Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1172 Mon, 23 Oct 2017 16:57:51 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Filing, Tracking City & State Campaign Finance Data Will Become Easier http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6001:filing-tracking-city-a-state-campaign-finance-data-will-become-easier http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6001:filing-tracking-city-a-state-campaign-finance-data-will-become-easier BOE-CFB

NYS BOE, left, NYC CFB, right


Officials from the New York State Board of Elections and the New York City Campaign Finance Board outlined plans for overhauling their respective financial disclosure tools on Friday.

Though both groups said they wanted to make it easier for campaign staff to file reports and for the public to access filings, a divide was clear between the state BOE and the city CFB in terms of current capabilities and goals. Some of BOE's planned features, such as error-checking and bulk data export, for example, are already present on CFB's platform.

Thomas Connolly, BOE's deputy director of public communications, said the board plans to roll out new finance and tracking systems by early 2017, replacing the current 1990s-era software. "Our goal is to create a state-of-the-art candidate tracking and campaign finance system that is open and transparent," he said to the audience of around 50 at Civic Hall in Gramercy. The event was co-hosted by good government group Reinvent Albany, which often scrutinizes campaign finance data and calls for significant reforms.

Currently, the state BOE operates separate and unintegrated candidate tracking and campaign finance systems—"both old enough to vote," Connolly quipped—that require a lot of manual input. BOE's new systems would integrate the two sides on the web, instead of the current desktop software. Campaign staff will file disclosures on a website—instead of using desktop software—which would also warn users if they enter incomplete or invalid information. The public-facing website will also feature more advanced search and data-export functions than currently available.

Some are disappointed that the BOE will not have its new systems up and running for the 2016 election cycle, during which all of the state legislature is on the ballot again.

In response to multiple questions from audience members about whether or not campaign contributors will be assigned unique IDs in the system - which would allow users to see where else a donor has given, Connolly said that he doesn't foresee that being implemented. He pointed to the difficulties posed by misspelled names, different people with similar names, and inconsistent abbreviations. The new filing system will, however, feature autofill to help minimize those errors.

"Our goal is that we'd rather get you flawed data than no data," Connolly said.

Though the city CFB's filing system, C-SMART, was also created in the 1990s, it has since been updated to run on the web and includes many of the features that the state BOE is eyeing. As campaign staff enter contributor data, they receive prompts and warnings if entries are invalid, incomplete, or ineligible for CFB's public matching funds program. Addresses within New York City are checked against Department of City Planning records.

(The state is at the very beginning stages of toying with a similar public matching funds program, but even a pilot has struggled to get off the ground.)

CFB spokesperson Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs, said Friday that the board constantly improves its systems because it's required to do so after every election cycle. Some of CFB's upcoming developments Friedman mentioned will address a city law passed last year that requires independent committees to disclose donor information, showing which committees supported which candidates. 2013 was the first city election cycle in the post-Citizens United world, in which independent expenditures were a significant force in city campaigns. The CFB is making its updates leading up to the city's 2017 cycle, while also adapting to new legal requirements.

Other CFB developments are primarily aimed at simplifying and improving the reporting process for campaign staff. One tool, for example, would allow campaigns to directly transfer contributor data from online donations into C-SMART. "A lot of compliance logic is built into it," Friedman said. "So campaigns have a lot of data to ensure their data is compliant."

Still, officials from both boards said that some features requested by good-government groups, like unique contributor IDs and contributors' professional affiliations, will have to be first answered with legislation. And they added that while individual campaigns can and do correct contributor data, there is little that can be done on the software side to resolve issues like false or misspelled names and addresses.

"The requirements of what the contributor is required to disclose is a matter of statues," Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the state BOE, said in response to a question about obtaining more data on contributors, including voter registration status. "I don't think either the Campaign Finance Board or the State Board of Elections has authority to go beyond those disclosure requirements in their regulations."

"It's always going to be up to the candidate or the treasurer to update or modify their data," said Daniel Cho, director of candidate services at CFB.

