Phase 2 of Cuomo’s anti-corruption plan focuses on election laws

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday outlined the second part of his anti-corruption plan, focusing on changing the state’s election laws and giving regulators more strength.

At a news conference Tuesday, Cuomo proposed creating an “Independent Enforcement Unit” within the state’s oft-criticized Board of Elections as part of a series of changes to New York’s election laws.

The unit, which would be controlled by a Cuomo appointee, would have the authority to investigate and prosecute any violations of New York’s election laws, along with subpoena powers.

Cuomo said he believes an “independent” entity is needed in order to properly enforce the state’s election laws. The Board of Elections, which currently has no investigators, is made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, which critics say has led to gridlock.

“Let them do the cases and we’ll keep it out of politics,” Cuomo said. “That is a necessity. I think it’s imperative that we get this done in this (legislative) session.”

The plan outlined Tuesday comes after a pair of bribery scandals that shook the state Capitol earlier this month, where Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, and Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, D-Bronx, were charged in separate schemes. Both have said they will be exonerated.

Cuomo also proposed tougher bribery laws last week.

Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference separately laid out anti-corruption proposals this week, as well.

Cuomo’s plan Tuesday did not include giving more power to the state attorney general to investigate campaign violations, which current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has advocated for.

As attorney general and a candidate for governor in 2010, Cuomo had advocated giving the attorney general the ability to investigate elections issues. On Tuesday, he said an independent unit was a better option.

“I think the optimum solution is to have an independent enforcement mechanism in the Board of Elections,” Cuomo said. “That is the best way to do this.”

Schneiderman spokesman Damien LaVera said the state must take a “comprehensive approach to fighting public corruption.”

LaVera said the attorney general’s office is reviewing the various proposals, “including those advancing public financing of campaigns and stronger enforcement of public officers and election laws.”

Cuomo’s plan also calls for an expedited process for changing an individual’s political affiliation and for the repeal of the state’s Wilson Pakula law, which requires approval from political leaders in order for a candidate to run on another party’s ballot line.

The decades-old law has been at the center of bribery charges lodged earlier this month against Smith, a Queens Democrat who prosecutors have accused of trying to bribe his way onto the Republican line in the New York City mayor’s race.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said he does not support an outright repeal of the Wilson Pakula law. Senate IDC Leader Jeff Klein earlier this week proposed repealing the law.

“I don’t think we should preclude people from running on more than one (ballot) line,” said Silver, who said there “has to be a mechanism” to allow parties to endorse non-members.

Cuomo’s proposal would allow candidates to run on another party’s ballot line if they collect a certain amount of signatures from registered members of the party.

(Mike Groll / AP Photo)

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