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Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants election rules tightened

New York State Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks

New York State Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks to the media after calling for restrictions on campaign contributions at Fordham Law School in Manhattan on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. Credit: Charles Eckert

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday proposed tightening election rules governing independent expenditure groups that can spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities.

At a speech at Fordham University, Cuomo said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 campaign-finance case Citizens United, “did more to damage political participation than any Supreme Court decision in history.”

The court ruling said political spending is protected under the First Amendment and, as a result, corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities as long as they acted independently of political parties or candidates.

Cuomo said he hoped to introduce legislation aimed at determining whether a political candidate is wrongfully coordinating with independent committees. He said evidence of improper coordination could include shared office space and use of the staff members and consultants.

“We must begin to take steps to reduce the alienation that the voters feel,” Cuomo said. “We must restore their sense that casting a vote is an act that is meaningful, and not a cynical charade that disguises the real power behind the scenes.”

Blair Horner of the nonprofit New York Public Interest Research Group praised the proposals. But he noted that there are only several days left in the legislative session.

“I think the prognosis on this passing both houses is poor, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that, because the governor may have something up his sleeve,” Horner said.

State Senate majority leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement, “While we cannot stop the flood of money, I agree there is more we must do to increase transparency and disclosure surrounding the activities of these outside groups.”

Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said, “We recognize the need for additional reform that will offer New Yorkers transparency and accountability.”

The State Legislature has been buffeted by corruption scandals.

Former New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son Adam have been sentenced on federal corruption charges to 5 years and 6½ years in prison, respectively. They are appealing their convictions.

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on federal corruption charges.

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