[Read more about the state BOE, city CFB & their roles here]

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by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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Filing, Tracking City & State Campaign Finance Data Will Become Easier Fri, 20 Nov 2015 22:06:14 +0000
City Board of Elections Expected to Again See Budget Bump http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5711:city-board-of-elections-expected-to-again-see-budget-bump http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5711:city-board-of-elections-expected-to-again-see-budget-bump BOE Michael Ryan

BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan (photo: @BOENYC)


On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to unveil his Fiscal Year 2016 Executive Budget, which is likely to be nearly identical to the final budget passed by the mayor and the City Council before the June 30 deadline. Much of the new version of the mayor's spending plan will be similar to his $77 billion preliminary budget, which he presented in February and was vetted throughout March by the Council. But, the de Blasio administration has already acknowledged several areas where funding levels will show a difference on Thursday, with increases planned to support manufacturing, mental health services, the MTA, struggling schools, and more.

One under-the-radar aspect of the budget that is set to see a significant change from preliminary to executive is funding for the city's Board of Elections, which administers New Yorkers' opportunities to vote.

The preliminary budget includes approximately $84.4 million for the Board of Elections (BOE), a drop from the $113.9 million that the BOE is spending in fiscal year 2015, which wraps up at the end of June. It's a differential of about $29.6 million, a 26 percent decrease.

This disparity, however, is unlikely to stick. According to the Independent Budget Office (IBO), this year's preliminary budget allocation for the Board of Elections follows a pattern of the last several years. In fact, fiscal 2016 includes a larger preliminary provision for the BOE than preliminary budgets of previous years. Doug Turetsky, IBO Chief of Staff and communications director, told Gotham Gazette that this is not something that should raise eyebrows just yet; the trend is that the actual budget will make up the $30-40 million gap from the preliminary plan. If funding stays the same, there might be reason for concern that BOE is being underfunded. But it is also important to keep in mind that each year brings different elections, whether they be on the city, state, or federal level.

It may appear a curious annual underfunding in the preliminary, just to be increased in the executive or the adopted budget, but Turetsky said that there is often talk of moving federal primary elections from June to September to coincide with state and city primaries, which would foster efficiency and decrease budgetary need. If the figure in the preliminary was closer to what will likely be in the actual budget, Turetsky explained that it may act as a "disincentive" for the state to move state and federal primary elections to the same date. By holding off on the additional funding, it puts pressure on the state to decide and, ideally, move toward a single voting date.

Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the City Council Governmental Operations Committee, spoke similarly, but did express concern about the general issue of underfunding BOE operations. Kallos told Gotham Gazette that while the BOE tends to overestimate its financial need, if it is not appropriately funded "it is the elections and democratic process that suffers." While Kallos is looking for stronger numbers in the executive budget, he also said that "if we over-budget then that means that another agency loses."

Getting to the final adopted number is part of the process of having preliminary budget hearings in March and executive budget hearings in May and June. Kallos' committee heard from BOE representatives in March and will hear from them again as the mayor and the Council head toward an agreement.

BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan is not worried about the dramatic trend that some might say resembles the "budget dance" affecting his agency's operations in the coming year. Ryan told Gotham Gazette that the BOE still needs an estimated $12 million; approximately $2.2 million to update the expiring warranty for electronic voting and the other $10 million to meet federal mandates for ADA accessibility. Ryan expressed confidence that his agency will be appropriately funded.

The "lean and mean preliminary" as he called it, is just part of the process. The real focus is on the executive budget, he said, with little concern over the difference between the two proposals. He also put his agency into larger budgetary context. "The executive budget should be a balancing between what the mayor's office ultimately believes an agency needs to function and what the city expects to receive in tax revenue, because the city must operate on a balanced budget," said Ryan.

Ryan told Gotham Gazette that the trend has continued because it works for budget planning purposes. By underestimating in the preliminary budget, the mayor's office establishes a baseline (or placeholder as it has been called) that can be edited henceforth, after the hearings, negotiations, and decisions that follow - including decisions made on the state or federal level. "It's a check and balance, to make sure that not just the Board of Elections, but that all the agencies that are asking for funds that they actually need," Ryan said.

Ryan also said that another reason the city keeps careful tabs on the allocation of funds is a result of the budget crisis of 1975, when the city went bankrupt, spending into debt of an estimated $14 billion. Shortly after the crisis, a law passed requiring balanced budgets, removing leeway for the city to operate on deficit spending.

"I'm not anticipating any issues, quite frankly," said Ryan. "I think it's all gonna work out fine and we've been working very closely with the mayor's office to make sure that our needs are met and that we're able to fulfill our statutory and constitutional mandate to provide elections for the voters of the City of New York."

