As proven in the 2016 election, social media is a highly utilized tool for placing and viewing political advertisements, yet political advertisements on social media platforms are not regulated in the same way as advertisements on traditional media platforms. This has created new opportunities for unscrupulous and disruptive actors to improperly influence our political process. This year, Governor Cuomo proposes the strongest and most comprehensive policy to ensure that elections in New York State remain fair and transparent and that online political ads are archived for all to see.
- Increase Transparency in Digital Political Ads: To ensure the fairness and transparency of New York elections, Governor Cuomo is putting forth a three-pronged strategy to:
- Expand New York State's definition of political communication to include paid internet and digital advertisements: This proposal will update the definition of "political communication" to include paid internet and digital advertisements, and require that all advertisers include a disclosure in their election-related ads, such as "paid for by."
- Require digital platforms to maintain a public file of all political advertisements purchased by a person or group for publication on the platform: Governor Cuomo proposes to require digital platforms to maintain a public file of all political communications purchased by a person or group on their platform related to New York State elections. The file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contact information of the purchaser. This archive will ensure that political ads do not disappear, and that they are viewable, and able to be fact-checked, by a larger portion of the electorate.
- Require online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate: Governor Cuomo proposes to amend state law so that paid internet or digital advertisements are included in the definition of political communications. This will help ensure that foreign entities are unable to covertly purchase and distribute political advertising related to state elections through social media or other outlets. Under the new law digital ad buyers will be required to register as an independent expenditure committee, just as they would if they were purchasing time on television. Foreign entities will be prohibited from forming an independent committee and, as a result, would be unable to purchase and publish political advertising online. Violations of these requirements would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each instance.
- Institute Early Voting: Currently, New York is one of only 13 states where early voting is not available and an excuse is required to request an absentee ballot. To make it easier for New Yorkers to vote, Governor Cuomo proposes instituting early voting in the state, requiring every county to offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Counties must have one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents, and voters will have at least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots.
- Adopt Automatic Voter Registration: To modernize the voter registration process, Governor Cuomo proposes adopting a system that implements automatic voter registration, streamlining state services by automatically sending voters' information from relevant agencies directly to the County Board of Elections.
- Allow Same-Day Voter Registration: New York does not currently allow voters to register to vote on Election Day. Governor Cuomo proposes to allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day so that onerous registration deadlines do not prevent New Yorkers from having the opportunity to participate in the electoral process.
- Enhance Statewide Election Cyber Security Resilience and Defend Against Election Disruption: This year, the Governor proposes taking action to secure our democracy through bold steps to protect the state's elections:
- Create the Election Support Center: This will provide technical expertise and trainers to assist the State Board of Elections with developing regulations to enhance the cyber security of elections infrastructure; train county Boards of Elections members in cyber security best practices; and ensure that relevant threat intelligence is quickly distributed to local stakeholders.
- Create and Deploy the Elections Cyber Security Support Toolkit: The toolkit includes a new suite of threat mitigation tools to ensure election security at the state and local levels. This will include log-in and network monitoring software and hardware services, Distributed Denial of Service defense, and change-detection software to ensure that all changes to voter databases are logged and monitored, and any discrepancies are identified, investigated and corrected in a timely manner.
Since his first day in office, Governor Cuomo has fought aggressively for comprehensive ethics reform. Governor Cuomo's advocacy began with the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 to increase transparency and accountability throughout State government. The Governor's relentless efforts culminated with an historic agreement in 2016 with the Legislature to further advance critical election, lobbying, and enforcement reforms. This year, Governor Cuomo proposes a two-fold approach to ethics and good government reforms. His proposals will reiterate the continued need to address unresolved problems, shed sunlight on our political process and those who fund aspects of it, and will also identify new solutions to rebuild the trust and confidence that New Yorkers should have in their elected representatives.
- Advance Constitutional Amendment Limiting Outside Income and Creating a Full-time Legislature: The Legislature's part-time structure allows professionals from a variety of backgrounds and experiences to serve the public. Yet concerns have been raised about potential conflicts of interests that may arise from income legislators derive from other employment. To strike the right balance between public service and private ventures, the Governor proposes a constitutional amendment to be put before the voters that would limit outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their base salary. This 15 percent limit is the same limit our federal government places on federal legislators' outside income.
- Advance Constitutional Amendment Imposing Term Limits for Elected Officials: Current term limits require members of the Legislature to seek re-election every two years, yet there are no limits on the number of terms they may seek. The Governor proposes a constitutional amendment to create 4-year legislative terms for members of the Senate and the Assembly. The proposed constitutional amendment would also impose 8-year term limits for new members, and impose term limits for statewide officials.
