Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/board-of-elections 2017-10-18T09:08:10+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Public Advocate Candidate Outlines Election Reform Agenda 2017-08-24T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-24T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7154:public-advocate-candidate-outlines-election-reform-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/polanco_bronxnet.jpg" alt="polanco bronxnet" width="600" height="452" /></p> <p>JC Polanco on BronxNet</p> <hr /> <p>With candidates vying for votes ahead of New York City’s September primary and November general elections, many in and around campaigns know that the state’s antiquated election laws will, in part, ensure that a small percentage of potential voters will cast ballots among limited choices.</p> <p>One candidate, Juan Carlos Polanco, known as J.C., is currently the presumptive Republican nominee for Public Advocate and has released an extensive package of proposed reforms to New York voting laws.</p> <p>As a former member of the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), Polanco has had personal experience with the system that certifies candidates and runs elections. In a document provided to Gotham Gazette and subsequent phone conversation, Polanco outlined plans he believes will update, improve, and secure elections in New York through a combination of legislative changes, ballot referendums, and even changes to the state constitution.</p> <p>“We have to really take a look at our election system and we have to modernize it,” said Polanco, who is eyeing a likely general election matchup with incumbent Letitia James, a Democrat.</p> <p>Polanco <a href="http://polancofornyc.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/J.C.-Polanco-Elections-Reforms.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is putting forward 10 proposals</a>, some of which – like expanding the BOE’s reporting in the twice-yearly Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), which details performance of city agencies based on delivery of services – would be relatively easy shifts, and others – like instituting nonpartisan elections and starting a statewide voter identification program – would be fundamental reexaminations of voting in New York that would be very difficult to enact.</p> <p>Among the former group, in addition to the MMR initiative, Polanco calls for forwarding of voter death and new address data to the BOE from city and state agencies, a new procedure for a nationwide search of the board’s executive director, and an increased budget for the agency to help it run the expanded programs.</p> <p>The latter group are likely to be much more controversial; chief among them a proposal from Polanco for a statewide “free and fair voter identification program,” which the candidate framed as a compromise for including early voting and and no-fault absentee voting.</p> <p>Polanco explained that free identifications would be arranged by the BOE using its central voter registration database and then be distributed through municipalities for free to voters who did not otherwise have a valid ID. He could not provide a cost estimate, and when asked why such a program was necessary when <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/debunking-voter-fraud-myth" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> has shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent, he said there were two schools of thought on voter fraud.</p> <p>“One is the [President Donald Trump] school, that 3 million people voted illegally in the election. Absolutely not. That’s an extreme view. Then we have the other extreme that no voter fraud happens. And that’s ridiculous,” Polanco said. He insisted that voters who turned up without IDs would not be disenfranchised, as they could fill out affidavit ballots – currently used by voters who arrive at polls to find they’re not on the rolls –&nbsp;that would be counted later if valid.</p> <p>Another proposed change for voters would be the early voting provisions, which would have to be approved in the unsympathetic Republican-controlled state Senate. The plan would allow New York City residents to vote one week before the election, and to vote absentee without having to prove inability to vote in person, which is currently required for absentee ballots.</p> <p>Polanco wants to change not only how New Yorkers vote but who they can vote for, by providing free legal counsel to candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program who raise less than $10,000, and easing restrictions on ballot access for candidates.</p> <p>“Candidates are getting kicked off the ballot after spending all summer campaigning and collecting petitions, and they’re getting kicked off for the most ridiculous reasons,” said Polanco, citing issues like having a slightly incorrect petition number listed on a cover sheet. Indeed, various candidates have been kept off or taken off the ballot for multiple city races this cycle, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7112-removal-of-last-republican-primary-opponent-could-cost-malliotakis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including</a> one of two final candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination.</p> <p>Unlike other populous cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, New York has a partisan election system where only voters registered to a particular party may vote in that party’s closed primary; that arrangement generally means that viable candidates tend to be selected only by the city’s registered partisans with one of the two major parties. Polanco wants to shift to a nonpartisan system, where rounds of voting, as opposed to primaries, would whittle down the candidate field.</p> <p>“If you look at our city, it’s become much more of a nonpartisan city,” he said, adding that independent, or party unaffiliated, voters “are not participating.” While unaffiliated voter enrollment has indeed <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/enrollmentcounty.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grown</a> in the city over the past five years, nonpartisan voters still represent a minority (17.6%) of all registered voters. As Polanco looks ahead to the general election, he knows that there are many more unaffiliated registered voters in the city than those registered with the Republican Party (about 10.4% of all registered voters). It is those types of “independents” who helped Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg win their mayoral terms.</p> <p>Finally, Polanco wants to address the undemocratic <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7126-special-elections-deserve-democratic-deliberation-not-backroom-deals" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trend</a> of elected officials stepping down from campaigns after ballot petitions have already been filed, allowing partisan county committees to pick their candidates and denying voters the opportunity to vote in an open primary. “They take it out of the hands of the voters and into the backrooms,” said Polanco of the practice. He said he would like to see, if not his ultimate goal of a nonpartisan election, then at least a mandated primary for special elections.</p> <p>Polanco suggests that gerrymandering – the practice of drawing districts to maximize or minimize a particular class of voters – is partly responsible for ensuring that Democratic candidates routinely win special elections, though in general city districts are not considered to be gerrymandered.</p> <p>Polanco acknowledged that in order to enact such an agenda, the Public Advocate – a largely ceremonial citywide elected position with little direct authority – needs to heavily rely on the bully pulpit and organizing, as opposed to hard power. Easier said than done. Polanco would be <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6916-on-the-bus-to-albany-for-better-new-york-voting-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">far</a> from the first person to go to Albany seeking voting reforms. With the Senate controlled by his GOP party-mates through a power-sharing agreement with breakaway Democrats, there has been virtually no appetite for election reform.</p> <p>He could have some ways around that, he said, such as getting proposals into a referendum to be voted on directly by voters. If the upcoming November <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/nyregion/constitutional-convention-voting-new-york.html?mcubz=3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vote</a> on whether the state will hold a constitutional convention is approved, Polanco said he would support trying to enshrine some voting reform measures into the updated constitution.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/polanco_bronxnet.jpg" alt="polanco bronxnet" width="600" height="452" /></p> <p>JC Polanco on BronxNet</p> <hr /> <p>With candidates vying for votes ahead of New York City’s September primary and November general elections, many in and around campaigns know that the state’s antiquated election laws will, in part, ensure that a small percentage of potential voters will cast ballots among limited choices.</p> <p>One candidate, Juan Carlos Polanco, known as J.C., is currently the presumptive Republican nominee for Public Advocate and has released an extensive package of proposed reforms to New York voting laws.</p> <p>As a former member of the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), Polanco has had personal experience with the system that certifies candidates and runs elections. In a document provided to Gotham Gazette and subsequent phone conversation, Polanco outlined plans he believes will update, improve, and secure elections in New York through a combination of legislative changes, ballot referendums, and even changes to the state constitution.</p> <p>“We have to really take a look at our election system and we have to modernize it,” said Polanco, who is eyeing a likely general election matchup with incumbent Letitia James, a Democrat.</p> <p>Polanco <a href="http://polancofornyc.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/J.C.-Polanco-Elections-Reforms.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is putting forward 10 proposals</a>, some of which – like expanding the BOE’s reporting in the twice-yearly Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), which details performance of city agencies based on delivery of services – would be relatively easy shifts, and others – like instituting nonpartisan elections and starting a statewide voter identification program – would be fundamental reexaminations of voting in New York that would be very difficult to enact.