Senate Democrats Propose Campaign Finance Reform Bills

Originally published in The Legislative Gazette on March 12, 2018

The New York State Senate Democratic Conference is sponsoring eight bills they say will bring about stronger campaign finance regulations.

A 2015 study by the Center for Public Integrity graded New York a D- in a state integrity investigation and ranked New York 31st in the nation for public accountability.

“I feel like we’re frankly stuck in Groundhog’s Day…we do this every year,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers.

Stewart-Cousins and her conference have sponsored a series of bills aimed at regulating campaign finances and fighting corruption. This is a response to years of what they say is ambiguous campaign finance regulations and both parties not being proactive.

“The GOP continues to hold these bills hostage,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Stewart-Cousins is sponsoring a bill called the “Fair Elections Act” (S.7593) with the intention of establishing an optional public financing system for state campaigns. Under this legislation, eligible contributions to candidates for statewide office up to $250 would be matched at the rate of $6 by the state for every $1 contributed. Participating candidates could only receive up to $2,000 in donations.  

Unopposed candidates in general or special elections would not be eligible to receive public funds. The system would require unspent public funds to be returned 30 days after the election.

Senate Democratic Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, is sponsoring a bill (S.3301) that would lower contribution limits for statewide candidates to $6,000 for the primary and another $6,000 for the general election. Senate candidate’s limitations would be lower with contributions being limited to $4,000 for the primary and $4,000 for the  general election. Assembly candidates would only be allowed contributions up to $2,000 in the primary and $2,000 for the general election.

“The current contribution limits are insanely high,” Gianaris said.

These would have an effect on current New York State Board of Elections contribution limits. For statewide candidates, primary contributions are limited to total number of enrolled voters in the candidate’s party in the state, excluding voters in inactive status, multiplied by $0.005. Donations are limited to $44,000 for the general election. State Senate contributions are currently capped off at $7,000 for primaries and $11,000 for the general election. Assembly members’ limits are set at $4,400 for both the primary and general election.

Sen. Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, is sponsoring a bill (S.7129) that would require campaign committees to reveal the occupation, employer and employer’s address of a an individual donating more than $500 to the State Board of Elections.

Kavanagh spoke out against “The LLC Loophole” and is combating it by sponsoring a bill (S.7149) that would make limited liability companies subject to the existing contribution limits for these corporations. The bill would also require the disclosure of  the identity of individuals with membership interests in LLCs and would specifically attribute contributions made by members of the LLCs.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, sponsors a bill (S.124/A.3668) that would establish criminal penalties for public servants who steer public contracts or funds to help benefits themselves, their families, and/or their business interests. Those found guilty of undisclosed self-dealing will face felony charges. The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Charles Levine, D-Glen Cove.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx, sponsors a bill (S.1085-c) which would require the disclosure of “bundling.” Bundling is the act of an individual donating contributions through various people and/or sources, considered intermediaries. The proposed bill will define exactly what an “intermediary” is in State Law and bundling contributions for a candidate would have to be disclosed to the State Board of Elections.

“My bill is simple… If this majority won’t do it then the next will for damn sure,” Rivera said.

Sen. James Sanders, D-Queens, sponsors a bill (S.4111/A.3993)  which would require corporations to have a majority of their shareholders authorize any political spending. The Assembly bill is sponsored by Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda, D-Bronx.

Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, is sponsoring a bill (S.4164) that seeks to establish a yearly contribution limit of $25,000 in aggregate from each contributor for party committees for day-to-day operations such as maintaining headquarters and staff.

These reforms have been announced in the wake of Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco and other top political contributors going to trial facing bribery and extortion charges. The bills are all currently in the Senate Elections Committee.