green Party wants to outlaw it. Our state government should not be for sale to the highest bidder.

This pay-to-play corruption is bigger than the illegal corruption that has ensnared a few dozen state elected officials over the last 15 years. It includes the legalized bribery of the implicit quid pro quo that exists when wealthy individuals and special interests pay for the campaigns and extra incomes of elected officials. We have seen such behavior in Assemblymember Carl Heastie, soon to be the new speaker of the State Assembly. And Governor Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission once they began to ask questions about Cuomo's own pay-to-play campaign fundraising.

A real ethics reform package would include these four reforms:

1. Full Time Legislators with No Outside Salaries

Legislators are paid well above what most New Yorkers make. They should work full time for the people and not be subject to influence by outside interests providing additional fees and salaries.

2. Full Public Campaign Financing

A “Clean Money” system of full public campaign financing would provide every qualified candidate with an equal grant of campaign funding sufficient to reach the voters of their district with their message, provided they participate in a series of publicly sponsored debates.

Candidates would qualify by collecting a reasonable number of petition signatures and $5 contributions to demonstrate voter support and a serious campaign. It would be a voluntary system consistent with U.S. Supreme Court decisions, but the voters would know who was running with clean public money and who was still running with dirty private money.

This Clean Money system of full public campaign financing is not the partial system of public matching funds that Governor Cuomo has advocated and was in former Speaker Silver's bill that passed the Assembly in 2013. That partial system of matching funds still allowed candidates to raise unlimited private funds while also receiving public matching funds. Partial public campaign financing doesn't end the outsized influence of wealthy special interests.

3. Independent Ethics Oversight

Existing ethics oversight by the Joint Commission on Public Integrity (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC) is compromised by segmented jurisdictions and leadership appointed by and staffing drawn from staffs of the very politicians they are supposed to monitor.

We need a truly independent ethics commission with comprehensive responsibility for ethics enforcement and the resources necessary to vigorously investigate and punish ethics rules violations by members of both the executive and legislative branches. It should have no elected officials on its governing board. It should have a five-year revolving door restriction for recent politicians or their staff members from serving as board or staff for the ethics commission. Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws should apply to an independent Ethics Commission.

4. Proportional Representation

Recent court decisions enable billionaires to buy elections while making it harder for average people to vote. Aside from the weakening of the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court and the spread of onerous voter identification requirements, our current system of winner take all in single member districts depresses voter participation. Why vote when the outcome is predetermined by gerrymandering of one-party districts where one party has an overwhelming majority? Why vote when one-third of the state Senate and Assembly races are uncontested?

Proportional representation would restore competitive elections and make very vote count. Under proportional representation, elections are held in multi-member districts and each party is represented in the legislature in proportion to their support among the voters. For example, a party with 30 percent support in the district gets 30 percent of the seats, not zero representation as in single-member, winner-take-all district elections. Every party would run in every district with the expectation of winning some proportion of the seats. Every voter would have incentive to vote for their party because it would help their candidates win seats.

New York City, Yonkers, and Long Beach had proportional representation for their city councils in 1930s and 1940s. It is time to bring it back.

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