</p> <p>Among the former group, in addition to the MMR initiative, Polanco calls for forwarding of voter death and new address data to the BOE from city and state agencies, a new procedure for a nationwide search of the board’s executive director, and an increased budget for the agency to help it run the expanded programs.</p> <p>The latter group are likely to be much more controversial; chief among them a proposal from Polanco for a statewide “free and fair voter identification program,” which the candidate framed as a compromise for including early voting and and no-fault absentee voting.</p> <p>Polanco explained that free identifications would be arranged by the BOE using its central voter registration database and then be distributed through municipalities for free to voters who did not otherwise have a valid ID. He could not provide a cost estimate, and when asked why such a program was necessary when <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/debunking-voter-fraud-myth" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> has shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent, he said there were two schools of thought on voter fraud.</p> <p>“One is the [President Donald Trump] school, that 3 million people voted illegally in the election. Absolutely not. That’s an extreme view. Then we have the other extreme that no voter fraud happens. And that’s ridiculous,” Polanco said. He insisted that voters who turned up without IDs would not be disenfranchised, as they could fill out affidavit ballots – currently used by voters who arrive at polls to find they’re not on the rolls –&nbsp;that would be counted later if valid.</p> <p>Another proposed change for voters would be the early voting provisions, which would have to be approved in the unsympathetic Republican-controlled state Senate. The plan would allow New York City residents to vote one week before the election, and to vote absentee without having to prove inability to vote in person, which is currently required for absentee ballots.</p> <p>Polanco wants to change not only how New Yorkers vote but who they can vote for, by providing free legal counsel to candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program who raise less than $10,000, and easing restrictions on ballot access for candidates.</p> <p>“Candidates are getting kicked off the ballot after spending all summer campaigning and collecting petitions, and they’re getting kicked off for the most ridiculous reasons,” said Polanco, citing issues like having a slightly incorrect petition number listed on a cover sheet. Indeed, various candidates have been kept off or taken off the ballot for multiple city races this cycle, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7112-removal-of-last-republican-primary-opponent-could-cost-malliotakis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including</a> one of two final candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination.</p> <p>Unlike other populous cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, New York has a partisan election system where only voters registered to a particular party may vote in that party’s closed primary; that arrangement generally means that viable candidates tend to be selected only by the city’s registered partisans with one of the two major parties. Polanco wants to shift to a nonpartisan system, where rounds of voting, as opposed to primaries, would whittle down the candidate field.</p> <p>“If you look at our city, it’s become much more of a nonpartisan city,” he said, adding that independent, or party unaffiliated, voters “are not participating.” While unaffiliated voter enrollment has indeed <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/enrollmentcounty.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grown</a> in the city over the past five years, nonpartisan voters still represent a minority (17.6%) of all registered voters. As Polanco looks ahead to the general election, he knows that there are many more unaffiliated registered voters in the city than those registered with the Republican Party (about 10.4% of all registered voters). It is those types of “independents” who helped Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg win their mayoral terms.</p> <p>Finally, Polanco wants to address the undemocratic <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7126-special-elections-deserve-democratic-deliberation-not-backroom-deals" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trend</a> of elected officials stepping down from campaigns after ballot petitions have already been filed, allowing partisan county committees to pick their candidates and denying voters the opportunity to vote in an open primary. “They take it out of the hands of the voters and into the backrooms,” said Polanco of the practice. He said he would like to see, if not his ultimate goal of a nonpartisan election, then at least a mandated primary for special elections.</p> <p>Polanco suggests that gerrymandering – the practice of drawing districts to maximize or minimize a particular class of voters – is partly responsible for ensuring that Democratic candidates routinely win special elections, though in general city districts are not considered to be gerrymandered.</p> <p>Polanco acknowledged that in order to enact such an agenda, the Public Advocate – a largely ceremonial citywide elected position with little direct authority – needs to heavily rely on the bully pulpit and organizing, as opposed to hard power. Easier said than done. Polanco would be <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6916-on-the-bus-to-albany-for-better-new-york-voting-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">far</a> from the first person to go to Albany seeking voting reforms. With the Senate controlled by his GOP party-mates through a power-sharing agreement with breakaway Democrats, there has been virtually no appetite for election reform.</p> <p>He could have some ways around that, he said, such as getting proposals into a referendum to be voted on directly by voters. If the upcoming November <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/nyregion/constitutional-convention-voting-new-york.html?mcubz=3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vote</a> on whether the state will hold a constitutional convention is approved, Polanco said he would support trying to enshrine some voting reform measures into the updated constitution.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
In Manhattan, District Leader Maps Redrawn Last Minute and Hard to Find 2017-08-07T20:12:09+00:00 2017-08-07T20:12:09+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7111:in-manhattan-district-leader-maps-redrawn-last-minute-and-hard-to-find Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/district_leader_palm_card_kim.png" alt="district leader palm card kim" width="600" height="566" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 500;"></span><span style="font-weight: 500;">Kim Moscaritolo&nbsp;</span>and Adam Roberts, district leaders for Manhattan's Assembly District 76, Part B<span style="font-weight: 500;"><br /></span></p> <hr /> <p>While much of the media and public’s attention is focussed on New York’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7099-20-races-to-watch-in-the-2017-city-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mayoral and City Council races</a>, lesser known elections are also slated to take place this fall.</p> <p>On primary day, September 12, and election day, November 7, Manhattanites will vote on their district leaders. While the position is part-time and unpaid, it comes with a degree of influence and is often a stepping stone to greater political posts. Sometimes elected officials at higher levels are also district leaders, giving them additional power.</p> <p>The county committee, which is made up of two to four representatives from each election district, is too large and unwieldy to be an effective body. Therefore, district leaders are elected biennially to form an executive committee and are enabled to exercise all or most of the powers of the county committee. In addition to acting as a liaison between constituents and paid elected officials, district leaders play a role in nominating civil judicial candidates, making formal party endorsements, and appointing paid poll workers.&nbsp;&nbsp;They also&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7074-democratic-club-calls-on-wright-to-choose-between-party-leadership-lobbying-job">vote for the Democratic Party county chairman</a>.</p> <p>In three boroughs -- Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx -- a pair of district leaders are elected per State Assembly district, one male and one female. But in Queens and Manhattan, Assembly districts may be divided into two, three, or four district leader parts, marked by the letters A, B, C, and D.</p> <p>To get on the ballot, candidates must collect 500 signatures from residents of their Assembly district, or their part of an Assembly district, which in Manhattan can be comprised of between 10 and 50 election districts, BOE subdivisions marked by designated polling places within Assembly districts. Signatures from outside these boundaries can be challenged by an opponent, potentially leading to removal from the ballot.</p> <p>This year, several candidates for district leader positions say that a last minute redrawing of the Manhattan election district map sparked confusion and misinformation just days before the June ballot petitioning period kicked off. Ballot petitioning is the signature-gathering process whereby candidates qualify for the election ballot.</p> <p>When election districts are changed, the party must then adjust the district leader parts. A preliminary draft of the new “party call” -- which lists which election districts belong in which Assembly district parts -- is submitted to current Manhattan district leaders along with a map to see where additional adjustments can or should be made.</p> <p>Typically, district leaders agree on the boundaries amongst themselves and the party sends out a third version of the party call, which according to Manhattan Democratic Party rules, must be approved by district leaders with a two-thirds vote.</p> <p>This year, petitioning for district leader races began June 6, with the forms due between July 10 and July 13. Due to the newly drawn election districts, the district leader parts had yet to be made permanent or public by the final week in May, and candidates say the related confusion cut into their petitioning time and chances for success.</p> <p>"It was very short notice to find out the lines have changed and that greatly impacted people's targets,” said Ny Whitaker, a candidate for the 68th Assembly District, Part D. “I know for sure that I lost some huge blocks where I've built relationships over the last few years."