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NYSNYS NEWS: Common Cause releases report on housekeeping funds, LLCs, saying Cuomo, legislators obligated to pass ethics, campaign finance changes in wake of scandals.
NYSNYS NEWS: Common Cause releases report on housekeeping funds, LLCs, saying Cuomo, legislators obligated to pass ethics, campaign finance changes in wake of scandals.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 28) -- Common Cause said Thursday "unlimited sums of cash" are tainting political campaigns in New York, urging immediate action to prevent the kind of corruption seen in the cases of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos as well as in new allegations about fundraising by Senate Democrats in 2014

"There's no question that Gov. Cuomo needs to strongly perform on his promises to help solve the campaign finance problem in this state," Common Cause executive director Susan Lerner said in a conference call with reporters.

The Legislature is back on Tuesday after a long spring break, and Lerner said failure to pass ethics and campaign finance reforms before session ends in June "would be a huge failure, a systemic failure of all our elected officials at the state level."

The advocacy group said the NYS Democratic Committee raised $11.6 million in lightly regulated "housekeeping" funds from 2013-2015, with $2.4 million coming from limited liability companies (LLCs) that are used by special interests to skirt campaign donation limits.

Senate Republicans trying to hold onto their majority took in $6.4 million over the same period, including $871,933 from LLCs. Senate Democrats took in $1.4 million on top of huge amounts of money funneled into their campaigns with the help of Mayor Bill De Blasio. He says he did nothing illegal.

Overall, housekeeping accounts held by Democrats took in $15.7 million in donations for that period, compared to $12.2 million for Republicans.

"The temptation for corruption is too easy with the ability to transfer unlimited sums of cash from housekeeping accounts directly into a party campaign treasury," the group. "Donors who give hundreds of thousands or even millions to political parties expect something in return."

Common Cause said such "soft money" accounts are set up for "party building, headquarters maintenance, issue advocacy, or other various administrative tasks," but take in huge amounts of cash because "there are no limits in the amount of money they can transfer into a 'hard money' account."

The group want the Senate to give final passage to end the LCC loophole and make them subject to the same limits put on regular corporations. They also want a $25,000 limit placed on donations to housekeeping accounts and caps on transfers to regular campaign committees. Both measures were part of Cuomo's budget proposal, but were stripped out by legislators.

The analysis of campaign donations was released as former legislative leaders Silver and Skelos face sentencing in May on corruption convictions that could see them spend the rest of their lives in federal prison. Each was convicted of bribery and extortion tied to wealthy individuals or companies with business before the state Legislature -- the same cohort that funds re-election campaigns.

Common Cause pointed to Glenwood Management, a luxury real estate company in New York City that figured into the prosecutions of both Silver and Skelos. Through LLCs, Glenwood gave $200,000 to the State Democratic Committee on a single day in 2013, and $400,0000 to Senate Republicans on a single day in 2014.

Common Cause spoke as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who won the convictions of the two leaders, issued subpoenas to top aides to de Blasio. The mayor has been caught up in scandal over money he raised in 2014 for state Senate candidates and his ties to a businessman already under investigation on allegations of bribing top police officials.

Senate Democrats are trying to regain majority control of the State Senate and succeeded this month in winning the old Skelos seat in a special election. But the apparent winner, Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, is now accused of taking $109,600 from a labor union that skirted funding limits, along with a $50,000 "untraceable" donation from a Delaware company, the NY Post and Albany Times Union reported.

"We can't just have the U.S. Attorney be the cop on the beat when there are no systemic changes," Lerner said. "That's now the way to end the problem."

Asked about the latest investigation, Lerner said the problem of corruption in state government and fundraising practices "did not start or end with Mayor de Blasio and it is not going to end on any one investigation unless there are systemic changes made. And that is up to the governor and the Legislature."