Speaking yesterday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo detailed a comprehensive series of reforms that will help prevent public corruption, modernize New York’s outdated voting laws, and reduce the influence of large donors in political elections. The package seeks to restore public trust, remove some of the money from the political process and make it easier for new voters to get registered.
The Governor’s three-part reform package includes a Public Trust Act that would create a new class of public corruption crimes and enhance New York prosecutors’ ability to crack down on public corruption across the state; Voting Reforms that will allow sixteen and seventeen year olds to pre-register to vote, expand access to the ballot for candidates, and allow greater flexibility for affidavit ballots to be counted; and Campaign Finance Reforms that would ensure New Yorkers know who is paying for political campaigns, offer public financing for campaigns to reduce the influence of wealthy donors, and reduce New York’s contribution limits.
The new class of Public Corruption Crimes essentially defines bribery to make it easier for DAs to convict someone for bribing a public servant. The measure would also create a new felony of “Corrupting the Government” and create a misdemeanor for failing to report a bribe or attempted bribe. Current New York laws require prosecutors to prove that both the briber and the official new that the transaction in question was a bribe.
Under current law, only public officials can be convicted of “defrauding the government” not private individuals. The Public Trust Act will create a new felony crime “Corrupting the Government” that will apply to anyone that defrauds the public. Individuals or entities convicted can face sentences of up to 25 years and will be banned for life from doing business with the state.
Penalties for breaking the law are also being strengthened. The Public Trust Act will increase penalties for crimes such as larceny, money laundering, unauthorized uses of a computer or vehicle when they involve public property. In addition, the Act will increase the penalties for “official misconduct” from misdemeanor to a felony with a sentence of up to 15 years. Officials convicted of corruption will also be banned from public service in the state. Current New York law allows for individuals convicted of corruption to return to office in many cases.
Prosecutors will also be able to go after more than just the amount in a specific fraud. Under the new rules, anyone convicted of defrauding the public could see fines up to 3 times the original amount contested.
Voting would also be modernized and streamlined under the new rules. Forms will be made simpler, registration will be expanded to help young people and new residents register to vote. Absentee ballot collection will also be easier.
Finally,the state seeks to establish the toughest campaign disclosure laws in the US. New Yorkers often have no idea who is funding political campaigns or paying for campaign ads on television. This is because under current law, candidates and outside shadow groups are required to disclose only periodically, or never. Under the Governor’s reforms, full disclosure will be required for any ad that expressly advocates for election or defeat of a candidate. In addition, all candidates and parties will be required to disclose contributions within 48 hours of receipt.
Under the Governor’s reforms, the state will also put in place a public financing system modeled on New York City system where contributions up to $175 are matched $6 to $1. Strict limits will be in place to protect taxpayers.
“To restore the trust of the people in state government, we must tackle corruption head-on and ensure our District Attorneys have the tools they need to prosecute those that defraud the public and bring disgrace to the halls of governments,” Governor Cuomo said. “New York’s electoral process, campaign finance system, and our laws to prevent corruption are outdated, ineffective, and in serious need of sweeping reform. This comprehensive package of reforms will strengthen New York’s democracy and is a major step toward restoring the public’s trust and confidence in our government.”