</p> <p>In New York City, getting on the ballot for any elected seat is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/open-government/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a notoriously complex process</a>, riddled with pitfalls that can cause even experienced candidates to stumble, but for county party races like district leader, in some boroughs it can be that much more challenging to obtain basic information and clarity about guidelines.</p> <p>To deduce where their district parts are located, district leader candidates in Manhattan (and Queens) must match up the most recent “party call,” which lists which one- to two-block election districts are located in each part, with the latest election district map, available from the Manhattan (or Queens) Board of Elections.</p> <p>"There are many intricate layers to running for a party position, but there isn't a manual for telling you how to run,” said Whitaker. “Calculating the number of voters that you need for party positions and county positions is like a statistical equation involving algebra, geometry, and geography."</p> <p>For non-incumbents, unless they are very knowledgeable about the process, obtaining this information is even harder. The party call listed on the Manhattan Democratic Party <a href="http://manhattandemocrats.org/about/find-your-assembly-district-part/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> is out-of-date (though this is an improvement from Queens, where the Democratic Party does not have a website to reference).</p> <p>Whitaker, who ran for district leader positions twice before, said the information was changed on such short notice that Votebuilder -- the voter roll database compiled by the Democratic National Committee, made available to Democratic candidates for a hefty subscription fee -- had not been updated with the new data, and until the very last petitioning day, even the Board of Elections could not provide an updated election district map.</p> <p>Whitaker, who wound up obtaining the new party call and latest electoral district map from the Manhattan Board of Elections office one day before the start of petitioning, said she only knew of the maps being redrawn because she attended the New York County Democratic Party’s executive committee meeting on May 17.</p> <p>During that meeting, district leader Johnny Rivera, who represents the 68th District, Part B, raised concerns about the short window he had to review any changes that were made to his part. However, he said, party officials were unwilling to address his concerns citing time constraints.</p> <p>“I am a district leader and I had some difficulty getting that information. It’s fundamental to running in a race, you need to know the boundaries to use your time wisely in collecting signatures in that particular election district,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “Not knowing that can cost you the election.”</p> <p>The last time Assembly districts are redrawn was in 2012, however, the Manhattan Board of Elections is required to regularly alter election districts to accommodate demographic shifts and ensure that poll sites are well utilized. The redistricting often results in a complete renumbering of election districts on the map and with some EDs, as they are called, even dragged from one Assembly district into another.</p> <p>This year, the redistricting triggered a three-step effort to reconstruct the map in a way that is understandable and agreeable to current district leaders, according to Barry Weinberg, executive director for the New York County (Manhattan) Democratic Party, who was involved in the painstaking process.</p> <p>Weinberg said he and the party’s law chair received the new part lines on May 11, stayed up all night to create the preliminary party call and sent it out to district leaders the following day for review.</p> <p>“From the party’s perspective, we worked as fast as we possibly could to turn around the draft of the party call in under 24 hours, given the time constraints,” said Weinberg.</p> <p>There were some disagreements, such as one case, in Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, where one boundary cut through a housing project. But in most cases, the district leaders worked things out on a conference call, according to Weinberg. There were also a few errors with the original election district map that had to be corrected by the Board of Elections.</p> <p>But Rivera, the district leader, said he was not aware of changes made to his part until hours before the May 17 vote, and asked that the vote be postponed, a request that was denied. The party call was due to be submitted to the BOE by May 23.</p> <p>Politics of course plays a role in how the boundaries are determined, and those who are not allies of County Democratic Party boss Keith Wright say they can be subtly shut out of the process.</p> <p>“The final changes, I didn’t have a say in it. I think it all depends on your relationship with the chairman. If you are in, you probably get the lines you wanted. If you are not in, you get whatever he decides, and you get it two or three hours before the meeting,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette, referring to Wright..</p> <p>For district leaders, petitioning was particularly stressful this year for other reasons. Most political candidates throughout the city obtain their petition printouts from a single print shop, <a href="https://www.politicalresources.com/2013-02-19-22-18-56/directory/campaign-media-services/media-production/nyprints-llc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">owned by Alan Handell</a>, who is entrusted to make sure the forms meet the BOE’s byzantine requirements. When it is an “on year” -- when City Council, mayoral, and other elections are taking place -- this creates a printing backlog delaying the petitioning process, according to at least one district leader who spoke with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“Because of the backlog, I wasn’t able to get my petitions until June 9,” three days after petitioning began, said Kelmy Rodriguez, who is challenging District Leader John Ruiz in the 68th Assembly District, Part C.</p> <p>There are few rules dictating how county Democratic parties operate, since they largely are empowered to set their own, and really only answer to the New York State Democratic Party.</p> <p>"The district leaders and the county have the right to have the parts redrawn because the parts are entirely the creature of the party. This year seems like it was done really close to the beginning of petitioning" said Sarah Steiner, a Manhattan election lawyer, who is involved in several district leader races. She added, “I do think the process should be more transparent."</p> <p>The inconsistent divisions in Manhattan formed over a century of New York’s history, a result of regulatory changes, demographic shifts and controversies, according to Doug Kellner, co-chair of the State Board of Elections and former law chair for the Manhattan Democratic Party. &nbsp;The splits often occurred to settle disputes between political clubs or district leaders.</p> <p>“It was something [former Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Herman ‘Denny’ Farrell] did not like to do when he was county leader, because it kept watering down the authority of the district leader,” said Kellner. “When you have eight district leaders in an Assembly district, it’s as if nobody is in charge.”</p> <p>In Manhattan, the practice dates back to the turn of the 20th Century, when it was mainly used as an anti-reform measure, when Tammany Hall -- the political machine that ruled the borough for the first half of the century -- was in power.</p> <p>“It was a method of redistricting and gerrymandering the party organization,” said Kellner. “Until reforms that [former First Lady] Eleanor Roosevelt pushed in the early 1950s, it was abused to prevent insurgents from gaining footholds within the county organization.”</p> <p>Roosevelt, who became heavily involved in reforming city politics after her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York in 1929, was instrumental in democratizing the vote for district leaders. Previously, only county committee members were able to vote for these representatives. Roosevelt and the League of Women Voters were instrumental in implementing the male and female pair, a structure that ensures the inclusion of more women in the party establishment.</p> <p>Redrawing of the parts, Kellner noted, was historically a way to ensure that people who &nbsp;belonged to a particular political club lived in the appropriate part.</p> <p>“It always came down to, from what I observed, it really was where club people resided, so people wouldn’t always join the club for the territory where they lived and when it came down to do the party call. They might address that by massaging the boundaries between the part,” he said.</p> <p>The regulations have since been loosened to allow club members and district leaders to live in any section of the Assembly district and choose which “part” they run for.</p> <p>Ultimately it is up to the party to find a system that works. The Staten Island Democratic Party previously divided its Assembly districts into parts, calling them “zones,” but at a county committee meeting in May, district leaders voted to adopt the two leader per district structure used by other boroughs.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the Staten Island Democratic Party said it has already saved the county and candidates time and money, streamlined the election process, and made petitioning easier for the upcoming election.</p> <p>In recent years, the Manhattan Democratic Party attracted a lot of young people -- many of whom were energized by the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections -- into the political process, which has sparked a push for more transparency and access across the borough.</p> <p>“There has been an effort to sort of modernize things and make things more available to people and a little more transparent,” said Kim Moscaritolo, district leader for the 76th Assembly District, Part B. “When I was first getting involved, it was nearly impossible to find that information, even finding out who the district leaders were for those parts.”</p> <p>Stephen Redden, member of the Manhattan Young Democrats, which Moscaritolo is active in, is working on creating an interactive, color-coded map to make the district leader information more accessible on the party’s website, according to Weinberg.</p> <p>Previously, candidates would have to get the maps from the BOE and color them in. “If there's a race, you would just draw with a highlighter where the lines are,” said Weinberg. “We’re hoping to bring that into the 21st Century.”