State Senate Democrats Push for a Debate on Ethics Package
By Meghan Keneally
February 14, 2011 | 2:02 p.m
State Senate Democrats unveiled a comprehensive ethics package today and called on it to pass quickly in order to reinsure voters that an election season promise is being honored.
Minority leader John Sampson said that the Democrats' six-part bill that will cover a variety of ethically-dubious areas including client disclosure requirements, proper use of campaign funds, the need to eliminate the existing 'pay to play' attitude, and the creation of an independent redistricting commission.
"We need to make these changes because they have lost faith, trust and confidence in us," Sampson said. "If we ask them to tighten their belts, we have to tighten our belts."
The ethics package is comprised of six separate bills, all pertaining to different areas where ethics violations have occurred.
Sen. Daniel Squadron is pushing for the establishment of an independent ethics oversight committee that will oversee all areas of state government. He also said he was "very pleased" that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's support for increased ethical oversight during his campaign.
"The key here is no single appointed entity has a majority of the commission," Squadron said.
Sen. Liz Krueger's bill would insure that public officials and candidates only use campaign contributions for the campaign, citing college tuition fees, foreign trips and swimming pool maintenance fees (taking a jab at former Republican State Sen. Joe Bruno) as examples of misuse. Her bill would also stipulate that all funds have to be either returned or given to other causes within four years of an official leaving office. She said that political donations, charitable giving, or prorated return to the donors would all qualify as proper ways to get rid of the money in a campaign fund.
Sen. Joseph Addabbo focused his bill on the end of 'pay to play' by forbidding those with state contracts from making political donations. When asked about what groups specifically qualified as receiving state contracts, he kept his answer purposely vague but hinted that he wants the title to cover all interpretations, including union contracts.
"If the intent of the bill was to stop the pay to play, let's leave it open to include anyone who has contracts with the state," Addabbo said.
Sen. Malcolm Smith said that random campaign audits would be used to enforce clean financing standards in his portion of the bill.
The disclosure of client lists and donors would be a way to "open our books" to their constituents, and Sen. Gustavo Rivera included that measure in his bill.
"We have seen that different legislators have different masters," Rivera said.
The final aspect of the ethics package would create an independent redistricting commission to prevent gerrymandering and help create a truly representative state government, Sen. Michael Gianaris said.
"What have we learned recently was that 240,000 more people have voted for democrats in this past election, and yet the make up of the Senate is 32 Republicans and 30 Democrats," Gianaris said. "It shows that the Republicans do not control the Senate because more people voted for Republican candidates."
He was careful not to cast all the blame on state Republicans, and stressed the need for the commission to be independent.
"One could make an argument that Democrats who control the assembly have done the same thing," he said.
Sampson concluded the press conference by saying he had been in talks with Gov. Cuomo about bringing an ethics passage up for debate and seemed hopeful about the outcome.
"That bill is ready to go in the chamber and pass because we believe the time has come, because we need to let the people of the state of New York know that we heard them," Sampson said.