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Moreland Commission: Fund campaigns with taxpayer money

ALBANY -- Mirroring ideas he first proposed months ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's corruption commission Monday called for changing election laws by funding political campaigns with taxpayers' money.

The Commission to Investigate Public Corruption also recommended lowering campaign contributions limits, closing loopholes that currently allow companies to ignore the current state's contribution limits, clamping down on lawmakers' campaign funds, toughening penalties for bribery and giving Cuomo the power to appoint a special counsel to investigate election-law violations.

Those proposals reflected ones the governor pitched unsuccessfully five months ago during the 2013 legislative session.

Cuomo pushed the ideas in June as a response to a spate of indictments and convictions of state legislators last spring. After the State Legislature failed to pass the measures, the Democrat launched the panel in July, informally known as the Moreland Commission, to examine flaws in New York's election and corruption laws.

Commission members, including co-chair Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, said New York needed "comprehensive reform to restore the public trust and change the permissive culture of both illegal and legal corruption in state government." Similar to Cuomo, panelists blamed legislators for failing to act, partially out of "apathy."

"This report is a stinging indictment of our state's porous laws and of many of the politicians, patrons and political players who protect and benefit by them," Rice said in a statement. "We have unearthed widespread compliance apathy and have isolated the structural flaws that have made all of this possible. Our recommendations include new reform ideas and also potential fixes previously shelved by a disinterested legislature."

Cuomo issued a statement committing to no specific recommendation but vowing to work to enact "systemic reform."

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who opposes public financing of campaigns, didn't immediately comment.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) noted that the commission proposed many ideas that the Democrat-controlled Assembly has passed over and over through the years.

"In fact, the majority of the report's election law reforms includes proposals that the Assembly has passed, such as full disclosure of independent expenditures and reduced contribution limits, or supported, such as closing the loophole on LLCs and tightening housekeeping rules," Silver said.

The 25-member panel, which included 10 district attorneys, included details of a couple of investigations into grants to nonprofits connected to lawmakers -- a factor in several recent corruption scandals. In July, former state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Queens) was convicted of stealing money intended for a nonprofit she was tied to, and sentenced to a year in prison.

The commission said it conducted surveillance and placed a camera on a pole in front a storefront listed as housing a nonprofit that received government grants. The lone worker at the location said most of the organization's operations were in other states. The commission didn't name the organization and stopped short of accusing it of wrongdoing, but said the investigation would continue.

In another case, the panel also said it was investigating more than $750,000 in grants that an unnamed official directed to a nonprofit.

The commission recommended closing a loophole that allows entities to skirt a $5,000 limit on annual corporate contributions by forming multiple "limited liability companies" that can give up to $150,000 because they are considered individuals, not businesses. The commission recommends treating the entities like businesses.

Seven commission members said they didn't support public financing of campaigns. Proponents of using taxpayers' funds said it would reduce opportunities for corruption.

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