Get Big Corporate Money Out of Our Government
I recently sent a letter to Governor Cuomo expressing my disappointment that the State Legislature has adjourned for the year without addressing big corporate money in our state elections. I asked him to call our representatives back to Albany immediately to close a loophole in our state law that allows for unlimited corporate contributions to candidates. It’s called the “LLC Loophole” and it corrupts our political system and suppresses your voice. Our State Legislators should not be allowed to vacation until they address this issue.
Corporate influence in our political process is prohibiting New York from making progress on priorities such as reducing the cost of living, improving the quality of public education, and protecting our drinking water. This is because large corporate interests benefit from the status quo, and they use their power to block any legislation that threatens to change the system and decrease their revenue.
As a New York State Senator, I witnessed this firsthand. One of the worst examples was when the Republican majority refused to allow a vote on my Lyme disease bill that would, if passed, hold insurance companies accountable for covering the costs of long-term Lyme treatment. It turns out that large insurance corporations aren’t big supporters of this idea — but they are major campaign supporters of the Republican Senators who blocked my legislation. To this day, hundreds of Hudson Valley families suffer the devastating financial and physical effects of Lyme – because too many elected officials are working to help wealthy corporations instead of the people that elected them.
Big corporate interests also influence elections by working against candidates that don’t support their agendas. I opposed the New York City Real Estate Board (a group of wealthy developers) in their effort to get tax breaks to build luxury condominiums for some of the world’s wealthiest individuals. I also refused to help Wall Street billionaires who wanted to take money from our local public schools and use it to build New York City Charter Schools instead. Both of these corporate interests retaliated by spending millions of dollars in support of my opponent in 2014 – and our campaign finance laws allow them to do this.
Let’s not forget that we just witnessed the convictions of two leaders of our State Legislature. Both Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were empowered by millions of dollars in corporate contributions and illegal schemes to enrich themselves and their families. Even prison sentences and fines for these criminals failed to inspire our current legislative leaders to take campaign finance reform seriously.
Governor Cuomo has the constitutional power to call the members of the legislature back for a “special session” to address this issue. He can keep them in Albany until they take the corrupting influence of big corporate money seriously and close the “LLC loophole, which will help stop corporations from contributing unlimited amounts of money into our political system. New Yorkers overwhelmingly support this reform, and we want it done now.
Terry Gipson is the Democratic Candidate for New York State Senate District 41, Dutchess & Putnam Counties. His entire letter to Governor Cuomo can be seen at http://www.terrygipsonny.com/june-21st-letter-to-the-governor
Why State Government Matters
It’s no secret that Washington is gridlocked and unwilling to govern. All the more reason why we need Albany to clean up its house and put the needs of the people first. Simply put, as Washington fails, we need Albany to do better. State government needs to be the firewall that protects us from dysfunction and gridlock by taking a hard look at the chronic issues in our state, and working together – Democrats and Republicans – to provide creative solutions and get New York moving in the right direction again on issues like taxes, education, infrastructure and jobs.
We can’t tinker around the edges anymore – we need state leaders that are willing to rethink our entire model for taxation and education funding. We must stop strangling our municipalities and public schools, and we have to find ways to make it more affordable for all of us to live here. Our tax systems are outdated and place a disproportionate burden on hard working middle class families and senior citizens. We need more stability in our communities and that begins with helping local governments provide important services and ensuring every child has access to a high quality public education.
Hudson Valley residents know that we depend on safe roads and bridges as well as safe drinking water and waste water systems. Yet our entire infrastructure is outdated and crumbling, undermining our economic growth and creating unsafe conditions for our communities. Still, Albany routinely avoids long-term infrastructure investment and planning that could create thousands of jobs and help us avoid the transportation and environmental crises that have affected many of our neighborhoods.
Speaking of jobs, we live in a rapidly evolving global market that demands adaptability and versatility to survive. It’s sad that Albany continues to embrace old world backroom politics when we are in urgent need of 21st-century leadership that can transcend partisan bickering and get serious about recruiting the job makers of tomorrow to the Hudson Valley today.
We face real challenges. There is simply no time to waste if we are going to build a competitive and sustainable economy that moves our communities forward and improves the quality of life for everyone. State government matters. It is time for our elected officials in Albany to come out from behind closed doors, stop making excuses, and get busy leading with bold new ideas and a commitment to excellence.
by Terry Gipson, 3/16
State needs to focus on local public schools
As students, parents and grandparents shop for back to school supplies and teachers prepare their classrooms, my concern about the course of our state’s public education system continues.
Because of this year’s state budget, there will be greater emphasis on flawed evaluations of our hardworking teachers, which will further pass the stress of standardized testing on to our kids. And, while our local public schools suffer, our state legislature just handed out $250 million dollars to non-public schools, many of which are in New York City. These new policies are unacceptable when our Hudson Valley homeowners and business owners are getting hit with unbearable property taxes just to keep our public schools afloat.
However, a sense of renewed energy is building with the start of this school year, and we must keep fighting to improve our public schools for every child in every zip code. This starts with holding our state officials accountable for the mismanaged common core, and insisting that they make our local public schools their top priority. We must fight against those that give our hard-earned tax dollars to New York City Charter Schools, while accepting millions in campaign contributions from those schools’ Wall Street backers.
