One of the most significant ways politicians are tempted to abuse their power is through the influence of large campaign contributions.
Want to remove that temptation? Remove the big money influences.
That's what Gov. Andrew Cuomo is attempting to do by daring the state Legislature to approve one of eight proposals to cut off a virtually unlimited supply of campaign cash.
While corporations in the state are limited to contributing $5,000 per election cycle per candidate or political organization, a special business organization called a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), have no such restrictions.
Legislation created 20 years ago allowed LLCs — which are essentially hybrids of partnerships, corporations and sole proprietorship that receive special tax and liability benefits — to contribute up to $60,800 to candidates per cycle, or up to $150,000 total. In addition, because LLCs are easy to set up, campaign donors can simply use this loophole to contribute virtually unlimited amounts of cash to candidates.
Given that amount of money at stake, it's easy to see why donors use LLCs. It's also easy to see why money-hungry state lawmakers anxious to get re-elected every two years, are reluctant to close the loophole.
Now along comes Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who himself has received as much as $15 million in campaign donations through LLCs.
As the legislative session is coming to a close in less than two weeks, the governor has proposed legislation that would close the LLC loophole significantly by limiting LLC contributions to the $5,000 corporate limit. It's a good start. Organizations could still set up unlimited LLCs, but their influence would be severely curbed.
In a move of political gamesmanship, the governor has also given legislative leaders eight options for closing the LLC loophole based on which political offices would be covered by the restrictions.
For instance, one bill would only make the office of governor subject to the $5,000 limit. Others would include the governor, the Legislature, other statewide elected offices, and a combination of some or all of them.
Obviously, to have the greatest impact, legislative leaders should chose the most comprehensive option.
But doing so puts them in a quandary. If they include themselves in the exemption, they risk alienating lawmakers who rely on those big contributions. If they exclude themselves and just apply the limits to the statewide offices, they risk alienating constituents who are anxious for true ethics reform.
Already, lawmakers have criticized the governor's plan for not going far enough. They say closing the LLC loophole wouldn't do enough to reduce corruption.
Well, then pass other legislation that would, such as requiring more transparency in financial disclosures, limiting the influence of lobbyists and canceling state pension payments to lawmakers convicted of corruption. Why can't they do all of it? That's their challenge. Continue to pay lip service to ethics reform and serve their own selfish interests. Or take their chances in November that voters won't punish them for failing once again to take action. Closing the LLC loophole will go a long way toward removing the influence of big money in our political system. Lawmakers need to take action. Frankly, it's the very least they could do.