Time Running Short For Any Ethics Deal

From the Morning Memo:

The clock on the legislative session is winding down, and yet there’s been little to no public progress made on ethics or campaign finance reform in Albany. Lawmakers say it’s getting late in the year to reach a deal.

“I would say right now my optimism is low because we’ve had the entire session here to do something specific,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

Time is running short in Albany, with 9 legislative session days to go before lawmakers leave the Capitol for the rest of the year and focus, in most cases, on running for re-election.

But signs of any agreement on ethics reform, at least for now, appear elusive.

In the state Senate, lawmakers are at odds over proposals to ban unlimited donations from limited liability companies. A bill that would have done so was bottled up in a committee earlier in May.

“I never say never, otherwise why would I get up in the morning and come back here so, there’s always room for hope and a chance,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan. “I’ve continuously said all year why are we wasting the crisis of corruption? Why aren’t we fixing ourselves?”

In the Assembly, meanwhile, a constitutional amendment to strip corrupt officials of their pensions was approved last year, but that version differs from what was passed by the Senate. Lawmakers there are growing frustrated the amendment will ever pass.

“There’s several version of pension forfeiture bills out there,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican from Queensbury. “I’m at the point now where any of them is better than doing none of them. It may be one that is yet to be even drafted.”

For his part, Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans a roll out of ethics reform bills over the next several days. He released eight different versions of a bill to close the LLC loophole on Tuesday.

“We’ll talk about income limits. We’ll talk independence,” Cuomo said. “Then we’ll talk about term limits, but we have a full agenda.”

Nojay Facing GOP Primary

He was rated the most conservative member of the New York State Legislature by the State Conservative Party in a conservative Assembly district, but that ranking isn’t shielding Bill Nojay from a Republican Primary challenge.

Last week, Honeoye Falls Mayor Rick Milne announced he was seeking the 133rd Assembly seat through a social media post.

“It is my belief, that the residents of the 133rd Assembly District deserve representation that will actively serve all the communities within the district and strive to support all the communities in a positive way,” Milne wrote.

Milne was elected mayor in 2005 and noted he served as president of the New York State Conference of Mayors in 2015 in his announcement.

When reached by phone Tuesday night, Nojay touted his opposition to Governor Cuomo’s policies on gun control and the minimum wage, which earned him that conservative ranking.

“If he’s suggesting he’d vote differently then let’s talk about the issues,” Nojay said. “If he has a substantive problem with any vote I’ve taken I’d love to hear from him.”

This primary challenge came just days before the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported he had consulted on Lovely Warren’s Democratic primary challenge of Rochester Mayor Tom Richards in 2013, a report Nojay described as old news.

“It was not at all a secret.  It was widely known in political circles in Rochester,” he said.

Nojay said he voiced his support for Warren on his radio talk show because there was no Republican in the race for Rochester mayor.  Nojay explained a mutual friend then got him involved with Warren.

“In 2013 the choice was between an incumbent Mayor who had no vision for the city and a young vibrant candidate.  (Assemblyman) David Gantt asked me to help out and I did,” said Nojay.

Despite follow up reports on his ethics filings, Nojay insisted he had nothing to hide and chalked up the examination of three-year-old information to this upcoming election cycle.

The 133rd Assembly district includes Livingston, and parts of Steuben and Monroe counties.  Nojay has already received the endorsement of the Livingston and Steuben Republican Parties.

The Monroe County GOP will hold its nominating convention Wednesday night.


Legislative Leaders Indicate Support For PACB Spending

The top legislative leaders in the Democratic-led Assembly and GOP-controlled Senate on Tuesday indicated they support approving $485.5 million in spending for a subsidiary of the under-investigation SUNY Polytechnic, saying the money is vital for the continuation of the economic development program in western New York.

“There’s a general belief that it’s a worthwhile project,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “There are a series of questions that we put forward and we’re just waiting to get those answers back and then I think everything will be fine.”

Added Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan: “It’s critical to economic development in the state of New York, it’s critical to western New York.”

The vote for the Public Authorities Control Board is scheduled for Wednesday after it was delayed a week due to scheduling issues, according to the state Division of Budget.

The money is set to go toward an entity formed by SUNY Poly, which is being investigated for bid rigging by the state attorney general’s office. The money is part of a broader spending effort to the RiverBend project, the site of a SolarCity factory in western New York.

The project is a component of the Buffalo Billion program, an economic development effort that is being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

Both the Assembly and Senate have votes to approve the spending, as does the Division of Budget, which is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

Still, lawmakers have questioned the spending, while Cuomo himself has said the funding is to be reviewed by the independent investigator his office hired, Bart Schwartz.

“There are a lot of vehicles for oversight which should take place,” Flanagan said. “But I don’t think that should be an excuse for not moving ahead and making sure we approve jobs for the economy.”

