NY Senate panel advances bill to close campaign finance loophole; sponsor still uncertain

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ALBANY, New York — The New York Senate Elections Committee advanced legislation Monday to close the campaign finance loophole for limited liability companies, but the bill's Democratic sponsor said it's still unclear whether the chamber's Republican majority is trying to quietly shelve it.

Sen. Daniel Squadron's bill would treat LLCs like corporations subject to annual political contribution limits, which his bill would lower from $5,000 to $1,000.

Currently LLCs are treated like individuals, who can give up to $60,800 to a statewide candidate. Reform advocates, who watched the committee vote, brought 5,000 signatures supporting the change. They said some wealthy individuals and business interests create multiple LLCs whose ownership isn't disclosed and gave $13 million to New York candidates last year.

"I believe in transparency," said Sen. Leroy Comrie, a Queens Democrat, noting the loophole has been a conduit for large, non-transparent political contributions. "This bill is a critical piece of what we need to do as far as ethics reform is concerned."

The Senate Elections Committee sent the bill on to the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee after no members objected Monday.

Sen. Michael Nozzolio, a Monroe County Republican, made the motion to report the bill to the next committee without commenting on it.

Squadron had filed a motion to compel the committee's consideration, adding that the next committee is now required by Senate rule to consider it in one of its next two meetings.

"Any attempt to undermine that would be clear that this was a way to quietly kill transparency and avoid accountability for it," Squadron said.

He and other Senate Democrats said earlier they hoped to push the majority Republicans to at least publicly discuss the reform and not continue to oppose it, citing past Republican refusal to even consider it.

Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate Republican Conference, said that they haven't yet discussed the bill as a conference.

Two weeks ago, the state Board of Elections split 2-2 on whether to re-interpret current state law and close the LLC loophole. The split left the loophole intact. The two Democrats supported the change, while the two Republicans opposed it, primarily arguing it was a decision that the state Legislature should make.

Cuomo supports the bill, spokesman Richard Azzopardi said. The governor's office regards Monday's committee action as a positive development.

While LLC contributions accounted for about 12 percent of state political donations last year, Peggy Farber of Citizens Union said their analysis showed individual donations accounted for about 59 percent and political action committees 17 percent.

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