Second in a series of editorials
It’s not just the LLC loophole that needs fixing, if New York is to commit to a new era of government ethics. State government is awash in corruption that needs to be attacked on several fronts. With his third-term well in hand, it’s up to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to lead the way.
That will be to the benefit of all New Yorkers, including the one who lives in the governor’s mansion. Despite his convincing win in this month’s election, the corruption that snaked through his administration over the past four years has undermined Cuomo’s standing.
Even if he doesn’t harbor national political ambitions – but especially if he does – Cuomo needs to show that he has learned the right lessons from the convictions of two former high-level aides and the corruption that permeated signature projects here and in Syracuse.
A previous editorial in this series made the case about the LLC loophole, which allows wealthy interests to donate virtually unlimited amounts of money through an artifice that declares limited liability corporations to be people, with a higher cap on donations. What is more, wealthy givers can create as many LLCs as they like. The policy gives rise to the inevitable conclusion that they are trying to buy influence on public matters of concern to them.
Last week, Democrats who will soon control both legislative chambers executive as well as the governor’s office vowed to close the loophole. New Yorkers can only hope so; our advice is to wait and see.
But there is more. Directly related to the bid-rigging that produced federal criminal convictions this year in two large state-funded projects, including the one at RiverBend, is the ability of those who seek state contracts to donate to candidates. Albany needs to plug that pipeline.
Loss of those donations may hurt political candidates in a time when campaigns can be aggressively expensive, but it will please contractors and others seeking state work who will no longer have to grease the palms of the decision-makers. It’s intolerable that businesses are put in the position of plying candidates with cash in order to win government contracts. The way to prevent it is to prohibit it. There’s no loss to the public for that, only gain.
To backstop that change, the state also needs to create an online database of private sector deals. That would give the public an easy way to see who is benefiting from state dollars.
The project would be neither difficult nor expensive to execute. The only reason to resist is to keep the public in the dark. After a year of corruption, that won’t do. Cuomo needs to lead the way.
Also preposterous are the amounts of money that candidates can accept in New York, regardless of the LLC loophole. They, too, set out the welcome mat for unholy influence and, one has to think, purposely.
For example, the maximum allowed donation to statewide candidates in New York is $44,000. For a smack-in-the-face comparison, consider the limits in presidential campaigns, in which donations are capped at $2,700.
The only reason to allow such over-the-top giving is to wheedle money from wealthy givers – the people who have the greatest stake in tilting state policies in their favor, frequently to the disadvantage of everyday New Yorkers.
Those limits need to be drastically lowered. That would diminish the risk of political corruption while encouraging residents of more modest means to donate money to candidates.
What shouldn’t be done, though, is to a adopt a strict policy of public financing. While its purpose is honorable – draining money’s corrupting influence from government – too many questions arise, including the unintended consequence of restricting the ability of voters to support candidates whose ideas they want to promote. The public needs to retain an influential role in the state’s elections; the ability to donate is not one that should be cavalierly denied.