Astorino Pens Letter To Cuomo’s Business Panel

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Rob Astorino has written a letter to the members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s panel appointed to review regulations placed on businesses in New York, urging them to consider and adopt some of the proposals he made during his 2014 run for governor.

Astorino also pointed to proposals made two years ago in a joint report on state regulation that was produced by Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference.

“There are no shortages of ideas to decrease the costs of doing business, but unfortunately, there has been a lack of political courage to recommend and enact policies that would ensure New York is economically competitive,” he wrote in the letter.

Astorino is a two-term county executive in Westchester and is expected to seek a third term in 2017. He has not ruled out a second run for governor in 2018.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Astorino sought to court the business community in New York, criticizing Cuomo in the process for heavy spending on TV ads that promoted his START-UP NY program. Cuomo, in the end, was endorsed by the state Business Council, which was disappointed in the governor’s successful push this year to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 in some parts of New York over the next several years.

Astorino Letter to Business Regulation Council by Nick Reisman

Buffalo Billion Money On Line, Leaders Take Wait-And-See Approach

The top leaders in the Assembly and Senate on Monday said they would take a wait-and-see approach on an upcoming vote that would disburse $486 million to a subsidiary of SUNY Polytechnic.

The Wednesday vote before the Public Authorities Control Board would approve the money for the Fort Schuyler Management Corp., a public-benefit corporation the college formed to help pay for the construction of the SolarCity project in western New York, a key facet of the Buffalo Billion economic development program.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office is investigating Buffalo Billion contracting, while SUNY Poly is under investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for potential bid rigging.

Representatives of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan both have votes on PACB, a relatively obscure state entity that has power over broad swaths of spending.

“I am going to tell you I’m not steeped enough in the details,” Flanagan said after meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a second time on Monday, this time around with Heastie and IDC Leader Jeff Klein.

“It’s a great catalyst for me to go back. I think it should be properly vetted,” he added. “I’m sure they’ll take appropriate action.”

Heastie took a similar posture on the issue.

“We’ll look at it,” he said. “I can’t give you an answer today and we’ll follow up.”

After acknowledging Bharara’s office was investigating potential fraud in the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo’s office announced it had hired independent investigator Bart Schwartz to review contracts under the program.

NRCC Targets NY-21, NY-22 In Robocalls (Updated)

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday released a series of robocalls in battleground districts throughout the country, including the upstate House races for the 21st and 22nd districts.

The calls link Democratic candidates Kim Myers, who is running for the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Richard Hanna, and Mike Derrick — running against Rep. Elise Stefanik in the North Country — to the two Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

“Voters have the right to know which flawed candidate Democrats stand behind,” said NRCC Communications Director Katie Martin. “It’s time they state if they support the unpopular FBI target Hillary Clinton who continues to plunge in the polls or if they are throwing their support behind socialist Bernie Sanders.”

In the call, the NRCC claims the Democratic presidential nomination is heading toward a brokered convention in which it will be decided by “party insiders.”

Myers and Derrick are challenged to take a stance on who they back for the nomination and whether it should be decided at the Philadelphia convention. It’s a deft bit of deflection for the NRCC, considering the GOP’s own messy primary process has produced Donald Trump as its likely nominee after the party initially appeared close to a contest convention of its own.

Clinton is poised to capture the Democratic nomination outright, but Sanders has insisted in recent weeks he would seek to shape the party’s platform at the convention in July.

Updated: Bryan Lesswing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee responds.

“If National Republicans think this is going to get Upstate New York voters to forget that House Republican incumbents like Elise Stefanik, and Republican congressional candidates like Claudia Tenney, George Phillips and Steve Wells, support a misogynist whose anti-constitutional policies would make America less safe, they are sorely mistaken.”

NY-19: Heaney Fires Back At Long Letter

From the Morning Memo:

Last week, Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long took the unusual step of rebuking Republican congressional candidate Andrew Heaney’s campaign for criticizing his GOP primary rival John Faso, both of whom are vying for the nomination in the Hudson Valley’s 19th district.

In response, the Heaney campaign in a statement released a scathing attack on Faso’s time as a lobbyist.

In all, the exchange was an excavation in an increasingly heated and personal primary for the nomination in a district that’s being vacated by Republican Rep. Chris Gibson that has in recent years become a hotly contested battleground.

In the letter, Long takes Heaney to task for a mailer in which Faso is linked to Democrats like President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

Long called the attack on Faso “preposterous.”

“Knock if off,” Long wrote in the letter to Heaney’s campaign. “John Faso is and has been a courageous conservative stalwart for many years. It’s why he easily won the endorsement of the New York State Conservative Party.”

Long points out Heaney himself donated to Obama’s own presidential campaign in 2007, writing the contribution was one of the main reasons why his influential organization wound up endorsing Faso in the race.

