The challenge in enacting anti-corruption reform is that the foxes are the ones we elect to guard the hen house.
Who in state government is most likely to benefit from the influence of big money in political campaigns?
Who is most likely to benefit from rules and regulations that make it difficult for non-incumbents and third-party candidates to compete on an even playing field with incumbents?
Who is most likely to be hurt or threatened by legislation that restricts the ability of elected officials to attain and hold onto power?
Answer: The winners of today’s state races.
And who, then, is most likely to support legislation to change the system that got these people into office and which is responsible for their power and influence?
If we’re truly serious about holding fair elections and reducing corruption in state government, then the people with the most to gain from maintaining the status quo have to have the political courage to vote against their own self-interests for the good of honest, fair and equal representation in state government.
There’s plenty of legislation in the pipeline right now that could make a difference.
PAY TO PLAY
One of the biggest threats to fair and ethical representation is the influence of big-money interests, so-called “pay to play.”
One bill (A1926/S0496,S7022) would make limited liability companies (LLCs) subject to the existing campaign contribution limits for corporations.
The so-called “LLC loophole” treats LLCs the same as individual donors under campaign finance law, allowing wealthy donors to contribute virtually unlimited sums of money to candidates, often in secret, through these easy-to-establish companies.
Closing of the LLC loophole would be a major victory for citizens.
Another pay-to-play bill (A4177) would help reduce the opportunity for individuals and companies to use their financial clout by restricting campaign contributions for individuals and businesses awarded state contracts.
Transparency is a major factor in ensuring the integrity of elections.
A bill to make it easier for voters to get more information on fundraising and campaign spending (A5688A/S4726) would require lawmakers and candidates to provide a link tp their financial disclosure statements on their official state and campaign websites.
Another bill (A8546) would require lobbyists to report campaign contributions, professional relationships with public officials and employment relationships with relatives of public officials. And it would more clearly spell out how candidates could use campaign funds, particularly in relation to contributions by lobbyists.
Bill S5473 would require additional disclosures from lobbyists, including the names of family members of a public official who received money from lobbyists over a certain dollar amount.
And in addition to its tighter contribution limits, the LLC bill would increase transparency by requiring disclosure of the identity of individuals with membership interests in LLCs and require that candidates attribute contributions to members of LLCs.
To prevent lawmakers from accumulating too much power over time, bill A2035 would establish term limits on leadership positions in the Legislature.
Another bill (A6702) would amend the state constitution to increase the term of office for lawmakers to four years and limit tenure to 12 years in either house and a total of 16 in the Legislature.
To help candidates who can’t raise a lot of money to run, the Fair Elections Act (S7593) would provide for optional partial public financing of certain election campaigns.
To investigate corruption and punish corrupt lawmakers, bill A10651/S08309 would amend the state constitution to replace existing state ethics boards with a single, independent enforcement agency.
These are just a few of the ways our elected state officials could address the problems associated with elections and government corruption.
Do lawmakers have the will to do it?
We’ll find out after today, won’t we.