More Work To Be Done

Local officials are responding to suggested new laws, disclosure rules and election process reforms after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission released a comprehensive report Tuesday.

The report stated that the New York State Board Of Elections enforcement unit, which is responsible for the administration and audit of campaign finance disclosures and election laws, was ineffective and divided equally between political parties with a lack of communication.

“I don’t think communication is the issue. It’s action,” said Norm Green, Chautauqua County Democratic election commissioner. “It’s that they (the parties) are not agreeing with each other.”

Green said although there some communication at the county level, there is great criticism of the state board of elections.

“If the Democrat blocks the Republican and the Republican blocks the Democrat, it’s certainly not effective,” Green said. “If we (the state) can’t enforce on a bipartisan basis then we should hire an enforcement council that is blind to which political party is which.”

The commission investigated the effectiveness of New York’s campaign finance laws, management and affairs of the state board of elections and laws relating to lobbying, conflicts of interest, and the use of tax-exempt organizations to influence public policy and elections.

Suggestions included lowering contribution limits, instituting public financing of campaigns, limiting use of campaign accounts and increased disclosure of outside spending.

William Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the Moreland Commission, said there was a need for public financing of campaigns as it would free elected officials from reliance on massive donations from wealthy and powerful interests. Public financing would also invigorate citizen participation, increasing public accountability and promote trust, the report stated.

Assemblyman Andy Goodell disagreed.

“That is a position I do not support because I believe that we should be working to reduce taxes in New York state, not raise taxes to fund the personal political campaigns of candidates,” Goodell said, adding that if the Moreland Commission’s other recommendations are implemented, there won’t be a need for public financing of those campaigns.

“We can instead focus our efforts on cutting taxes and using our limited resources where they’re most needed,” Goodell said.

Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, said that the vast majority of her constituents are not in favor of giving taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns of politicians and it would cost about $200 million a year.

“That money would be much better spent toward tax relief, job development and funding for schools or hospitals,” Young said.

Other suggestions from the report included reducing campaign contribution caps, reducing the ability of party committees to transfer large amounts of money into local races, closing loopholes which allow limited liability companies to contribute more than others and also closing loopholes which allow political action committees to make unlimited contributions.

Fitzpatrick said the commission had uncovered relationships between cash and legislative actions, gaps in campaign disclosure requirements, ineffective enforcement of the state’s election law and deficiencies in the state penal law addressing public corruption.

To solve these issues, the commission suggested creating an independent law enforcement agency to monitor campaign finance laws.

A director appointed to a fixed, five-year term by the governor with Senate confirmation would lead the agency which would be structured for professional, nonpartisan enforcement along with new laws, and “penalties that fit the crime.”

“I think regardless of who is in charge, there should be a serious look at the (report’s) findings and information and to proceed in a way that would improve the issues going on in Albany,” said Brian Abram, Chautauqua County Republican election commissioner. “If the state held everyone accountable to the current procedure, then it could potentially not have to morph (current policies).”

Lastly, broader disclosure of outside income and lobbyist relationships would provide more transparency of legislative sponsorship and reveal potential conflicts of interest, according to the report.

“The Moreland Commission points out that more work needs to be done,” Goodell said. “Senator (Catharine) Young and I have both supported legislation to address some of the problems with campaign finance.”