“Dirty campaigners exist in a category of their own,” Long wrote, “and you’ve gone down that road by entering it.”

Heaney’s campaign fired back in a statement of their own, pointing to the pay-to-play scandal that engulfed former Comptroller Alana Hevesi and impacted the lobbying firm Faso worked for, Manatt, Phelps and Phillips (Faso himself was never charged or implicated with any wrongdoing).

“It’s disappointing that Chairman Long suggests that we should look the other way as scandal ridden Albany politicians erode the people’s trust and instead just chalk it up to ‘phony political attacks’,” the Heaney campaign said. “The pay to play scandal that took down Alan Hevesi, Hank Morris, Pat Lynch, John Faso and dozens of others is very well documented. Is Chairman Long suggesting that Alan Hevesi shouldn’t have gone to jail or is that that only connected ‘stalwart conservatives’ like John Faso should be spared prosecution?”

The campaign went further attacking Fasos’s lobbying record, too, saying it will be fair game in a general election should Democrat Zephyr Teachout win her primary against Will Yandik next month.

“The facts are the facts, John Faso was the ‘Albany based partner lobbyist’ sanctioned as part of scandal that put Alan Hevesi in jail. It is not ‘dirty politics’ to litigate John Faso’s record, including his role in the Hevesi scandal and anyone who thinks that it won’t be the cornerstone of Zephyr Teachout’s campaign is simply delusional,” the Heaney campaign said.

“Politics can indeed be rough, but it is sad that John Faso would risk losing this seat, embarrassing his friends and now compromising his supporters in another desperate effort to win higher office. If anyone should knock it off, it’s John Faso.”

Long Letter by Nick Reisman

Katko Still Not Convinced By Trump After DC Visit

From the Morning Memo:

As the presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump traveled to Capitol Hill in Washington to woo GOP officials, he still hasn’t convinced rank-and-file lawmakers like Rep. John Katko.

Katko, a Republican freshman running in a swing central New York district this November, has not endorsed Trump, and Thursday’s visit with House and Senate leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan, did not say him.

“It hasn’t changed me view at all. First and foremost, my concern is for my district and my constituents,” Katko said in a Capital Tonight interview on Thursday.

Katko remains skeptical of the New York businessman’s campaign given his proposals to bar non-citizen Muslims from entering the U.S. as well as the comments he’s made about women.

“I’m going to see how it goes going forward, but he has lot of things to do to earn my vote. He’s not there yet,” Katko said. “I’m concerned about some of things he’s said about certain classes of people in this country, including immigrants, Muslims and women. I want to see if he’s going to change his tune going forward on some of those subjects.”

Ryan, meanwhile, met with Trump for about an hour at Republican headquarters in Washington. Like Katko, he’s withholding a formal endorsement of Trump, but indicated in a joint statement a unification of the party is possible.

Sentencing Day For Skelos

From the Morning Memo:

Republican former Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam are due in court this morning to be sentenced following their December convictions on corruption charges.

Skelos, once a powerful Long Island lawmaker who led the Senate Republicans since 2008, was arrested just over a year ago and charged with aiding his son’s business interests through official actions.

Skelos resigned his leadership post after he was charged, but retained his seat in the chamber. He was formally ousted from office following the felony conviction. Last month, his seat was flipped to the Democratic column in a special election won by Todd Kaminsky.

Skelos’s sentencing comes just over a week after his former counterpart, ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in a separate case involving the Manhattan Democrat masking bribes as legal referrals.

The sentencings for both Skelos and Silver are part of an extraordinary and unprecedented time in New York politics.

Over the last several weeks, details have trickled out of corruption investigations into the fundraising activities of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as a sprawling inquiry into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature economic development program, the Buffalo Billion.

A former Cuomo aide, Joe Percoco, has received payments from two companies linked to state contracts, while lobbyist Todd Howe, who represented those firms linked to development, is under investigation as well.

“With what is going on now with Mr. Percoco and Mr. Howe and Mr. de Blasio, added to what we just saw happen with Mr. Silver and what’s going to happen this week with Mr. Skelos, you just reach a tipping point,” said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. “And we may have reached a tipping point.”

SD-55: Funke Launches Re-Election Bid

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Sen. Rich Funke on Thursday morning announced he would seek a second term for the Rochester-area district he flipped to the GOP column in 2014.

“After building a career and raising a family in a region that has been so good to me over the years, it’s been the honor of a lifetime to serve those who call our community home,” Funke said in a statement.

“Together we’ve made progress on some of our top priorities – like growing jobs, cutting taxes, and securing our fair share – but I’m not done fighting to make Albany work better for all of us. With your continued support, I’ll keep working to best represent you and your family every day.”

A former television broadcaster in the Rochester area, Funke unseated Democratic Sen. Ted O’Brien two years ago for the battleground 55th Senate district that had been previously vacated by Republican Sen. Jim Alesi.