These two words have become so synonymous these days that it has become hard to talk about one without the other. The frustration in the voices of constituents and the disgust on their faces is palpable, especially after recent events.
Frankly, I don’t blame them.
The citizens of this state deserve elected officials who work for them, not themselves. Change must come from within the institution and that is why, throughout my two-plus years as a State Senator, I have introduced a series of good government reform legislation. Enacting these bills would go a long way towards helping clean up Albany once and for all.
Enact Term Limits
When I first ran for the State Senate on a platform of reforming Albany, I promised that one of the first bills I would introduce if elected was to establish term limits for state legislators. My opponent in that race was a 38-year incumbent. That is just far too long to be in office.
I fulfilled my campaign promise by introducing legislation in the Senate that, if approved by the legislature and the voters, would for the first time institute term limits for State Senators and Assembly members. The legislation would institute a maximum of twelve years for State legislators.
Politicians who serve for countless years tend to become stagnant, arrogant and reluctant to adopt new ideas. Entrenched senior legislators become less concerned with taking on controversial issues and doing the public’s business in favor of cementing their stranglehold on office.
Full Public Financing of Campaigns
When I was a member of the City Council, I introduced legislation entitled “Clean Money, Clean Elections” that would have allowed candidates for city office to qualify for full public financing of their campaign. The Clean Money, Clean Elections system entailed four easy steps – candidates opt in, obtain small $5 donations from constituents, and as a result receive public funds for their campaign.
While the city currently has a partial public funding system, there is no public financing system at the state level. However, I recently introduced legislation that would bring a full public financing system to state elections.
In the current partial or no public funding system, private fundraising is mostly from large, outside donors and bundlers, whereas under Clean Money, Clean Elections, private fundraising is strictly limited to small donations from constituents.
Under the current system the playing field isn’t leveled, it’s actually tilted. In Clean Money, Clean Elections all of the amounts are the same. Right now consultants run campaigns, but under Clean Money, Clean Elections the candidates will run the campaign.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) is an independent commission charged with investigating the Legislative and Executive Branches of the state and was instituted last year by Governor Cuomo with much fanfare, who indicated that the commission would be the toughest ethics enforcer in our state's history.
One of the obstacles to real reform is the existence of two separate commissions who are both responsible for implementing the states ethics law. In addition, JCOPE’s original composition of 15 members appointed through a political affiliation process hinders the commission's ability to be a non-partisan arbiter of the state’s ethics laws.
As a result, I proposed legislation hat would abolish the Legislative Ethics Commission and transfer their powers to JCOPE. JCOPE would now have full power over the legislature to provide advice and ethics training, to administer and enforce annual disclosure, to enforce the ethics laws and to impose civil sanctions, including civil fines, upon legislators and staff.
JCOPE would also have full authority to investigate legislators and staff, hold due process hearings on possible violations, and issue a public report with findings of fact, conclusions of law and penalties to be imposed, and to create and maintain a publicly accessible website.
In order to make meaningful and effective change for the implementation of the state’s ethics laws, it is necessary to have only one state ethics commission comprised of members who are appointed through an apolitical process and whose own ethics are unquestioned and beholden to no one except the citizens of this state.
Give Citizens the Right to Recall Elected Officials
Unlike 18 other states in the nation, there is no recall system for voters in New York State to remove an elected official. The power to remove an elected official rests solely with the Governor. It is time for this power to rest with the people. My legislation will give voters the ability to recall local and statewide elected officers, state senators, assembly members, supreme court judges and trial court judges.
When I ran for the State Senate, I ran on a platform of reforming Albany and my record of reform and good government have guided my days as a State Senator. Unfortunately, it is clear that many of my colleagues do not share these same ideals.
With every new scandal, the act of reforming Albany becomes harder and harder, as entrenched special interests and business as usual mentality pervade the halls of Albany. But it is a fight that we cannot give up on because we owe it to the citizens of this state.
We may not be able to give them a perfect government, but at the very least they deserve a good government.
Tony Avella represents the 11th Senatorial District in northeast Queens.