</p> <p>The New York City Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/district_leader_palm_card_kim.png" alt="district leader palm card kim" width="600" height="566" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 500;"></span><span style="font-weight: 500;">Kim Moscaritolo&nbsp;</span>and Adam Roberts, district leaders for Manhattan's Assembly District 76, Part B<span style="font-weight: 500;"><br /></span></p> <hr /> <p>While much of the media and public’s attention is focussed on New York’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7099-20-races-to-watch-in-the-2017-city-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mayoral and City Council races</a>, lesser known elections are also slated to take place this fall.</p> <p>On primary day, September 12, and election day, November 7, Manhattanites will vote on their district leaders. While the position is part-time and unpaid, it comes with a degree of influence and is often a stepping stone to greater political posts. Sometimes elected officials at higher levels are also district leaders, giving them additional power.</p> <p>The county committee, which is made up of two to four representatives from each election district, is too large and unwieldy to be an effective body. Therefore, district leaders are elected biennially to form an executive committee and are enabled to exercise all or most of the powers of the county committee. In addition to acting as a liaison between constituents and paid elected officials, district leaders play a role in nominating civil judicial candidates, making formal party endorsements, and appointing paid poll workers.&nbsp;&nbsp;They also&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7074-democratic-club-calls-on-wright-to-choose-between-party-leadership-lobbying-job">vote for the Democratic Party county chairman</a>.</p> <p>In three boroughs -- Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx -- a pair of district leaders are elected per State Assembly district, one male and one female. But in Queens and Manhattan, Assembly districts may be divided into two, three, or four district leader parts, marked by the letters A, B, C, and D.</p> <p>To get on the ballot, candidates must collect 500 signatures from residents of their Assembly district, or their part of an Assembly district, which in Manhattan can be comprised of between 10 and 50 election districts, BOE subdivisions marked by designated polling places within Assembly districts. Signatures from outside these boundaries can be challenged by an opponent, potentially leading to removal from the ballot.</p> <p>This year, several candidates for district leader positions say that a last minute redrawing of the Manhattan election district map sparked confusion and misinformation just days before the June ballot petitioning period kicked off. Ballot petitioning is the signature-gathering process whereby candidates qualify for the election ballot.</p> <p>When election districts are changed, the party must then adjust the district leader parts. A preliminary draft of the new “party call” -- which lists which election districts belong in which Assembly district parts -- is submitted to current Manhattan district leaders along with a map to see where additional adjustments can or should be made.</p> <p>Typically, district leaders agree on the boundaries amongst themselves and the party sends out a third version of the party call, which according to Manhattan Democratic Party rules, must be approved by district leaders with a two-thirds vote.</p> <p>This year, petitioning for district leader races began June 6, with the forms due between July 10 and July 13. Due to the newly drawn election districts, the district leader parts had yet to be made permanent or public by the final week in May, and candidates say the related confusion cut into their petitioning time and chances for success.</p> <p>"It was very short notice to find out the lines have changed and that greatly impacted people's targets,” said Ny Whitaker, a candidate for the 68th Assembly District, Part D. “I know for sure that I lost some huge blocks where I've built relationships over the last few years."</p> <p>In New York City, getting on the ballot for any elected seat is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/open-government/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a notoriously complex process</a>, riddled with pitfalls that can cause even experienced candidates to stumble, but for county party races like district leader, in some boroughs it can be that much more challenging to obtain basic information and clarity about guidelines.</p> <p>To deduce where their district parts are located, district leader candidates in Manhattan (and Queens) must match up the most recent “party call,” which lists which one- to two-block election districts are located in each part, with the latest election district map, available from the Manhattan (or Queens) Board of Elections.</p> <p>"There are many intricate layers to running for a party position, but there isn't a manual for telling you how to run,” said Whitaker. “Calculating the number of voters that you need for party positions and county positions is like a statistical equation involving algebra, geometry, and geography."</p> <p>For non-incumbents, unless they are very knowledgeable about the process, obtaining this information is even harder. The party call listed on the Manhattan Democratic Party <a href="http://manhattandemocrats.org/about/find-your-assembly-district-part/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> is out-of-date (though this is an improvement from Queens, where the Democratic Party does not have a website to reference).</p> <p>Whitaker, who ran for district leader positions twice before, said the information was changed on such short notice that Votebuilder -- the voter roll database compiled by the Democratic National Committee, made available to Democratic candidates for a hefty subscription fee -- had not been updated with the new data, and until the very last petitioning day, even the Board of Elections could not provide an updated election district map.</p> <p>Whitaker, who wound up obtaining the new party call and latest electoral district map from the Manhattan Board of Elections office one day before the start of petitioning, said she only knew of the maps being redrawn because she attended the New York County Democratic Party’s executive committee meeting on May 17.</p> <p>During that meeting, district leader Johnny Rivera, who represents the 68th District, Part B, raised concerns about the short window he had to review any changes that were made to his part. However, he said, party officials were unwilling to address his concerns citing time constraints.</p> <p>“I am a district leader and I had some difficulty getting that information. It’s fundamental to running in a race, you need to know the boundaries to use your time wisely in collecting signatures in that particular election district,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “Not knowing that can cost you the election.”</p> <p>The last time Assembly districts are redrawn was in 2012, however, the Manhattan Board of Elections is required to regularly alter election districts to accommodate demographic shifts and ensure that poll sites are well utilized. The redistricting often results in a complete renumbering of election districts on the map and with some EDs, as they are called, even dragged from one Assembly district into another.</p> <p>This year, the redistricting triggered a three-step effort to reconstruct the map in a way that is understandable and agreeable to current district leaders, according to Barry Weinberg, executive director for the New York County (Manhattan) Democratic Party, who was involved in the painstaking process.</p> <p>Weinberg said he and the party’s law chair received the new part lines on May 11, stayed up all night to create the preliminary party call and sent it out to district leaders the following day for review.</p> <p>“From the party’s perspective, we worked as fast as we possibly could to turn around the draft of the party call in under 24 hours, given the time constraints,” said Weinberg.</p> <p>There were some disagreements, such as one case, in Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, where one boundary cut through a housing project. But in most cases, the district leaders worked things out on a conference call, according to Weinberg. There were also a few errors with the original election district map that had to be corrected by the Board of Elections.</p> <p>But Rivera, the district leader, said he was not aware of changes made to his part until hours before the May 17 vote, and asked that the vote be postponed, a request that was denied. The party call was due to be submitted to the BOE by May 23.</p> <p>Politics of course plays a role in how the boundaries are determined, and those who are not allies of County Democratic Party boss Keith Wright say they can be subtly shut out of the process.</p> <p>“The final changes, I didn’t have a say in it. I think it all depends on your relationship with the chairman. If you are in, you probably get the lines you wanted. If you are not in, you get whatever he decides, and you get it two or three hours before the meeting,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette, referring to Wright..</p> <p>For district leaders, petitioning was particularly stressful this year for other reasons. Most political candidates throughout the city obtain their petition printouts from a single print shop, <a href="https://www.politicalresources.com/2013-02-19-22-18-56/directory/campaign-media-services/media-production/nyprints-llc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">owned by Alan Handell</a>, who is entrusted to make sure the forms meet the BOE’s byzantine requirements. When it is an “on year” -- when City Council, mayoral, and other elections are taking place -- this creates a printing backlog delaying the petitioning process, according to at least one district leader who spoke with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“Because of the backlog, I wasn’t able to get my petitions until June 9,” three days after petitioning began, said Kelmy Rodriguez, who is challenging District Leader John Ruiz in the 68th Assembly District, Part C.</p> <p>There are few rules dictating how county Democratic parties operate, since they largely are empowered to set their own, and really only answer to the New York State Democratic Party.</p> <p>"The district leaders and the county have the right to have the parts redrawn because the parts are entirely the creature of the party. This year seems like it was done really close to the beginning of petitioning" said Sarah Steiner, a Manhattan election lawyer, who is involved in several district leader races. She added, “I do think the process should be more transparent."</p> <p>The inconsistent divisions in Manhattan formed over a century of New York’s history, a result of regulatory changes, demographic shifts and controversies, according to Doug Kellner, co-chair of the State Board of Elections and former law chair for the Manhattan Democratic Party. &nbsp;The splits often occurred to settle disputes between political clubs or district leaders.