Most importantly, we must keep the pressure on the state legislature to change course by implementing new funding strategies that will support a world-class education system that is fair to all stakeholders: one that allows teachers to teach and students to learn in an environment that focuses on individualization over standardization.
by Terry Gipson, 1/16
Editorial: CALL A SPECIAL SESSION TO ADDRESS ETHICS
Preet Bharara just rooted out two more officials in our state government. This time it was the prominent Deputy Leader of the Senate Republican Majority, Tom Libous, and former Senate Democratic Majority Leader, John Sampson. Their recent felony convictions expelled them both from the State Senate immediately. Both, however, were allowed to keep their seats while the charges were pending, and Libous’ Republican colleagues even chose to keep him on as their Deputy Leader. There are currently other officials, Democratic and Republican alike, waiting for their date in court, and all could be expelled from office if found guilty.
Meanwhile, the New York State legislature continues to do very little to address this issue. From my frustrating experience trying to pass important ethics reforms, I learned that many officials would rather put out a statement saying that they “wish them the best during this difficult time,” instead of working together to pass comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reforms.
I believe that Governor Cuomo should convene a special session of the legislature and not dismiss the Senate or the Assembly until an impactful anti-corruption ethics package is passed. The people of New York State deserve it.
These ethics reforms should include many measures such as: stripping the taxpayer-funded pensions of convicted politicians, ending reimbursements to politicians’ campaign accounts for legal fees with taxpayer dollars, and closing the “LLC loophole” that allows corporations and special interests to control the election process and politicians through practically unlimited campaign donations.
A special session would allow legislators to focus specifically on ethics and campaign finance reforms without being impacted by budget negotiations or end-of-session policy debates. You’ll hear about reform packages being passed, but the reality is that they get watered down as part of the final budget deals or end-of-session negotiations, and they have very little impact on cleaning up Albany.
This is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s a systemic one that has been allowed to fester for decades. Without term limits, there is very little turnover, and those who are in office have little reason to make major changes. The Governor has the power to force them into a room and to not let them out until they solve this problem. Unfortunately, I believe that this is what it will take.
This type of historic action would show the people of New York, whose trust must be earned, that their elected officials are willing to take the extra step that is needed to do what is right. Otherwise, it will be only a short matter of time until the Capitol maintenance workers are scraping off the name of another elected official in Albany. And, we’ll be left with a government that keeps becoming more dysfunctional and less trustworthy.
by Terry Gipson, 7/15
A Case for Term Limits and Campaign Finance Reform
In 1976, Gerald Ford was President, disco was big, and, like most 8th graders, I was glued to the TV watching a new show called Charlie’s Angels. It was also when some of New York’s current State Senators first got elected.
That’s right. Our State Senate and Assembly have members who have been in office since the Ford, Carter, Reagan, and even Nixon administrations. Recent events in the Senate have shown exactly what happens when a legislative body has no term limits and no laws that effectively limit campaign contributions from large corporations.
In a January Senate vote, Long Island’s Dean Skelos, who came to Albany in 1980, was unanimously re-elected as Senate Majority leader by his GOP colleagues. This included “yes” votes by newly-elected Hudson Valley Republican Senators Sue Serino, George Amedore and Terrence Murphy, all of whom ran on a platform of “independence.”
Then, Senator Skelos was indicted on bribery and extortion charges in an alleged “pay to play” scheme involving wealthy New York City real estate developers. Public campaign finance records show that these same real estate titans also spent millions of dollars to elect Senators Serino, Amedore and Murphy, all of whom claimed they would fight “New York City special interests” in their campaigns.
Now, Senators Serino, Murphy and Amedore have joined their Republican Majority colleagues in refusing to pass common sense anti-corruption laws that would stop corporations from making unlimited campaign donations. In fact, after Skelos’ arrest, they all voted for his handpicked successor – another Long Islander John Flanagan – who won’t let legislation to clean up Albany’s corruption mess come to a vote.
Flanagan joined the “Albany status quo club” in 1986 and has recently been dodging questions from the press about his own ethics baggage. Public records show that Flanagan happens to be a staunch supporter of New York City’s privately-run charter school industry that has received huge influxes of taxpayer dollars that instead could have funded Hudson Valley public schools; an industry that spent millions of dollars supporting the campaigns of Flanagan and Skelos, as well as our own Hudson Valley Senators Serino, Amedore and Murphy.
Predictably, Senator Flanagan received unanimous support from all of his Republican colleagues, including those that have been there since Ford, Carter and Reagan, as well as the self-proclaimed “independent voices,” from the Hudson Valley. A New York Times photo showed them all on the Senate floor applauding their decision to keep things in Albany just the way they have always been.
In fairness, Governor Cuomo’s campaign records show that he also received millions from NYC real estate developers and charter schools. And recent reports indicate that his administration is cooperating with a federal prosecutor’s probe of financial relationships between New York lawmakers and campaign donors in the real estate industry who have business before the state. Corruption in our legislature is bipartisan… the entire list of arrested Senators and Assembly members is far too long to list here.
How many of our current legislators will still be in office in the year 2045? History tells us that some of them will. This means that many important issues will remain unresolved unless we insist that they pass term limits and real campaign finance reform today.
by Terry Gipson 4/15