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LLC big money loophole bill proposed

Governor Cuomo has released a bill on closing a loophole that allows for unlimited big money donations to candidates. The LLC loophole has played a key role in the federal corruption trials of both former leaders of the legislature, and may be a factor in the ongoing federal probe of the governor’s economic development projects.

Cuomo normally prefers to negotiate quietly with legislative leaders on proposals before actually penning legislation, but this time he has written eight different versions of a bill to close the campaign donation loophole that allows unlimited contributions from Limited Liability Companies and he has presented it to the legislature . The governor says the bills range from banning LLC money just for the race for governor, to extending it to all contests for state political office.

“It’s an a la carte menu selection,” said Cuomo, who said he is willing to “go first” and is “willing to go it alone” in a governor’s campaign . Cuomo already has said he will run for re-election in 2018 and has several million dollars in his campaign fund.

Senate Republicans oppose the governor's measure and just moments after Cuomo's announcement, Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan issued a statement shooting down the proposals, calling them a “red herring”. He said any reforms of the campaign finance system need to be more comprehensive and address several other issues, too.

Cuomo, undeterred, said he will roll out more ides and press for them in the final weeks of the session. “I want to make the point issue by issue to actually drum it home,” Cuomo said.

Those items will include term limits, limiting lawmakers’ outside income and requiring elected officials convicted of felonies to forfeit their pensions.

Reform groups are encouraged. Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group said the measure is an attempt to break the gridlock on ethics changes.

“We’re hoping it’s not the classic end of session blame game,” Horner said. “ It’s hopefully the first signs of life for the ethics reforms that are desperately needed.”

But he said the governor should be doing more to mobilize public support for ethics reforms.  A recent Siena College poll found 97 percent of the public want state government cleaned up and view it as a top priority.

Cuomo earlier this year organized a series of statewide rallies and a bus tour to promote raising the minimum wage and partial paid family leave. The governor said that kind of campaign is not appropriate in this case.

“A 'campaign on ethics' is not really effective,” said Cuomo. “Just by the nature of the subject, it’s technical, it’s difficult.”

The governor’s push for reform comes as the federal probe of his own economic development programs continues. Cuomo has hired his own investigator to conduct an internal probe, but the governor so far has been reluctant to reveal how much former prosecutor Bart Schwartz will be paid or whether Schwartz will even release a final report. He said the contract is still being finalized.

“I don’t know what his standard protocol is,” said Cuomo. “ I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but I don’t know how he operates.” A spokesman later clarified the report will be made public unless interferes with the U.S. Attorney’s work.

Como said he personally has not been questioned  in the ongoing federal probe.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.