</p> <p>“It was something [former Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Herman ‘Denny’ Farrell] did not like to do when he was county leader, because it kept watering down the authority of the district leader,” said Kellner. “When you have eight district leaders in an Assembly district, it’s as if nobody is in charge.”</p> <p>In Manhattan, the practice dates back to the turn of the 20th Century, when it was mainly used as an anti-reform measure, when Tammany Hall -- the political machine that ruled the borough for the first half of the century -- was in power.</p> <p>“It was a method of redistricting and gerrymandering the party organization,” said Kellner. “Until reforms that [former First Lady] Eleanor Roosevelt pushed in the early 1950s, it was abused to prevent insurgents from gaining footholds within the county organization.”</p> <p>Roosevelt, who became heavily involved in reforming city politics after her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York in 1929, was instrumental in democratizing the vote for district leaders. Previously, only county committee members were able to vote for these representatives. Roosevelt and the League of Women Voters were instrumental in implementing the male and female pair, a structure that ensures the inclusion of more women in the party establishment.</p> <p>Redrawing of the parts, Kellner noted, was historically a way to ensure that people who &nbsp;belonged to a particular political club lived in the appropriate part.</p> <p>“It always came down to, from what I observed, it really was where club people resided, so people wouldn’t always join the club for the territory where they lived and when it came down to do the party call. They might address that by massaging the boundaries between the part,” he said.</p> <p>The regulations have since been loosened to allow club members and district leaders to live in any section of the Assembly district and choose which “part” they run for.</p> <p>Ultimately it is up to the party to find a system that works. The Staten Island Democratic Party previously divided its Assembly districts into parts, calling them “zones,” but at a county committee meeting in May, district leaders voted to adopt the two leader per district structure used by other boroughs.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the Staten Island Democratic Party said it has already saved the county and candidates time and money, streamlined the election process, and made petitioning easier for the upcoming election.</p> <p>In recent years, the Manhattan Democratic Party attracted a lot of young people -- many of whom were energized by the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections -- into the political process, which has sparked a push for more transparency and access across the borough.</p> <p>“There has been an effort to sort of modernize things and make things more available to people and a little more transparent,” said Kim Moscaritolo, district leader for the 76th Assembly District, Part B. “When I was first getting involved, it was nearly impossible to find that information, even finding out who the district leaders were for those parts.”</p> <p>Stephen Redden, member of the Manhattan Young Democrats, which Moscaritolo is active in, is working on creating an interactive, color-coded map to make the district leader information more accessible on the party’s website, according to Weinberg.</p> <p>Previously, candidates would have to get the maps from the BOE and color them in. “If there's a race, you would just draw with a highlighter where the lines are,” said Weinberg. “We’re hoping to bring that into the 21st Century.”</p> <p>The New York City Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Longshot Mayoral Hopeful Outraises & Outspends Opponents, Technically 2017-07-18T23:48:31+00:00 2017-07-18T23:48:31+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7071:longshot-mayoral-contender-contributes-5-million-to-own-campaign Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/reform_party3.jpg" alt="reform party3" width="600" height="313" /></p> <p>Michael Tolkin (center) at a Reform Party forum (photo: Tolkinformayor.com)</p> <hr /> <p>Michael Tolkin, a 32-year-old tech entrepreneur who is among over a dozen long-shot candidates running to unseat New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, appears to have outspent every other contender in the race, including the mayor, with a $5 million in-kind contribution to his own campaign.</p> <p>An in-kind contribution is one in which goods or services instead of cash are given to a campaign, and in this case the entire contribution is also listed as an expenditure towards “campaign literature and assets,” according to the <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2026&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Tolkin,%20Michael%20I&amp;office=Mayor&amp;report=summ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">latest filings</a> with the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). As such, they require an estimate of the goods’ or services’ worth.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio himself has so far raised over $4.7 million in cash, with only $570 worth of in-kind contributions, and spent over $2.2 million of it. GOP contender Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, has raised just over $340,000, with $5,117 in in-kind contributions, and spent over $69,000.</p> <p>Tolkin, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, explained in a phone interview that the contribution would manifest in the coming weeks through “a bunch of content and programming that will be self evident” and which would leverage existing assets he controls. Tolkin, a New York native and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has launched several startups and also advises companies based in New York, such as virtual-room showcase website Rooms.com, which he founded.</p> <p>He referenced one of the potential projects that would form part of his purported $5 million expenditure, a “human rights council” that he would convene in New York. He declined to provide further details about the spending.</p> <p>Asked how this would relate to his campaign for mayor, Tolkin said that the programs would help promote his candidacy as well as a “better vision for New York.” He also said that he expected some of the programs to be revenue-generating, and that the revenue would be put back into the program to help develop that vision once he is elected mayor. Tolkin’s <a href="http://www.tolkinformayor.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> describes his campaign as “non-ideological and apolitical,” and outlines an agenda centered on applying design and technology concepts to city governance; a campaign video refers to protecting small businesses, investing in emerging industries, and upgrading subway infrastructure, among other items.</p> <p>Tolkin was similarly cryptic about the eye-popping value of his contribution, saying simply that he comes from the “startup world” and that the $5 million is a “ballpark” figure based on startup-type valuation models. Essentially, the contribution estimate appears to be based on the revenue that he expects his upcoming projects to generate.</p> <p>“I’ve never heard of a campaign asset generating revenue,” said Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, though he could not recall any specific prohibition against that. At this point, the figures on file with the agency are self-reported, and have not been audited by the CFB.</p> <p>Sarah Steiner, an attorney specializing in election law, said that she had never heard of anyone making an in-kind contribution of the type Tolkin was making to himself, but that might be the point; she said Tolkin’s supposed campaign initiatives could be a preview of the programs he’d want to promote as mayor.</p> <p>As for the scheme’s legality, Steiner said that as long as the programs were run with “his own money, and he’s not a campaign finance [public matching funds system] participant, and as long as he’s doing this as his campaign, he’s not breaking any campaign finance laws.” In terms of the presumptive revenue from the programs, those would generally be acceptable, depending on what was done with them.</p> <p>“If you thought of it as, ‘We’re going to buy a silk screen machine, we’re going to print t-shirts, we’re going to sell them, and it’s going to create revenue,’ that would be okay,” she said.</p> <p>A potential advantage of Tolkin’s massive contribution is that he may be able to qualify for the CFB’s official debates ahead of the September 12 primary election. Since Tolkin is not participating in the city’s public matching funds program, he would have to raise and spend at least $175,000 to qualify for the debates, a threshold that many of the candidates have struggled to meet. Even an in-kind contribution to himself might count towards this threshold.</p> <p>Steiner had her doubts about that argument, saying that the threshold was “$175,000 in real money.” Debate organizers could decide to count it “but I don’t think the system is intended for that threshold to be met by Silicon Valley valuation techniques for apps, basically,” she said. The Democratic primary debates are scheduled for August 23 and September 6.</p> <p>In any case, Tolkin appears to have more immediate issues: a city Board of Elections document on “campaign enrollment issues” reviewed by Gotham Gazette says that Tolkin is “not enrolled in the identified party on the petition,” the Democratic party. When presented with a copy of the document, Tolkin said in a text message, “That's incorrect and currently being resolved.” Calls to a BOE spokesperson went unanswered.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/reform_party3.jpg" alt="reform party3" width="600" height="313" /></p> <p>Michael Tolkin (center) at a Reform Party forum (photo: Tolkinformayor.com)</p> <hr /> <p>Michael Tolkin, a 32-year-old tech entrepreneur who is among over a dozen long-shot candidates running to unseat New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, appears to have outspent every other contender in the race, including the mayor, with a $5 million in-kind contribution to his own campaign.</p> <p>An in-kind contribution is one in which goods or services instead of cash are given to a campaign, and in this case the entire contribution is also listed as an expenditure towards “campaign literature and assets,” according to the <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2026&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Tolkin,%20Michael%20I&amp;office=Mayor&amp;report=summ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">latest filings</a> with the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). As such, they require an estimate of the goods’ or services’ worth.