Saturday, April 11, 2015

Corruption is Corruption Regardless of Place or Public Interest

The scales of political justice category
(the envelop please)

And, the winner is
(as if it weren't prearranged)

All that green and it's not even St. Pat's yet
(Albany, NY)

Quite a lengthy post, but one that needs public airing, for the "what's it worth department." Much has been taken here the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU.

Amid a never-ending parade of scandals, the New York State legislature and governor (Andrew Cuomo) recently agreed to the third set of ethics reforms in four years. But, the package barely touched the single biggest conflict of interest in Albany: The loophole-ridden campaign finance system.

It remains a system that allows special interests to dominate political discourse through nearly unlimited and often secret contributions of large sums of money to officeholders and their challengers. It is painfully obvious that those in office don’t want to kill the proverbial “Golden Goose” thus the culture of corruption feeds on big-money donations and never blinks an eye.

Heart of the story: With one stroke of the pen, three commissioners on New York’s Board of Elections (BOE) can help fix a major problem and close a huge loophole, to wit:

For years, good government groups and editorial boards have complained about the so-called “LLC loophole,” which allows special interests to funnel millions of dollars into campaigns anonymously. Some call it “the mother ship of Albany corruption.”

How it works: The BOE classifies LLC’s as individuals rather than “corporations” or “partnerships,” just like they are treated under Federal law (FEC). 

The conflict: While most corporations can give no more than $5,000 every year, LLC's can give hundreds of thousands of dollars and also never blink an eye.

Then worse gets worse: Individuals with multiple LLC's use them to evade contribution limits entirely while giving more and more. Even worse, if that's possible: LLC's do not have to disclose the identities of their members or officers, thus the public is kept in the dark and has no idea who is behind those huge sums of money that is uncontrolled and basically running the show.

One extreme yet typical example: A prominent real-estate developer reportedly used 27 LLC’s to contribute at least $4.3 million to political committees in the last election cycle. In recent years, he used other LLC's to give over $1 million to both the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee and to Gov. Cuomo reelection bid as well and to a substantial amount to recently indicted and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

For those who think that kind of money doesn’t buy results, then they need to think again since they are either totally jaded in their thinking and seriously cynical, or just simply not paying much attention as they brush it off with the old cliché: “Just politics as usual.” No problem some say – maybe not, until it is!!  

Common Cause New York tracks this aspect very closely. They noted back 2013, that a trail of special favors won a lot and and bills unfavorable were killed on arrival in the Legislature.”

So, you might ask: “How did the Legislature get away with creating this kind of loophole?” Well, they didn’t, not exactly. The the Board of Elections did, and they it got it terribly wrong.

For example, back in a 1996 opinion, the BOE reasoned (loose word it seems) that because the statute creating LLC’s called them “unincorporated organizations, and that they were not corporations or partnerships and thus not bound by the corporate contribution or partnership limits.”  This little loophole ignored the rest of the statute and past precedent and here we are today still stuck on stupid as it were. Worse again, the BOE while making that decision they relied on a FEC rule that was changed just three years later, but the NY's BOE law and rule with that loophole remain in place.

Now, it’s high time and well past time to change that.

Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature failed to bring that into play with the latest "ethics reform," which I strongly believe is precisely the most-needed ethics and campaign finance reform Albany needs

With one simple vote, the Board of Elections can close that LLC loophole, curb unlimited campaign donations, and bring more disclosure to New York politics and open up the process the way it should have been all along.

It's an easy call foe the BOE. So now what will they do? Sadly, probably punt!!!

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