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Assembly Democrats propose changes for campaign finance

ALBANY – A couple of arrests of legislators, a couple of ideas for cleaning up Albany.

So it went Tuesday, as Assembly Democrats unveiled a package of changes to the state’s campaign finance laws, including taxpayer-funded campaigns and a new panel of appointees of the governor and Democratic and GOP lawmakers to better enforce violations of fundraising and expenditures by candidates.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo offered up his own ideas, minus actual legislation, including ending a 66-year-old law that lets local party leaders give ballot lines to candidates not enrolled in their parties.

Cuomo also wants better enforcement of campaign finance laws, but his idea is to appoint a new office headed by someone he would select.

After the most recent round of arrests of two downstate lawmakers allegedly involved in two different scandals, there has been no shortage of ideas from politicians about how to put the state’s political process through the laundry.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was first up Tuesday. After proposing taxpayer-funded elections back in 1986, Silver tried again Tuesday with a plan he said will cost, at most, $40 million a year; it is a level called low-balling by detractors.

“It’s money well spent,’’ Silver said of the plan that calls for candidates in statewide and state legislative offices to get $6 in taxpayer funding for every $1 they raise, with the total amount varying by office.

The idea would affect just the state comptroller’s race in 2014 – Silver’s friend and current state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, has not been a major fundraiser compared with other statewide candidates.

It would then be eligible for state legislative candidates in 2016 and other statewide candidates in 2018.

That means someone challenging Cuomo, who has at least $20 million in the bank, will not be eligible for the public money in next year’s gubernatorial race.

The Assembly plan also calls for more public disclosure about spending by outside groups advocating for a candidate or cause.

Cuomo said ending the ability of local party bosses to endorse a candidate from another party for their ballot line would end a “pay to run’’ system in which candidates give donations to the parties in return for those endorsements. “It’s almost like the line goes to the highest bidder,’’ he said.

Cuomo also wants to bypass the “toothless tiger’’ that is, he said, the state Board of Elections. Thanks to the way Democrats and Republicans created the agency, it has never been known for its aggressive enforcement of election laws.

He said a new office should be created with the powers of subpoena and to call grand juries to investigate civil and criminal violations. He called the office “independent,’’ but its director, in charge of all hiring, would be appointed by the governor.