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Cuomo’s clever play on ethics reform

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen in an undated

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen in an undated photo, proposed treating LLCs as "traditional corporations" -- capping contributions at $5,000 annually. Credit: Getty Images / Slaven Vlasic

New York lawmakers won’t be able to leave Albany next month claiming they cleaned up government without passing at least one of the eight ethics bills Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed yesterday. In a clever gambit to prod the passage of a major reform to state campaign finance law, Cuomo presented lawmakers with a menu of options for closing the so-called LCC loophole. He put forth eight, separate bills that put a $5,000 cap on contributions from limited liability companies. The same cap applies to standard corporate contributions.

However, donors were able to get around the cap and disclosure requirements because of a loophole created by a 1996 State Board of Elections decision. The ruling treated the companies as individuals, allowing them to donate as much as $60,800 per candidate in a statewide race. Cuomo himself has raised millions of dollars this way even though he has sought to eliminate the loophole in recent years.

Now, with a few weeks left in the session and federal subpoenas flying around the state, ethics reform languishes. In each of the eight bills, fundraising by the governor is capped with one measure applying only to this office. The other seven bills give lawmakers a variety of add-ons — including the State Legislature, or one chamber or the other, or just the attorney general, or just the comptroller, or both statewide officials.

The tactic is to embarrass the legislature into acting on reforms. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is on board but Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan dismissed the bills as a “red herring.” That’s not going to fly with a public sick of the pay-to-play culture in government. And if lawmakers do nothing, Cuomo can always say he asked. — The editorial board