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio himself has so far raised over $4.7 million in cash, with only $570 worth of in-kind contributions, and spent over $2.2 million of it. GOP contender Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, has raised just over $340,000, with $5,117 in in-kind contributions, and spent over $69,000.</p> <p>Tolkin, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, explained in a phone interview that the contribution would manifest in the coming weeks through “a bunch of content and programming that will be self evident” and which would leverage existing assets he controls. Tolkin, a New York native and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has launched several startups and also advises companies based in New York, such as virtual-room showcase website Rooms.com, which he founded.</p> <p>He referenced one of the potential projects that would form part of his purported $5 million expenditure, a “human rights council” that he would convene in New York. He declined to provide further details about the spending.</p> <p>Asked how this would relate to his campaign for mayor, Tolkin said that the programs would help promote his candidacy as well as a “better vision for New York.” He also said that he expected some of the programs to be revenue-generating, and that the revenue would be put back into the program to help develop that vision once he is elected mayor. Tolkin’s <a href="http://www.tolkinformayor.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> describes his campaign as “non-ideological and apolitical,” and outlines an agenda centered on applying design and technology concepts to city governance; a campaign video refers to protecting small businesses, investing in emerging industries, and upgrading subway infrastructure, among other items.</p> <p>Tolkin was similarly cryptic about the eye-popping value of his contribution, saying simply that he comes from the “startup world” and that the $5 million is a “ballpark” figure based on startup-type valuation models. Essentially, the contribution estimate appears to be based on the revenue that he expects his upcoming projects to generate.</p> <p>“I’ve never heard of a campaign asset generating revenue,” said Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, though he could not recall any specific prohibition against that. At this point, the figures on file with the agency are self-reported, and have not been audited by the CFB.</p> <p>Sarah Steiner, an attorney specializing in election law, said that she had never heard of anyone making an in-kind contribution of the type Tolkin was making to himself, but that might be the point; she said Tolkin’s supposed campaign initiatives could be a preview of the programs he’d want to promote as mayor.</p> <p>As for the scheme’s legality, Steiner said that as long as the programs were run with “his own money, and he’s not a campaign finance [public matching funds system] participant, and as long as he’s doing this as his campaign, he’s not breaking any campaign finance laws.” In terms of the presumptive revenue from the programs, those would generally be acceptable, depending on what was done with them.</p> <p>“If you thought of it as, ‘We’re going to buy a silk screen machine, we’re going to print t-shirts, we’re going to sell them, and it’s going to create revenue,’ that would be okay,” she said.</p> <p>A potential advantage of Tolkin’s massive contribution is that he may be able to qualify for the CFB’s official debates ahead of the September 12 primary election. Since Tolkin is not participating in the city’s public matching funds program, he would have to raise and spend at least $175,000 to qualify for the debates, a threshold that many of the candidates have struggled to meet. Even an in-kind contribution to himself might count towards this threshold.</p> <p>Steiner had her doubts about that argument, saying that the threshold was “$175,000 in real money.” Debate organizers could decide to count it “but I don’t think the system is intended for that threshold to be met by Silicon Valley valuation techniques for apps, basically,” she said. The Democratic primary debates are scheduled for August 23 and September 6.</p> <p>In any case, Tolkin appears to have more immediate issues: a city Board of Elections document on “campaign enrollment issues” reviewed by Gotham Gazette says that Tolkin is “not enrolled in the identified party on the petition,” the Democratic party. When presented with a copy of the document, Tolkin said in a text message, “That's incorrect and currently being resolved.” Calls to a BOE spokesperson went unanswered.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Rochester Mayor Accused of Circumventing Campaign Finance Rules 2017-07-12T19:03:00+00:00 2017-07-12T19:03:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7058:rochester-mayor-accused-of-circumventing-campaign-finance-rules Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lovely-warren.jpg" alt="lovely warren" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (via <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RochesterMayorLovelyWarren/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is drawing scrutiny for apparently using a political action committee she founded in 2015 help finance her 2017 re-election campaign and for repeatedly accepting over-the-limit contributions from business interests, as shown by her campaign finance records.</p> <p>The Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC can accept virtually unlimited donations, but like other donors, the PAC is prohibited from contributing to Warren’s re-election campaign beyond the combined primary and general election limits set <a href="http://www2.monroecounty.gov/files/Campaign%20Contribution%20Limits_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by the Monroe County Board of Elections</a>, or $8,557 per four-year election cycle. These limits apply to monetary and in-kind donations.</p> <p>Warren, a first-term Democrat who is facing two primary challengers, <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/09/07/new-pac-fuels-rochester-mayor-lovely-warren-campaign-causes/71577626/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created the PAC</a> without a clear objective beyond fundraising for Rochester initiatives and supporting local candidates, but similar spending patterns by her re-election campaign, Friends of Lovely Warren, and the PAC suggest the two pools of money are improperly being used to advance the same political objectives, which would be in violation of state election law.</p> <p>Since 2015, the PAC has raised $325,020 and spent $105,314, largely on what appear to be campaign-related activities, according to a review of its expenditure reports. The spending significantly surpasses the $8,557 cap on what the PAC is allowed to contribute to the campaign. While elected officials occasionally start their own leadership PACs, typically the committees are created to advance a particular cause and support other candidates, rather than backing the individual's own electoral endeavors, according to a spokesperson for the state Board of Elections.</p> <p>Both of Warren’s committees have been infused with cash from interests with business before the City of Rochester, with several donors exceeding campaign finance limits, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>A formal letter of complaint sent to State Board of Elections Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman in April by one of Warren’s primary challengers alleges illegal coordination between the campaign committee and the PAC and calls for an investigation.</p> <p>James Sheppard, a Monroe County legislator and former Rochester police chief who is running for mayor on the Working Families Party line and competing in the Democratic primary, charges in the letter that Warren’s two organizations “maintain common operational control with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day to day activities of both organizations,” and that Friends of Lovely Warren has received from the Warren PAC “goods, services and funds well in excess of what is permissible.”</p> <p>Sheppard identifies overlapping expenditures by the two entities, pointing to an annual fundraiser typically organized by Warren’s electoral campaign which in 2016 was organized by, and benefited, the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC. Sheppard notes that the event was organized by and benefited Warren’s campaign in 2015 and 2017, however, in all three years, Warren solicited contributions to benefit her own re-election bid in a note posted on the event website.</p> <p>“The Mayor’s Ball is my annual fundraising event. As we celebrate Rochester’s accomplishments, this gathering raises money to support my vision for Rochester and my reelection campaign,” <a href="https://mayorlovelywarren.com/mayors-ball-2016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the note reads</a>.</p> <p>A review of the PAC’s spending since 2015 confirms that the majority of $105,314 spent went to Rochester Riverside Convention Center, which is where the Mayor's Ball event is held each year. In addition, Warren’s campaign committee and PAC have made payments to 11 common vendors and payees during the four-year 2017 campaign cycle, totaling $14,577 of the PAC's spending. The PAC has contributed a comparatively small amount, slightly more than $5,000, to local candidates.</p> <p>“It is apparent, therefore, that Ms. Warren is permitting the two committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to conduct campaign activity in violation of the NYS Election Law. The value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC from the event well-exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law,” states the Sheppard letter, which was obtained by Gotham Gazette and can be read in full <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#Letter" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">below</a>.</p> <p>PACs may coordinate with and donate to a particular candidate’s campaign committee, but may not spend money to “aid or take part in the election or defeat of a candidate or to promote the success or defeat of a ballot proposal, other than in the form of contributions, including in-kind contributions to candidates,” according to the state Board of Elections <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/finance/CF02PAC_PoliticalActionCommitteeType2CFRegForm.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>. PACs are also subject to the same contribution limitations as regular donors. Using a PAC to fund one’s own campaign would show a disregard for campaign finance rules and, in the case of an incumbent, provide an especially unfair advantage, according government watchdog groups.