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by Shannon Ho, Gotham Gazette
@ShanMHo @GothamGazette

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City Board of Elections Expected to Again See Budget Bump Wed, 06 May 2015 18:49:51 +0000
Quiet Before the Storm in New Phase of Mayoral Control Debate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5702:quiet-early-in-new-phase-of-mayoral-control-debate-de-blasio-bloomberg http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5702:quiet-early-in-new-phase-of-mayoral-control-debate-de-blasio-bloomberg BdB Albany

Mayor de Blasio sits to testify in Albany (photo: Skip Dickstein via Twitter)


At the end of June this year the law that grants New York's mayor control over city schools will expire. The expiration was designed so that all interested parties can take part in a discussion of what works and what doesn't, and adjust the law as needed. Parents, teachers, advocates, and legislators all have ideas about how to make the system better. But this year there is major concern that there might not be room for a nuanced discussion.

Some education advocates have been locked in a battle with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over his education reform plans, especially around teacher evaluations. They say that in a typical year there might be major campaigns on mayoral control but instead the bandwidth on education issues has been largely monopolized. Renewal of mayoral control will likely come at the end of session, which is scheduled for mid-June, as part of a larger deal and it's unclear how much public debate will take place.

On top of that, the Legislature is still reeling from the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and now in limbo given the federal investigation into Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Senate Republicans are scrapping to keep control of their slim majority in the face of investigations and illness and they have expressed a great hesitance to renew mayoral control under Bill de Blasio, New York's progressive mayor who worked to push the chamber into Democratic control in the recent election cycle. Republicans are now playing defense to some extent and according to sources may be looking to simply wait out the session. Making de Blasio sweat and wait is an enjoyable byproduct for some.

"Should there be safeguards, should there be caveats on mayoral control, and then how long?" Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked, framing the key questions at hand as he addressed attendees at an Association for a Better New York breakfast last Friday. "The mayor asked for permanent mayoral control," he said of de Blasio, "The Assembly's position is 6 or 7 years, mine is 3 years, the senate is basically zero. This has to be basically rationalized. There is a big gap between zero and permanent."

As much as the renewal of mayoral control looks like a battle between city-based Democrats who back de Blasio and Long Island and rural Republicans who oppose him, it is city legislators whose constituents live within the system and who want to have a nuanced discussion about reforming it. But this year those Democrats have mostly been quiet. "They may not want to say much because they just want to get it done and make the mayor happy," said one advocate who requested anonymity of those city Democrats.

When de Blasio came to Albany in February to testify before the Legislature he sold mayoral control as essential to city schools' chance at success, despite the fact he had once voraciously opposed Mayor Bloomberg's use of the same system. "Before mayoral control, the city's school system was balkanized," de Blasio said. "School boards exerted great authority with little accountability and we saw far too many instances of mismanagement, waste, and corruption."

One Democratic legislator noted that if Bloomberg had been the one delivering that statement he would have been met by derision and vitriol but Democratic legislators bit their tongues. Many, especially in the city's poorest neighborhoods, see the city school system as in need of major improvement. De Blasio says the same, but professes faith in his vision to get there and argues that with mayoral control it's clear that he is accountable for the school system's performance.

A number of Democrats in both houses have three major reforms they'd like to see accompany an extension of mayoral control.

The first is greater accountability in the awarding of contracts by the Department of Education. Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said she believes the city comptroller should be able to review those contracts. Sen. Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference from Staten Island, echoed that concern, saying that under previous mayors there had been wasteful and no-bid contracts. Krueger brought up City Time, the city's 911 revamp, and other projects where contractors botched projects and cost the city millions. "There has to be more accountability," said Krueger.

Concerns were recently raised when the Department of Education wanted to award a contract to expand internet access in city schools to a company that was tied to a kickback scandal.

"I've said repeatedly that mayoral control should be renewed but amended," Savino told Gotham Gazette. Savino said she wants to see changes to the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) that votes on policy changes. Currently, the mayor appoints 8 of the 13 PEP members. "It is functionally a staff meeting for the mayor with no diversity of opinion," said Savino. "We need to look at adding borough presidents, board members, something. I don't know what the exact answer is, but we need to look at it."

Parental involvement has been a hot topic surrounding mayoral control since it was established in 2002. A number of legislators are concerned that the city's Citywide and Community Education Councils (CECs) do not allow for enough parental participation in policy decisions. "They don't seem to be producing the parental activity they were intended to. I'm not sure why it's not happening, but we need to look into it and see if it is something in the law that needs changing."

