Monday, June 20, 2016

Session is finally over and although we are excited to switch our focus to developing new educational programs and updating our electronic voter guide for the upcoming primary and general elections (  we just posted the candidates for the Congressional primary so be sure to check it out!)  We are disappointed at the lack of campaign finance and ethics reforms this session; but before we dwell on the negative, let’s take a moment to reflect on the positives. In total the League had quite a few successes this session:
·         We once again kept the Education Tax Credit from coming to a vote in the Assembly, an arduous but satisfying fight.
·         We saw movement in the Assembly on some of our core voting reforms including early voting, allowing for electronic poll books, an amendment for no-excuse absentee voting, and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act.
·         We also helped push the LLC loophole for a vote in the Assembly where it passed easily with support from both democrats and republicans.
·         We were also successful in raising public awareness for our core ethics and campaign finance issues. We held many press conferences and issued countless memos and statements pushing to see some form of ethics reforms happen before time ran out.
To see all of the issues we worked on throughout this session visit our website at
Even though we’ve had success moving these issues in the Assembly, we are very disappointed the Senate did not take the opportunity to vote on any of these common sense election law and campaign finance reforms. It is however very satisfying to see these bills at least move in one house, many of these bills have never even been voted out of committee!
Although the legislation we advocated for was not signed into law, the Governor did put forward an ethics packaged aimed primarily at independent expenditures which we have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the package includes some reforms that we have been fighting for for nearly a decade.  Pension forfeiture of elected officials convicted of corruption, the timely closure of political PACs after a candidate passes, and having political consultants register as lobbyists, are all measures the League supports. What we don’t support is how the Governor quickly put together this package, without including laws aimed at bigger issues such as closing the LLC loophole and eliminating pay to play by lowering contribution limits, and then the two houses passed the package in the dead of the night (Senate at 2:00am and Assembly at 5:00 am). For this entire legislative session, the League and its good government partners have held press conferences urging the Governor to pass these reforms and put his focus on money flowing directly to elected officials.  Yes we want to take away pensions from corrupt politicians, yes we want better disclosure for lobbyists, yes we want consultants to be on the record as lobbyists, but we also want to see some bigger changes. Changes that would limit and bring transparency to money in politics, changes that would strengthen JCOPE, And changes that would actually address the underlying problems that allow politicians to receive unlimited campaign contributions from undisclosed donors.

Are we happy? No, not really. Are we disappointed? Well, at least we got more done this year than last year. The truth is until we pass strong anti-corruption laws we will continue to see politicians abusing the system for their own self gain. For now we will take advantage of the new “Boozy Brunch” law, have a few Bloody Mary’s, and start to strategize our approach for next session. Have a great summer everyone!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Only 3 days left.My how six months can fly by! With only one week remaining it appears that once again no ethics reforms will be passed. This week the Governor released his independent expenditure bill which he says will help address the problems created by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case. Unfortunately for New York, campaign finance abuses have been occurring long before Justice Kennedy issued his final opinion of the case. The League distributed a full statement after the event which can be read here. In our statement we recognize that this proposal will only address a small part of the larger problem that we face with our campaign finance system. The League has spent a significant amount of time and energy researching and studying campaign finance and this proposal is not nearly enough to curb corruption in our state. In 2012 we issued a large briefing paper on the topic which can be found here. If you’re interested in seeing what it would really take to overhaul our campaign finance system it is certainly worth a read! 

This week the Assembly took up Assemblywoman Glick’s bill on reproductive rights. The bill would ensure that current law on the issue remains strong and would expand a woman’s access to reproductive services. As usual the Assembly Republicans took the opportunity to grad stand on the issue and try to gin up support from other religious members in the Assembly. This debate was unlike the debate in years past and seemed more akin to the debates that took place when New York was first dealing with the issue of reproductive choice. The new Republican member from the south shore of Staten Island rose to speak on the bill and ignited an all-out race debate in the Assembly.   Nearly all Democratic members rose to their feet to ask the new member to yield. 

Eventually the outraged members cleared out of the chamber as he continued his comments. When the members did finally file back in they launched into a nearly 3 hour “debate” over why his comments were both racist and sexist. Finally Assemblywoman Corwin and Assembly Minority Leader Kolb had to defuse the situation and ask for a short break in the session before the vote. The bill did eventually pass but it is unlikely the Senate will consider this bill.

