By Stephen Witt
While not quite the new sheriff of Albany, recently elected State Senator Daniel Squadron is beginning to make an impact on possible reforms in Albany.
The freshman lawmaker who was elected last year representing parts of lower Manhattan along withBrooklyn Heights and Carroll Gardens has introduced several bills that have longtime Albany watchdog groups wagging their tail.
“Sen. Squadron is developing a reputation as an aggressive reformer in Albany, and has put in a number of bills, that if enacted, would improve Albany,” said Blair Horner, the legislative watchdog of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).
“He advanced an ethics bill that stimulated debate and would lead to reforms. He’s pushing and that’s what Albany needs,” added Horner, who’s been in Albany with NYPIRG for 30 years.
The ethics bill challenges the current structure and would eliminate the commission on public integrity, which Horner said was found to behave unethically, and which Gov. Paterson recently called for the resignation of all its members.
Squadron’s bill, which was co-introduced with Republican Sen. John Bonacic, would merge all ethics enforcement of all branches of government into one agency and provides independent oversight, said Horner.
The commission would comprise three appointees chosen by the Governor and one each from the Comptroller, the Attorney General, the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Assembly Speaker and the Assembly Minority Leader, a structure that would make it virtually impossible for one branch or one elected official to dominate the Commission.
“This legislation will create a truly independent commission to oversee all the branches of state government. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass it into law,” said Squadron.
Squadron has also been very active in overhauling the campaign finance law, which currently differs from the city in that it allows no public financing and has large limits in donations with little oversight of how the money is spent.
Horner said state lawmakers have a wide range of opportunities to spend the money they get from the fundraisers with the argument that it’s used for legislative or constituent purposes.
The money can be used for and has been used for such things as leasing luxury cars, going out to dinner, paying for memberships at country clubs and taking lavish trips, Horner said, all under the guise that it is needed for official business purposes.
Additionally, Horner pointed out that while U.S. Representatives and Senators are allowed a maximum donation of $2,400 for the primary and another $2,400 for the general elections, assembly members are allowed $3,800 for the primary and another $3,800 for the general election.
State senators are allowed individual contributions of $6,000 for the primary and $9,500 for the general elections.
Among the reforms Horner said NYPIRG would like to see are placing real limits on lobbyists, lowering contribution limits for everybody and the creation of a public financing system so average people could run for office.
Squadron has co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Liz Krueger that would limit how dollars can be used once you raise them. He also has a bill that would limit campaign contributions, and supports a bill that Brooklyn Assemblymember Joan Millman first sponsored that would allow for public campaign financing for running for state comptroller.
Horner called allowing the race for state comptroller to be publicly financed a step in the right direction for state election reform.
“Our preference is to create a system of public financing for all state officials, but you can make the case the comptrollernot only controls pension funds, but is also the state fiscal watchdog so you want that person to be independent of political parties and government, and the best way to do it is public financing,” said Horner.
Horner said that ultimately it would be good to have public financing in place for all state election campaigns.