Apr 17th - 8:09 am
From the Morning Memo:
Senate Republicans are pushing back on any inference they sought to block reclassifying limited liability companies in order to restrict their political giving.
Closing the so-called LLC loophole on Thursday was put to a vote at the state Board of Elections, with the proposal to reclassify them as partnerships.
The commissioners deadlocked, with the two Republican commissioners not supporting the move.
The newest co-chairman of the board is Peter Kosinski, a former counsel to the Senate Republicans, who was appointed only this week.
Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif in a statement, however, noted there are plenty of other areas in which campaign donations have flooded into candidates’ campaign coffers — with some help from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“As soon as the so-called good government groups have anything to say about the unlimited money that unions pump into the coffers of Democrats or the dollars that Mayor de Blasio funnels to Upstate County Democrat Party Committees, we may start taking them seriously,” Reif said. “Until then, they should get a life.”
The statement comes as Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is facing an investigation from federal prosecutors over potentially placing undue influence on an Arizona company that employed his son Adam.
Skelos in a statement released yesterday said he was cooperating with the investigation, which is being led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.
The debate and vote at the board came after a sustained push from good-government advocates as well as left-leaning organizations like the Working Families Party to raise the issue of having a non-legislative solution to the LLC issue.
LLCs have been used to funnel millions of dollars into campaigns, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo as one of its top beneficiaries.
Cuomo has said in the past that the method of LLC donations is “not a loophole, it’s the law.”
On Thursday, his office expressed disappointment the board failed to reclassify the entities in order to prevent the unlimited donations.
Apr 15th - 9:54 pm
Federal prosecutors are presenting evidence to a grand jury in case involving both Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, The New York Times reported this evening.
According to the newspaper, the hiring of Adam Skelos by an Arizona-based company AbTech Industries, is one focus of the inquiry. The company reportedly was awarded a storm-water treatment contract despite not being the lowest bidder.
Prosecutors are trying to determine if Skelos used any influence as a top state lawmaker to influence AbTech.
The paper also reported subpoenas from federal prosecutors have been sent out in recent weeks, including to several Long Island state senators.
An individual with direct knowledge of the subpoenas that they were sent out within the past week to eight Long Island senators.
The subpoenas asked for any documents from Jan. 1, 2013 to the present regarding the state budget, four or five different companies — including the Arizona company mentioned in the Times’ story.
Questions swirling around Skelos will only inject more uncertainty in a state Capitol that has been rocked by the arrest of now former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who is accused of masking legal referrals as bribes and kickbacks, resigned from the speakership after his arrest.
The Skelos news also comes a year after the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was shuttered following an agreement on ethics reform in the state budget in 2014.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office took control of records generated by the commission weeks later. Bharara is investigating cases pursued by the commission as well as the circumstances surrounding panel closing down.
Apr 15th - 11:00 am
Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco will deliver the Republican response at the annual Legislative Correspondents Association Show in June, LCA President Jon Campbell on Wednesday announced.
DeFrancisco, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, will be the most recent Senate Republican to give the GOP rebuttal at the annual gridiron show: Sen. Lee Zeldin (now a member of Congress) and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos have both given it in recent years.
Newly elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will deliver this year’s Democratic rebuttal.
The LCA Show will be held June 9 at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.
Mar 29th - 9:56 am
Four budget bills were introduced before midnight on Saturday, while a broader deal on the state budget is yet to be reached.
Measures introduced last night include spending plans for the legislative and judiciary branches, aid to localities spending, health and mental hygiene and the revenue bill.
Gone from the budget framework is a property-tax rebate proposal akin to a “circuit-breaker” that would tie relief to a household’s income.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Saturday at the Capitol the property tax discussion, as well as a minimum wage increase, could be left for later in the legislative session, which runs through June.
Major aspects of the 2015-16 state spending are yet to be ironed out, however.
Lawmakers and Cuomo are yet to reach an agreement on education spending in the state, which is typically the final piece of the budget puzzle.
What makes this year different is that Cuomo is pushing for education reform measures in the budget – including a tougher teacher evaluation criteria and a receivership program for struggling (AKA “failing”) schools.
Assembly Democrats, in particular, have been hesitant to accept Cuomo’s education proposals.
We do know, however, that due to opposition in both houses, education spending in the budget is no longer linked to the reforms, and lawmakers expect to have a district-by-district breakdown of school aid – also known in Albany as “school runs” – in the coming days.