As session winds down, the League is still advocating for some of our core issues. We are concentrating our efforts on the Contraceptive Coverage Act, the constitutional amendment that would allow for no-excuse absentee voting, and ethics reforms.  Even though the outlook is grim, we will continue pushing for ethics reforms until the very last day of session! 

Friday, June 3, 2016

With seven days of session remaining will the legislature pass any ethics reforms!?!? At that moment we’re feeling rather pessimistic, especially in light of this being an election year. Many members are anxious to head back to their districts to collect signatures for their petitions before the August 8th deadline. Although we are pessimistic we continue to be proactive and have been working with our good government partners planning our moves for the final days of session.

Luckily some of our other priority issues are moving including the Single Payer Health bill which passed in the Assembly on Wednesday. The League has also partnered with PowHer to push a bill on Pay Equity. We issued a joint memo of support to the Assembly and Senate for A.8487/S.6059A. This legislation would ensure that companies receiving state contracts are paying their employees fairly regardless of gender and race. You can read the full memo here.  The League is also keeping a close eye on the Contraceptive Coverage bill which would ensure all forms of contraception are covered by private insurers. We are hoping to push this bill through the Assembly and Senate before session ends.

On Wednesday we were treated to an explosive Assembly Election Law Committee meeting. Many of our priority bills on voting have been moved out of committee and placed on the calendar but there were several bills which went on to be held in other committees. Assemblywoman Walker was furious that her new omnibus bill on voting reforms was not even considered by the committee. The Chairman, Assemblyman Cusick, instead chose to move his own bill which had similar reforms but excluded some key components of her bill that would add additional protections for minorities who are discriminated against at poll sites. The Assemblywoman took a stand and demanded to know why the other omnibus bill was pushed through the committee while hers was not considered. The two then engaged in a lengthy debate (nearly 15 minutes of yelling!) over whether or not the Chairman had followed the protocol surrounding bringing a bill to vote in a committee. Many bills were held including Assemblywoman Galef’s pay-to-play bill which would ensure that all businesses dealing with the government could not make large campaign contributions (looking at you LP Cimminelli). Much to our dismay, the bill was held. We will be joining the Assemblywoman at a press conference on Friday and urging the legislature to take action on instituting real ethics reforms. Here’s hoping something happens between now and June 16th!

Monday, May 16, 2016

This week was a very exciting week for the League. We kicked off the second week of May with a large list of priority bills being moved in both the Assembly and Senate. On Monday we stood with Senator Daniel Squadron and his Senate allies outside of the Senate chamber to make one final push to move his LLC loophole bill through committee and onto the floor. We were joined by Senators Kreuger, Latimer, Rivera, Montgomery, Little, and Kaminski; as well as the Assembly sponsor Brian Kavanagh. There was quite a showing of press and several reporters made their way over to the committee meeting to see what would happen to the bill. Unfortunately, the bill did not move to the floor. Instead Senator Akshar moved the bill into Codes, he said this was requested by a member of the Codes Committee but did not specify who. Senator Squadron was distressed over the new committee assignment and this will likely be the last we hear about this bill for the rest of session.  The League was also interested in two other bills in this committee, one on early voting and one on electronic poll books. Both bills were moved to new committees and we are hopeful that they will reach the main calendar before the end of session.

On Tuesday the League had its annual lobby day. It was an extremely busy day and many other groups were also holding events and lobby days including the coalition on Raise the Age. Several of our members from Schenectady attended the Raise the Age press conference and lobbied with the group. After our morning presentations our members spent the afternoon mingling with their local legislators and advocating for voting and ethics reforms, as well as several social policy issues.
Wednesday was not quite as busy or exciting but the constitutional amendment on no-excuse absentee voting was moved to the assembly calendar (finally!) and a bill on allowing the State Board of Elections to make use of voters email addresses was also moved to Ways and Means.

Thursday former Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam were finally sentenced following their acts of corruption when Skelos was leader. The former Senator received 5 years and his son was sentenced to 6.5. The trial was live tweeted by several reporters and much like the Silver sentencing, we spent the hour and a half leading up to the sentences glued to our phones. Whether or not these sentences are enough to deter corruption in Albany remains to be seen. The rest of session will surely be interesting especially since it appears the US Attorney’s investigation of Buffalo Billion funding is finally heating up. As Preet Brahara would say “stay tuned”!