- Require Members of the Legislature Seeking Outside Income to Obtain an Advisory Opinion Before Earning Outside Income: Currently legislators may earn income from private ventures without being required to obtain any analysis or approval regarding whether the outside income presents conflicts of interest with their duties to the public. As such, the Governor proposes legislation which would require all legislators to seek an advisory opinion from the legislative ethics commission before earning outside income. To further support in their deliberations and discussions regarding outside income and conflicts of interest and reinforce the public's trust in the process, a designee from the Office of Court Administration would serve on the commission. By examining compensation from non-state activities on a case by case basis, this measure would help guide our elected representatives, prevent conflicts of interest, and increase the public's trust in all their elected officials.
- Close the LLC Loophole: To preserve open, free, and fair elections that are not captured by wealthy public interests, state law limits the amounts that both corporations and individuals may donate directly to state candidates. However, because of a quirk in the way that present election law is interpreted, wealthy individuals and corporations can use Limited Liability Companies ("LLCs") to avoid New York's campaign donation limits. This "LLC Loophole" in campaign finance law has allowed special interests to circumvent both contribution limits and disclosure requirements. The Governor proposes closing the LLC Loophole for all elected officials. It is our responsibility to even the playing field so that rich and poor New Yorkers alike have their voices heard in our political process.
- Subject Local Elected Officials to Financial Disclosure Requirements: The Governor proposes that any local elected official who earns more than $50,000 per year in a government salary, as well as all county executives, county managers, and all chairs of county board of supervisors file the same financial disclosure statements that state employees file with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or a similar form to be approved by the state. This means that municipal employees would provide the same information in their financial disclosure statements as state employees, including his or her spouse's or partner's income. Sunlight, in this instance, goes a long way towards assuring the public that those entrusted with government service are fulfilling their duty to the public.
- Institute Public Financing and Enact Additional Campaign Finance Reforms: Every day, ordinary New Yorkers struggle to make their voices heard in our political system. No matter the issue, candidates are incentivized to focus on large donations over small ones. The only way to truly fix this problem is to institute a public financing system for political campaigns that matches funds from small donations. Governor Cuomo proposes to do just that by instituting a voluntary public financing system that matches small donations with public funds. New York law also continues to allow unlimited contributions to party "housekeeping" accounts by individuals and corporations. These accounts are designed to support non-campaign party activities, but instead provide another mechanism for big donors to impact political campaigns. New York also still allows a campaign's intermediary, known as a "bundler", to pass large groupings of individual contributions to a single campaign without disclosing the bundler's identify. The Governor proposes to address both issues by placing a $25,000 contribution limit on housekeeping accounts and requiring all "bundlers" to disclose their identities.
- Promote Increased Transparency through Comprehensive Reforms to FOIL: The New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) governs the public's right to access government records and provides transparency for citizens into the workings of state government. The Governor proposes a comprehensive reform of FOIL to improve transparency and promote openness in state government, including requiring proactive disclosure of certain records. But transparency cannot just be limited to the Executive—everyone must be held to the same standard. The Governor therefore proposes that FOIL apply equally to the Legislature. Additionally, the Governor proposes that both FOIL and the state's Open Meetings Law apply to both JCOPE as well as the Legislative Ethics Commission to further ensure transparency, accountability, and increase public confidence in all aspects of state government.
- Expand the Authority of the State Inspector General: The Governor proposes increasing the Inspector General's jurisdiction to include oversight of nonprofit organizations and foundations that are created for the benefit of, or controlled by SUNY or CUNY. The Inspector General would be authorized to investigate complaints of corruption, fraud, criminal activity, conflicts of interest or abuse within each university and its affiliates, and to refer potential criminal findings within these entities for prosecution. The Governor also proposes broadening the Inspector General's authority to include all state-related procurement and the implementation and enforcement of financial control policies at SUNY and CUNY. This would allow the Inspector General to oversee the policies of any affiliated nonprofit organization and foundation of each respective university.
- Enact Procurement Reforms: Despite existing legal safeguards, conflicts of interest and unlawful conduct may jeopardize the impartiality and objectivity of the current procurement process. This risk is further heightened by the significant amount of dollars spent by state and local public agencies, which exceeds tens of billions of dollars annually. The Governor therefore proposes creating a Chief Procurement Officer to oversee the integrity and uniformity of procurement practices across the state and ensure state procurement staff are prepared and positioned to conduct effective and ethical procurements. To achieve these ends, the Chief Procurement Officer will spearhead a comprehensive review of current procurement practices across all state entities and relevant affiliates with the intent of establishing best practices and implementing uniform policies and procedures. Additionally, the Governor proposes new measures which would prohibit individuals, organizations or business entities that submit bids, quotes, or responses to state contract offers from making campaign contributions to any officeholder in the branch of government awarding the contract while the decision is pending, and for six months following the contract award. Finally, under current practice, the Office of the State Comptroller, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Office of General Services either undertake reviews and audits or process payments of contract vendors and/or grantees that have multiple projects with the State. However, they lack a single system to track payments and audits of these entities and fail to coordinate their efforts on a routine basis. This should change. The Governor proposes legislation that will direct these entities, along with the Chief Procurement Officer and the Office of Information Technology, to collaborate on a study and make recommendations regarding initiatives to better enable the public to track state contracts and audits.
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