Cuomo had angered local education officials by refusing to release school runs this year, saying the numbers would be vastly different depending on whether lawmakers accepted or rejected his reform proposals. A number of those proposals have fallen off the budget negotiation table.
It is expected the final education aid increase will stand at around $1.4 billion, if not more.
At the same time, Cuomo is also pushing Senate Republicans to accept new disclosure measures for outside legal clients of state lawmakers.
As of Sunday morning, neither the massive education, labor and family assistance bill or the ethics bill has appeared in print — meaning both will likely require a message of necessity from Cuomo to waive the required three-day aging process if officials want to meet Tuesday’s on-time budget deadline.
Cuomo is due back in Albany later today after appearing at the Greek Independence Day Parade in his role as grand marshal.
Lawmakers are also due back to the Capitol later in the day to conference the latest in the budget talks.
UPDATE: The Assembly Democrats are scheduled to conference early this evening. The Senate Republicans are not conferencing again until tomorrow at noon.
Mar 25th - 11:25 pm
The race for Erie County Executive just got a little clearer. One of the two top contenders for the GOP nomination, to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz, dropped out Wednesday and threw his support behind another fellow Republican.
“Party leaders and donors asked me to speed up my timetable and make a decision to either run myself, or clear the field,” Erie County Stefan Mychajliw in a press release Wednesday morning.
Mychajliw has been considered a rising star in the party after winning two straight races in a county with 130,000 more Democrats than Republicans. Mychajliw, 41, said the decision was personal.
“If I became a candidate for County Executive it would take me farther away from my family and will be the third time in four years I ran a grueling county-wide campaign,” said Mychajliw.
Rather than just announce his intentions, Mychajliw seemed to unintentionally put some pressure on Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs. While Jacobs has long been considered a candidate for County Executive, he has yet to throw his hat into the ring.
“It is my duty to lead the charge to bring our party together and strongly support Chris Jacobs in his quest to become the next County Executive,” Mychajliw said.
The Jacobs reference did raise some eyebrows. Republican Consultant Vic Martucci acknowledged it broke protocol.
“It’s unusual. It may just be he knows Chris Jacobs is running,” Martucci said.
The problem is Jacobs himself hasn’t yet decided.
“I appreciate Stefan’s comments, I will be making a decision sometime soon,” he said.
Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy saw Mychajliw’s comments as a ringing endorsement and not an effort to pressure Jacobs to declare. But with the list of potential GOP candidates shrinking, Langworthy knows the clock is ticking.
“Everyone’s got their own internal checkpoints and processes before they jump into a race of this magnitude. It’s a huge undertaking. There’s a great deal of questions they have to internally answer. Chris is going through that process right now and I expect that he’ll be giving me an answer shortly,” Langworthy added.
Along with the party enrollment disadvantage for the GOP the current County Executive seems to be enjoying a high level of popularity. Martucci said, no matter the candidate, it could be an uphill battle.
“(Mark) Poloncarz had two big wins in his first term. He negotiated a successful lease agreement with the (Buffalo) Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was an ironclad deal that prevented any potential buyer from moving the team. He also delivered a strong performance during the November snowstorm. Those two issues are still fresh in voters’ minds,” said Martucci
Other than State Senator Pat Gallivan, who told us Wednesday night he’s not running, Martucci sees Jacobs as the best candidate the Republicans could field to oust Poloncarz.
“He’s got everything you’d want in a candidate. He’s likable, a fresh face, and has done a great job in the clerk’s office which has been a spring board to higher office,” Martucci said.
Jacobs has made no secret out of the fact he’s been thinking about a run for a long time. Despite the challenges the race presents he sees a path to victory for the GOP.
“If I do enter this I will do it because I sincerely believe it is winnable, but more importantly because I sincerely believe that I could make a profound impact and better impact than who is there currently,” Jacobs said.
The Republican powers-that-be would like to see Jacobs make a decision sooner than later. Langworthy said there are other candidates, with a lower profile, interested in running who would need to start their campaigns a little sooner.
“If we go to a different echelon of candidates, where they may have a district that doesn’t include all of Erie County, they have to go get known in different areas other than where they’re most familiar with,” said Langworthy.
Jacobs understands the ball is in his court. But he’s always prided himself on being his own man and said he’ll announce his decision when he’s ready.
