BY MICHAEL RICONDA
In response to the recent corruption cases against public officials which continue to rock state and local offices, and perhaps in an effort to distance himself from the corruption which ensnared a member of his own small network of close colleagues, Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Ossining) joined Executive Assistant District Attorney Itamar Yegeri to announce a comprehensive plan which aims to prevent campaign finance improprieties through new regulations on campaign spending and donations.
“We’ve got to take bold action to reform our political system and the campaign finance structure in New York State,” Carlucci said.
The plan was proposed by the Independent Democratic Conference, the same group that the focus of the corruption investigation, Senator Malcolm Smith, was aligned with until his arrest. The plan includes a total contribution limit of $2,600 for all candidates running for state office, a complete ban on corporate campaign contributions, the elimination of “housekeeping accounts,” a $2,600 limit for transfers between party and candidate committees, and the repeal of the Wilson Pakula provision of the State Election Law which allows non-party members to be approved for candidacy by party officials. It also calls for the public to match contributions six-to-one; up to a undesignated maximum.
Though Carlucci consistently stated he wished to repeal Wilson Pakula, he did not elaborate on whether or not he would use Wilson Pakula before the legislation goes through, explaining that it would be a bad idea to “unilaterally disarm” state officials.
“I’m not going to put myself at a disadvantage, but I am going to say that these are the things we need to do going forward, I want see them become law, and I’m going to fight until they become law,” Carlucci said.
Yegeri explained that though his office could not endorse the plan until it knew the full details of the legislation, such proposals were a worthwhile pursuit because they would dissuade politicians who might consider improper behavior.
“If you take away that financial incentive to do that, you take away the incentive to commit the financial crime, and by taking away the incentive to commit the financial crime, you take away the incentive of the elected official to turn bad,” Yegeri explained.
Yegeri also explained the DA’s desire for state officials also enact legislation stripping pension, retirement benefits and control over campaign funds from elected officials convicted of a crime, expelled from office, or resign due to a crime committed during their service. A similar measure for county officials may be under review by the county legislature shortly.
In addition, the plan includes stiffer penalties for offenders, more powers for the attorney general to prosecute wrongdoers, stricter contribution limits for donors with business before the state, and a public matching system which would match political contributions from public funds with private donors by a 6-to-1 ratio.
If politicians opt into this public funding system, they will not be required to forfeit funds, but their expenditures will be capped. A similar policy has been implemented already in New York City with the same ratio of private donations to public funds.
A campaign finance board would be used as a means to investigate and enforce campaign finance laws. Funding mechanisms for enforcement would include a check box on tax forms for publically-funded campaigns, money from the unclaimed funds property fund and a ten percent surcharge for certain state Supreme Court cases.
“We can’t afford not to pay for this,” Carlucci said in defense of the expenditures. “We have to give government back to the people of New York State and we have to make sure that we level that playing field.”