</p> <p>New York Public Interest Group Executive Director Blair Horner said the allegations against Warren and her groups are serious enough that they warrant scrutiny by Sugarman, whose job is to identify and investigate potential violations of campaign finance law.</p> <p>“New York’s campaign finance system is already riddled with loopholes. If the allegation is true, allowing this arrangement would demolish whatever limits still exist,” he said of using a PAC as a second campaign committee.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said this practice is virtually unheard of, and indicates a significant lack of oversight at the county and the state levels. "It seems to be a flat out disregard for the law,” she said.</p> <p>Sugarman’s office, which is staffed with several investigators, lawyers and supporting staff, was created in 2014 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, after the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption determined that the board’s prior investigations of election law were ineffective. It operates mostly independently from the state Board of Elections, and there have been <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/266227/rancorous-debate-at-board-of-elections-over-sugarmans-role/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disagreements in the past</a> between the board’s commissioners and Sugarman.</p> <p>Sugarman declined to comment on whether an investigation into Mayor Warren is underway.</p> <p>Aside from the questionable coordination between Warren’s committees, Friends of Lovely Warren has accepted more than $20,000 in total over-contributions from at least five donors, according to filings from the last four years. Nearly a dozen more entities contributed the maximum allowed to the campaign committee and also donated to the PAC (which, again, has no contribution limits).</p> <p>The list of these donors is mostly comprised of Rochester real estate companies, many with business before the city. Buckingham Properties, a development company that <a href="http://www.whec.com/news/buckingham-properties-midtown-parcel-2/4447742/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has benefited</a> from a sale of city property and tax break authorized by Warren, contributed an over-the-limit total of $10,350 to Friends of Lovely Warren in 2014 and 2015, and another $5,000 to Warren’s PAC in 2016.</p> <p>Winn Development, which owns Rochester’s historic Sibley Building and <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/05/luminate-ny-10m-photonics-competition-launched/103453486/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sought</a> to have a government-subsidized photonics company headquartered there, donated a combined $20,000 between Warren’s campaign ($5,000) and PAC ($15,000).</p> <p>One of the most flagrant over-the-limit donations came from the powerful healthcare union 1199 SEIU, which following two $7,500 donations to Friends of Lovely Warren in early 2015, and already in excess of giving limits, wrote the campaign committee another check, for $10,000, in March 2016.</p> <p>Representatives from state and local Boards of Elections said there are no routine overcontribution audits for county-level filers, because the local campaign limits are set by county boards, but filers who pull in or spend more than $1,000 typically register <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CampaignFinanceFAQ.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">with the state Board of Elections</a>.</p> <p>“It’s a quirk with the way things work. [Local contribution limits] are based on voter registration. There’s no process in place where all the different contribution limits are provided to us,” said State Board of Elections spokesperson Thomas Connolly.</p> <p>He said that the agency’s compliance unit instead focuses its auditing resources on state-level filers, those for the state Legislature or statewide offices, for example. “We literally have tens of thousands of filers. There’s no realistic way our staff of a dozen and a half can look at every single filer,” he said.</p> <p>Connolly did note that both of Warren’s committees had in the past received correspondence from the BOE’s compliance unit for “items that were considered deficiencies and/or training issues.”</p> <p>Reached by phone, Monroe County Board of Elections’ Democratic Commissioner Thomas F. Ferrarese said the agency does not have the authority or means to audit local filers because the agency does not have access to filers’ data. “We just don't have that information,” he said.</p> <p>When asked if there was any routine overcontribution screening process by state and county boards of elections for local races, Ferrarese said, “No, not really.”</p> <p>Instead, campaign finance information is simply posted to the Board’s website, and an investigation may be opened if a formal complaint is filed and the special counsel deems it worthwhile.</p> <p>The county contribution limit is based on a formula set by the state and is calculated based on how many ballot lines a candidate is running on and how many eligible voters are in the district. While it may still fluctuate slightly, it’s not likely to change more than a few dollars for the Rochester mayoral race, according to Ferrarese.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Warren’s campaign committee said that its staff works hard to comply with election law and coordinates closely with the state Board of Elections, but did not address the illegal coordination charge.</p> <p>“Our all volunteer treasurer and fundraising teams always strive to be certain that contributions are within the limits set by the election board,” said Brittaney Wells, campaign manager for Friends of Lovely Warren. “If any contributors have unknowingly exceeded that limit in the past we have refunded the contribution in question and believe we are in full compliance. We will continue to work closely with the Board of Elections in the future on these and other campaign issues.”</p> <p>However, a review of refunds made by the committee during this election cycle indicates that just $5,300 was returned to Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3 in 2016 and a $2,500 donation was <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/01/18/sheppard-warren-raise-and-refund-union-cash/96723730/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">refunded</a> to a nonprofit called Rochester Community TV Inc. in 2015.</p> <p>There are other problems with the campaign finance filings of Friends of Lovely Warren committee that span more than a decade. Warren began her political career as aide to long-time Rochester Assemblymember David Gantt, who has described her as family. A comparison of Warren and Gantt’s campaign committees shows discrepancies, including more than 10 contributions between 2005 and 2015 reported as expenditures by Gantt’s committees that Warren’s committees shows no record of receiving.</p> <p>Warren’s campaign has also reported more than $22,000 in contributions from unspecified donors between 2005 to 2016, with approximately half of those donations received by the committee after Warren won the mayoral seat in 2013, according to the filings. The donations are simply listed as “unitemized,” and it is unclear if they meet the $100 threshold for including the donor’s name because they are grouped together by date.</p> <p>Warren has made significant campaign committee reimbursements to herself and an employee that have not been explained. Between 2007 and 2016, Warren has paid herself $17,783.98 in total from both of her committees, including at least $3,921.98 since she became mayor, records show. At least 18 reimbursements totalling $4,315.98 are either left blank or vaguely identified as “REMI” or “reimbursement.”</p> <p>In 2015 and 2016, Warren’s committees also collectively paid 10 unexplained reimbursements totaling $1,615 to Kiara Warren (it is unclear if Kiara is related to Lovely Warren).</p> <p>Finally, the campaign committee has failed to submit several filings and appears to have accepted contributions from nonprofits and other likely prohibited groups, such as a neighborhood association that is not officially registered as a corporate entity.</p> <p>A representative for the Warren campaign -- erroneously assuming Gotham Gazette was tipped off to these issues by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy, a former supporter of Warren who has since had <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a falling out</a> with the Rochester mayor -- responded by pointing out that Gaddy’s lobbying firm <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was late </a>in filing disclosure forms with the state's Joint Commision on Public Ethics (JCOPE).</p> <p>Gaddy, who also once worked for Gantt alongside Warren, was involved in questionable campaign finance practices the first time Warren ran for mayor. In 2013, shortly before the Rochester mayoral primary, Gaddy spent more than $40,000 to support Warren through a last-minute independent expenditure committee called Rochester Rising. The committee was opened just prior to the Democratic primary and closed within one month. The practice,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2013/10/03/hidden-cash-fueled-warren-campaign-/2919063/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drew criticism</a> from Rochester elected officials and good government groups given that it allowed Gaddy to circumvent the $3,335 contribution limits from a single individual to the Warren campaign. Gaddy is now backing Warren’s other Democratic challenger, Rachel Barnhart, a former television reporter.</p> <p>Areas of Upstate New York have seen outside expenditure committees infusing big money into local races for more than a decade. At times, these have been lawful but perhaps unseemly attempts for wealthy interests to influence political campaigns, but in other instances, lines appear to have been crossed. Recently, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office <a href="http://www.wkbw.com/news/more-charges-against-steve-pigeon-for-election-law-violations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">charged</a> Erie County operative Steve Pigeon and two others with bribery and "knowingly and willfully" coordinating illegally with campaign committees through their WNY Progressive Committee.</p> <p><em>Note: The figures in this story are from before January 2017 -- the next batch of campaign finance filings are due on July 15.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><a id="Letter"></a>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lovely-warren.jpg" alt="lovely warren" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (via <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RochesterMayorLovelyWarren/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is drawing scrutiny for apparently using a political action committee she founded in 2015 help finance her 2017 re-election campaign and for repeatedly accepting over-the-limit contributions from business interests, as shown by her campaign finance records.