“The way you run a race independently enables you to govern independently and I felt very, very strongly about that,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs has served as New York’s Secretary of State under Governor Pataki and as a member of the Buffalo Public School Board. He was elected Erie County Clerk in a special election in 2011.
Mar 19th - 1:59 pm
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos lashed out at Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, saying after a joint budget committee hearing that disclosure rules should apply to the governor’s staff and girlfriend.
“What applies to the Legislature should also apply for the governor,” Skelos said.
Holding up a copy of the bi-annual legislative expense report, Skelos said such documentation should also be expanded to include the executive branch.
“You can find out where any of our council staff people went, how much they paid for lodging, their gas expenses, whatever they chit,” Skelos said. “The governor, his staff, when they move their minions for a press conference, other than for security purposes, they don’t have to disclose.”
The comments come after Senate Republicans were excluded from a two-way agreement between Cuomo and Assembly Democrats on ethics reform.
The package includes private client disclosure, per diem reform and the pledge to pass a constitutional amendment to expand pension forfeiture for officials convicted of corruption.
Still, Skelos insisted the budget talks were going well, despite the deepening rift with Cuomo over ethics reform.
“This is the smoothest budget negotiation I’ve ever been involved in,” Skelos said.
Top conference leaders met today to formally announce targeted spending agreements in the state budget, due April 1.
Cuomo has sought to challenge lawmakers this year to pass new ethics reform measures by tying the proposals to spending in his 30-day budget amendments.
Senate Republicans say they were not given a heads up from Cuomo or the Assembly on the surprise, two-way deal.
Cuomo in the last four years has worked well with Senate Republicans and the back and forth over ethics legislation has been a rare point of contention in a relatively productive and publicly friendly relationship.
Cuomo’s office maintains that the ethics measures the governor is pushing apply to the executive branch of government as well.
But Republicans have ratcheted up the rhetoric in recent weeks, including introducing a bill that would require disclosure of finances of domestic partners, a move that is seen as a shot at Cuomo’s girlfriend, Food Network personality Sandra Lee.
Cuomo’s office has said the proposal is not part of the negotiations.
“I didn’t bring up his girlfriend,” Skelos said. “What I brought up was the fact that when the governor was the attorney general, he had language that included domestic partners.”
Mar 17th - 8:06 am
From the Morning Memo:
During the 2014 governor’s race, the GOP candidate, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, did not help his standing with the Senate Republicans by laying out a sweeping ethics reform package that called for everything from term limits to campaign finance reform.
Now, in the post-Silver scandal era, however, Astorino is having a hard time not saying: “I told you so.” But he insists he’s glad the ethics reform conversation is finally being had in Albany – albeit belatedly.
“We had that conversation in the race last year,” the county executive said during a CapTon interview last night. “It didn’t get too much traction, for whatever reason, and the things that we said last year unfortunately are coming to fruition.”
“The ethics thing is something that should have been done on its own, and not in crisis, and not with a US attorney sort of forcing them,” he added.
Astorino, who hasn’t ruled out another run for governor in 2018, is still pushing term limits for state lawmakers, and still doesn’t believe what Senate GOP leaders have proposed so far goes far enough.
Asked if he thinks the outcome of the November election, which he lost to Cuomo, 54-41, though he carried most of the upstate counties, would have been different had the Silver scandal broken earlier, Astorino replied:
“Probably. It would have changed things, probably, but who knows. I think it would have brought to light a lot of things that we were saying…I’m not going to question that.”
“I think ultimately the speaker was brought down by hubris, by illegal action, by lapse of judgement, and whenever that happened, it at least happened.”
“But the question is: Where do we go from here? And I think term limits is way past due in Albany. And I think you can measure their sincerity by those who are willing to limit their own power, and that’s what term limits will do.”
Mar 16th - 7:58 am
From the Morning Memo:
Senate Democrats this morning are criticizing Republican Sen. George Amedore for appearing at a rally for social conservatives later this week that includes a keynote address by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.
In a statement to be released later this morning, Democratic conference spokesman Mike Murphy knocked Amedore for sharing the stage with Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican who ran for president in 2012.
“It is not surprising that George Amedore is attending an event headlined by far-right wing extremist Rick Santorum. Senator Amedore’s radical views on women’s issues are virtually identical to Santorum’s,” Murphy said. “Both oppose a woman’s right to choose regardless of circumstances, even in the case of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is in danger. Both have repeatedly opposed legislation to provide women with equal pay for equal work. George Amedore can lie to voters about his record all he wants, but actions speak louder than words. George Amedore should be ashamed of himself.”