Senate Republicans and Gov. Cuomo will likely tie renewal of mayoral control to raising the cap on charter schools. Cuomo has insisted that the charter sector would basically be "out of business" once it hits the cap in the city, which it is nearing. In outlining his 2015 agenda, Cuomo argued for raising the cap by 100 schools and eliminating any location-based ceiling within it, as New York City now has.

Republican's have also indicated they may hold a series of hearings to examine mayoral control but nothing has been formally scheduled.

Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans, told the New York Post that the charter cap is directly tied to mayoral control. "Part of the discussion is that there should be no cap on children getting a better education. There should be no cap on children," said Felder. John Flanagan, the Senate's Education Committee chair who earlier this year indicated that mayoral control needs serious reconsideration, did not return calls for comment.

Public Advocate Letitia James held a series of "Our School, Our Voices" public forums on mayoral control across the five boroughs earlier this year. The focus of the events largely became increasing community say in the policy decisions. James' office is expected to release a report with recommendations on mayoral control sometime in May.

"Mayoral control must be amended to expand parental and community involvement," James said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Earlier this year, my office held a number of community forums throughout New York City to discuss the future of public schools and it became clear that New Yorkers will no longer allow their voices to be drowned out of our schools system."

Despite the myriad of opinions on control the stakeholders don't appear to be rushing toward a resolution or even a basic discussion.

When asked if serious conversations about renewal had begun yet, Savino replied: "No. There is always plenty of time in Albany."

The Last Time
In 2009 mayoral control expired as Democrats and Republicans battled for control of the state Senate. The policy lapsed from the end of June until August 6. Though Mayor Michael Bloomberg had warned of great chaos if the law was not renewed, his allies on the Board of Education kept his policies in place and the law was eventually renewed, with tweaks like giving the Independent Budget Office more oversight over spending.

This year may not feature the same chaos as around the time of the '09 Senate coup, but with scandal in both houses and the precarious position of the Senate Republicans, things are similar.

Republicans are loathe to move on major issues as they are preoccupied with maintaining their majority. They have little incentive to deliver on mayoral control or renewal of rent regulations as only two of their members hail from the city and they appear to be holding onto a grudge against de Blasio. In 2009 Senate Republicans were the cinch votes for renewal of mayoral control of schools as Bloomberg had pumped millions into their campaign coffers.

When Senate Democrats finally won control of the chamber, then Democratic Leader John Sampson pushed for greater checks and balances on the mayor's power. At the time the Assembly had passed a bill that only slightly changed mayoral control - Sampson wanted to limit the mayor's ability to fire members of the Panel for Educational Policy and increase parental participation. It was the Senate Republicans who supported the Assembly's bill that offered fewer reductions to the mayor's influence.

Another major change from 2009 - at least thus far - is the absence of campaigns and grassroots movements to influence the policy. Parents' groups like Class Size Matters marched and rallied for more involvement; Bloomberg's allies created Mayoral Accountability for School Success and lobbied Albany heavily. This year those groups are missing in action. Union-allied education groups are tied up battling Cuomo, fighting on teacher evaluations, testing, and Common Core. Some advocates say they are considering action to influence the mayoral control conversation, but so far nothing has materialized.

Some legislators say that de Blasio may have learned from Bloomberg's and his own mistakes. Being critical of the Legislature backfired for both of them. In July 2009, frustrated with the impasse in Albany, Bloomberg took to the radio to criticize the legislative process. "If you remember Neville Chamberlain, no matter how many times you said yes, that's the starting point for the next round," Bloomberg said referring to the former British leader's negotiating trivails. "There's always more, more, more. I think that just the time for that is over."

Legislators cried bloody murder and accused Bloomberg of comparing them to Hitler. Negotiations stalled. De Blasio has already felt the sting of insulting opponents in the Legislature. Some legislators assume he is simply waiting quietly hoping not to ruffle any more feathers so that mayoral control is renewed in a simple trade for lifting the charter cap, which appears an inevitability in itself.

With only 22 days left of legislative session, the time for debate appears to be severely limited. In 2009 the New York Times quoted former Republican Senator Frank Padavan giving his assessment of the debate and the future of mayoral control: "There is no doubt in my mind that those of us who are here will be having a similar discussion then," Padavan said looking toward 2015. "We will look at the last six years and ask: Did our changes help?"

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Quiet Before the Storm in New Phase of Mayoral Control Debate Tue, 28 Apr 2015 20:52:33 +0000