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Cuomo vows election reform 'one way or another'

Cuomo with Makau Mutua, Fran Letro, Ilene Fleischmann and Leonora

Posing with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (second from right) are, from left, Dean Makau Mutua; Francis Letro, JD '79, chair of the UB Foundation; Hon. Lenora Foote Beavers, president-elect of the Law Alumni Association; and Ilene Fleischmann, vice dean for alumni, public relations and communications. Photo: Rob McElroy

By ILENE FLEISCHMANN

Published June 13, 2013

“Any relationship is only as good as the level of trust in it, whether it’s professional or personal.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo yesterday stumped for an ambitious package of anti-corruption measures and campaign finance reforms to an attentive UB Law School audience.

In his June 12 address before about 200 people in the Charles B. Sears Law Library, the first-term governor acknowledged the recent rash of scandals among state legislators, saying the time is right for the reforms he has proposed in the three-part Public Trust Act.

“Any relationship is only as good as the level of trust in it, whether it’s professional or personal,” the governor said. “And when citizens lose trust in government, it hurts the functionality of the government. People don’t trust you to do the job that you say you can perform.”

The proposal would empower district attorneys to prosecute those who show intent to bribe a public official, whether or not the bribe took place; create a new crime called “corrupting the government” that would carry a 25-year prison sentence and a lifetime ban from doing business with the state; make it a crime for any public official to fail to report bribery; and ban corrupt public officials from receiving state contracts, holding elected office, serving as a lobbyist or being a Medicaid provider.

In addition, Cuomo is proposing a set of election law reforms, most notably to provide public funding for political campaigns in an attempt to reduce the influence of big-money donors on New York elections. “In a statewide race, you can give $50,000 as a donation,” Cuomo said. “Who’s giving $50,000, and what do they expect for the $50,000? That’s common sense. That’s why campaign finance reform is so important.”

His proposals also would require candidates to disclose contributions within 48 hours; establish lower contribution limits in campaigns for state offices; and treat limited liability corporations as corporations—not individuals—lowering the limit on their political contributions.

Cuomo said he hopes the Assembly and state Senate will enact these reforms during their current session, which is scheduled to end June 20. But he acknowledged that that may not happen, and he laid out a Plan B: to invoke the state’s Moreland Act and convene a special commission to address what he called “deficiencies in the law.”

“If they don’t pass the laws, I am unwilling to end the session without having done everything I can to restore the public trust,” the governor said. “One way or another, we’re going to do it.”

His overall goal, Cuomo said, is to make state government more effective. “To my friends in the community and the great legal minds that are budding in this great institution, I say, I believe in government with every cell in my body. I believe in the capacity of government; I believe in the function of government. I want to restore public trust because I want to make government stronger.

“All government is, is the organizing collective for society. It’s important that that institution works and that we believe in it and trust it, because if you don’t, you limit our capacity to do good things.”

A longtime friend of Law School Dean Makau W. Mutua, Cuomo cited Mutua’s courage and said he was proud that Mutua was dean of the state’s Law School. It was Cuomo’s third appearance in O’Brian Hall, and his first as governor.

Also speaking at the event were Mutua; Jeremy Creelan, the governor’s special counsel for public integrity and ethics reform; Diana Cihak, founder and program director of WomenElect, a leadership development organization for women in politics; and Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, a 1986 graduate of the law school.