The state Assembly has once again voted to tighten restrictions on the amount of money politicians can collect as they run for office, a decision with statewide and local implications.
The shorthand version of the Assembly action was a vote to “close the LLC loophole,” something that sounds either boring or confusing if you put it that way.
But it is neither.
An LLC is a limited liability company, a specific way to create a business. Whereas state campaign finance laws prohibit companies from donating more than $5,000 a year to a candidate, an LLC is treated as in individual. Someone who owns a company can give $5,000 in the company’s name and no more. That same company owner can donate as an individual, then create multiple LLCs, donate up to the limit of an individual which varies by office.
There are specific legal, accounting and liability reasons for the existence of limited liability companies. But evading restrictions on campaign finance donations is not one of them and there is a simple fix for that problem, one that the Assembly has now taken by saying that for the purpose of these donations, LLCs will be treated the same way as other businesses.
Now, it is up to the state Senate to decide if it will agree or if, as it has in the past, it will ignore this and allow the generous loophole to persist.
While this is a moral and ethical challenge as always, it also is an interesting political challenge this year.
All local members of the Assembly — Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal — voted to close the LLC loophole. Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, who will retire as the end of this session, now has a chance to end his long career on a high note by joining this bipartisan coalition and moving the Senate in the right direction on this.
And this creates an opportunity for Orange County legislators as well.
Earlier this year County Executive Steve Neuhaus and his legal think tank tried to expand his opportunities to raise campaign funds by weakening the county limits on campaign contributions. Such a blatant abuse of power was too much for legislators, especially some newer ones, so the idea was quietly abandoned.
But part of the discussion concerned LLCs and the argument by the Neuhaus team defending the loophole.
That means state senators and county legislators have the same opportunity. They can close this loophole by defining limited liability companies as corporations subject to the same restrictions of companies created in other ways.
If a bipartisan coalition can come together on this in the Assembly, a body where Republicans and Democrats rarely agree on any substantive matters, then surely Republicans in the state Senate and all legislators in Orange County can do the same.
It helps to think of this not as closing a loophole, which has its own virtue, but from the other direction.
Senators and county legislators need to answer this question:
Do they think that people should be able to give a politician as much as they want with no restrictions and no obligation to disclose their identity?