Santorum, who is considering another bid for the presidency after garnering strong support from the Evangelical wing of the Republican Party, is speaking on Tuesday at the New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation event on Tuesday at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
Knocking Amedore over abortion rights comes, however, as Assembly Democrats today will announce plans to vote on a piece of the Women’s Equality Agenda, a package of legislation that included a provision aimed at codifying Roe v. Wade.
Democrats in the chamber will hold a vote on an anti-human trafficking bill that had been languishing at the Capitol as the measure was caught up in the politics of the women’s agenda.
Senate Republicans had passed the bills in a piecemeal fashion and would not consider a vote on the abortion plank.
Democrats in the Assembly, meanwhile, pushed to have the full package taken up in their chamber.
But the logjam is being broken in part due to a lobbying effort on behalf of Scarsdale Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Pualin, the main sponsor of the anti-human trafficking bill.
It’s unclear, however, if the other aspects of the agenda that have already passed the Republican-led Senate will be law. Paulin raised the possibility of Democrats holding votes on bills that are similar, but are deemed stronger on certain issues.
Amedore was able to help Republicans flip the Senate in 2014, defeating freshman incumbent Cecilia Tkaczyk for the newly drawn 46th Senate district, which stretches from the Mohawk to the Hudson valleys.
Amedore was victorious in the rematch after losing to Tkaczyk by only 18 votes in 2012.
Mar 5th - 4:41 pm
A federal judge has rejected frormer Rep. Michael Grimm’s request to modify the terms of his bail so he could travel to Europe this spring for a job opportunity while awaiting sentencing on his tax fraud conviction.
Judge Pamela Chen determined that the ex-Staten Island lawmaker is too much of a flight risk to be allowed to leave the country for a week, which would open the possibility that he would travel still further to a country that does not have an extradition agreement with the US.
“Even though Grimm has posted his home as security for his pre-sentence release bond, the Court does not find that the loss of that property provides sufficient suasion if Grimm decides to leave the United States to avoid a possible prison term,” Chen wrote.
“Obviously, if Grimm chose to flee, he would not need a house in the United States. Furthermore, the Court does not find the reason for Grimm’s motion, i.e., to qualify for a potential job opportunity, sufficient to justify lifting the travel restriction. While Grimm is certainly entitled to seek future employment, his desire to obtain a particular job does not trump the need to ensure his appearance for sentencing.”
Grim faces a maximum prison sentence of up to three years as a result of the guilty plea he entered last December. That plea came after he successfully stood for re-election, defeating former Democratic Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia despite the mutli-count federal indctment hanging over his head.
Mar 2nd - 2:35 pm
The state Independence Party has announced its support of Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan’s run to fil the House seat vacated by former GOP Rep. Michael Grimm, giving the Republican candidate three ballot lines in the May 5 special election.
The Independence Party’s decision comes on the heels of an announcement yesterday from the state Conservative Party that it, too, had voted to back Donovan, who will face off against Democratic Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile in two months.
In a statement announcing the endorsement, state Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay said Donovan “has proven time and again that he puts people before politics,” adding:
“His integrity and commitment to public service is unparalleled. With all of the important issues facing our city and nation right now, I know Dan is the right man for the job. We are proud to endorse him as the next congressman for the people of Staten Island and South Brooklyn.”
When he ran for state attorney general in 2010, Donovan removed his name from consideration for endorsement by the Independence Party after his office received “several allegations of misconduct” by MacKay. The DA said he was withdrawing his name “to preserve the integrity of my office and the integrity of any possible investigation undertaken.”
Donovan later cleared MacKay in a probe that involved a candidate seeking the Independence Party endorsement in a NYC Council special election whose company had loaned $10,000 to a software company run by MacKay’s wife, Kristin.
The Independence Party ended up backing a placeholder candidate, Long Isdland attorney Steve Lynch, and then replacing Lynch with then-state Sen. Eric Schneiderman after his won the five-way Democratic state AG primary. Schneiderman went on to defeat Donovan in the November general election. (In order to get Lynch off the ballot, the Monroe County Democrats agreed to nominate him for a state Supreme Court judgeship, which he did not win).