Money in Politics in New York: September 21 edition

September 21, 2012

Reposted with permission from The Brennan Center. Money in Politics is a series which regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics — and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform.

Gambling Industry Donates Millions to New York Politicians
As Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature discuss the process of amending the State Constitution to allow up to seven new full-scale, privately owned casinos in New York, the gambling industry is funneling millions of dollars into lobbying efforts and campaign war chests. Indian tribes, racetrack casinos and other gambling interests have spent nearly $50 million since 2005—over $40 million on lobbying and roughly $7.1 million on campaign contributions—according to a new report by Common Cause. Nearly $4 million of this has gone to New York Senate and Assembly races. “Gambling interests are betting big and spending millions in advance of a potential billion-dollar pay out. New York’s sky-high contribution limits, LLC loophole, and unlimited contributions to soft money accounts means the deck is stacked against the average voter” Susan Lerner, executive director at Common Cause, stated. “We need campaign finance reform to assure the public that the state’s future won’t be decided in a high stakes game where the dealer always wins,” she added.
Congressmen Warn Schneiderman Not to Investigate Outside Groups
Earlier this year, New York State Attorney General pledged that he would investigate non-profit “social welfare” organizations that have been channeling millions of dollars into political campaigns for potentially violating their tax-exempt status, which dictates that they cannot have political campaigning as their primary purpose.  Representative Dave Camp (R-MI) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) released a letter warning Schneiderman that his attempt to obtain tax information from 501(c)(4) groups could violate federal privacy laws. “We emphasize strongly that willful unauthorized disclosure of returns or return information is a federal crime subject to fines and/or imprisonment,” the letter alleged. The Attorney General’s Office defended its request for the tax records, arguing that New York has the right to examine fraud and state tax evasion, and further asserting that the Attorney General is aware of the proper procedures for proceeding with the inquiry.
2011 Ethics Legislation Riddled With Loopholes and Complications
An op-ed in the New York Times from early September attributed ethical mishaps in Albany to the part-time nature of the legislative position. “Because these ‘citizen lawmakers’ work only a few days a week, they also are permitted to have lucrative day jobs — including anything from broad consulting or legal work to key roles at companies or organizations that may benefit directly from the legislative activity in Albany.” The author credits Governor Cuomo for signing importantreform legislation back in June that requires legislators to disclose their outside income and creates an independent monitor to help investigate breaches. However as Kelly Williams, corporate general counsel at the Brennan Center, explains in a letter to the editor the ethics law does not go far enough. “Lawmakers must disclose only their new clients, or new business with existing clients after July 2012 — and only those clients for whom the lawmaker personally and directly performed state business, like negotiating a contract with a state agency in an amount greater than $50,000 or obtaining a grant greater than $25,000 through legislative initiative.” These complicated procedures and loopholes necessitate that more must be done to ensure ethical behavior on the part of our lawmakers.