</p> <p>The Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC can accept virtually unlimited donations, but like other donors, the PAC is prohibited from contributing to Warren’s re-election campaign beyond the combined primary and general election limits set <a href="http://www2.monroecounty.gov/files/Campaign%20Contribution%20Limits_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by the Monroe County Board of Elections</a>, or $8,557 per four-year election cycle. These limits apply to monetary and in-kind donations.</p> <p>Warren, a first-term Democrat who is facing two primary challengers, <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/09/07/new-pac-fuels-rochester-mayor-lovely-warren-campaign-causes/71577626/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created the PAC</a> without a clear objective beyond fundraising for Rochester initiatives and supporting local candidates, but similar spending patterns by her re-election campaign, Friends of Lovely Warren, and the PAC suggest the two pools of money are improperly being used to advance the same political objectives, which would be in violation of state election law.</p> <p>Since 2015, the PAC has raised $325,020 and spent $105,314, largely on what appear to be campaign-related activities, according to a review of its expenditure reports. The spending significantly surpasses the $8,557 cap on what the PAC is allowed to contribute to the campaign. While elected officials occasionally start their own leadership PACs, typically the committees are created to advance a particular cause and support other candidates, rather than backing the individual's own electoral endeavors, according to a spokesperson for the state Board of Elections.</p> <p>Both of Warren’s committees have been infused with cash from interests with business before the City of Rochester, with several donors exceeding campaign finance limits, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>A formal letter of complaint sent to State Board of Elections Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman in April by one of Warren’s primary challengers alleges illegal coordination between the campaign committee and the PAC and calls for an investigation.</p> <p>James Sheppard, a Monroe County legislator and former Rochester police chief who is running for mayor on the Working Families Party line and competing in the Democratic primary, charges in the letter that Warren’s two organizations “maintain common operational control with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day to day activities of both organizations,” and that Friends of Lovely Warren has received from the Warren PAC “goods, services and funds well in excess of what is permissible.”</p> <p>Sheppard identifies overlapping expenditures by the two entities, pointing to an annual fundraiser typically organized by Warren’s electoral campaign which in 2016 was organized by, and benefited, the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC. Sheppard notes that the event was organized by and benefited Warren’s campaign in 2015 and 2017, however, in all three years, Warren solicited contributions to benefit her own re-election bid in a note posted on the event website.</p> <p>“The Mayor’s Ball is my annual fundraising event. As we celebrate Rochester’s accomplishments, this gathering raises money to support my vision for Rochester and my reelection campaign,” <a href="https://mayorlovelywarren.com/mayors-ball-2016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the note reads</a>.</p> <p>A review of the PAC’s spending since 2015 confirms that the majority of $105,314 spent went to Rochester Riverside Convention Center, which is where the Mayor's Ball event is held each year. In addition, Warren’s campaign committee and PAC have made payments to 11 common vendors and payees during the four-year 2017 campaign cycle, totaling $14,577 of the PAC's spending. The PAC has contributed a comparatively small amount, slightly more than $5,000, to local candidates.</p> <p>“It is apparent, therefore, that Ms. Warren is permitting the two committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to conduct campaign activity in violation of the NYS Election Law. The value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC from the event well-exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law,” states the Sheppard letter, which was obtained by Gotham Gazette and can be read in full <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#Letter" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">below</a>.</p> <p>PACs may coordinate with and donate to a particular candidate’s campaign committee, but may not spend money to “aid or take part in the election or defeat of a candidate or to promote the success or defeat of a ballot proposal, other than in the form of contributions, including in-kind contributions to candidates,” according to the state Board of Elections <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/finance/CF02PAC_PoliticalActionCommitteeType2CFRegForm.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>. PACs are also subject to the same contribution limitations as regular donors. Using a PAC to fund one’s own campaign would show a disregard for campaign finance rules and, in the case of an incumbent, provide an especially unfair advantage, according government watchdog groups.</p> <p>New York Public Interest Group Executive Director Blair Horner said the allegations against Warren and her groups are serious enough that they warrant scrutiny by Sugarman, whose job is to identify and investigate potential violations of campaign finance law.</p> <p>“New York’s campaign finance system is already riddled with loopholes. If the allegation is true, allowing this arrangement would demolish whatever limits still exist,” he said of using a PAC as a second campaign committee.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said this practice is virtually unheard of, and indicates a significant lack of oversight at the county and the state levels. "It seems to be a flat out disregard for the law,” she said.</p> <p>Sugarman’s office, which is staffed with several investigators, lawyers and supporting staff, was created in 2014 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, after the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption determined that the board’s prior investigations of election law were ineffective. It operates mostly independently from the state Board of Elections, and there have been <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/266227/rancorous-debate-at-board-of-elections-over-sugarmans-role/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disagreements in the past</a> between the board’s commissioners and Sugarman.</p> <p>Sugarman declined to comment on whether an investigation into Mayor Warren is underway.</p> <p>Aside from the questionable coordination between Warren’s committees, Friends of Lovely Warren has accepted more than $20,000 in total over-contributions from at least five donors, according to filings from the last four years. Nearly a dozen more entities contributed the maximum allowed to the campaign committee and also donated to the PAC (which, again, has no contribution limits).</p> <p>The list of these donors is mostly comprised of Rochester real estate companies, many with business before the city. Buckingham Properties, a development company that <a href="http://www.whec.com/news/buckingham-properties-midtown-parcel-2/4447742/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has benefited</a> from a sale of city property and tax break authorized by Warren, contributed an over-the-limit total of $10,350 to Friends of Lovely Warren in 2014 and 2015, and another $5,000 to Warren’s PAC in 2016.</p> <p>Winn Development, which owns Rochester’s historic Sibley Building and <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/05/luminate-ny-10m-photonics-competition-launched/103453486/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sought</a> to have a government-subsidized photonics company headquartered there, donated a combined $20,000 between Warren’s campaign ($5,000) and PAC ($15,000).</p> <p>One of the most flagrant over-the-limit donations came from the powerful healthcare union 1199 SEIU, which following two $7,500 donations to Friends of Lovely Warren in early 2015, and already in excess of giving limits, wrote the campaign committee another check, for $10,000, in March 2016.</p> <p>Representatives from state and local Boards of Elections said there are no routine overcontribution audits for county-level filers, because the local campaign limits are set by county boards, but filers who pull in or spend more than $1,000 typically register <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CampaignFinanceFAQ.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">with the state Board of Elections</a>.</p> <p>“It’s a quirk with the way things work. [Local contribution limits] are based on voter registration. There’s no process in place where all the different contribution limits are provided to us,” said State Board of Elections spokesperson Thomas Connolly.</p> <p>He said that the agency’s compliance unit instead focuses its auditing resources on state-level filers, those for the state Legislature or statewide offices, for example. “We literally have tens of thousands of filers. There’s no realistic way our staff of a dozen and a half can look at every single filer,” he said.</p> <p>Connolly did note that both of Warren’s committees had in the past received correspondence from the BOE’s compliance unit for “items that were considered deficiencies and/or training issues.”</p> <p>Reached by phone, Monroe County Board of Elections’ Democratic Commissioner Thomas F. Ferrarese said the agency does not have the authority or means to audit local filers because the agency does not have access to filers’ data. “We just don't have that information,” he said.</p> <p>When asked if there was any routine overcontribution screening process by state and county boards of elections for local races, Ferrarese said, “No, not really.”</p> <p>Instead, campaign finance information is simply posted to the Board’s website, and an investigation may be opened if a formal complaint is filed and the special counsel deems it worthwhile.</p> <p>The county contribution limit is based on a formula set by the state and is calculated based on how many ballot lines a candidate is running on and how many eligible voters are in the district. While it may still fluctuate slightly, it’s not likely to change more than a few dollars for the Rochester mayoral race, according to Ferrarese.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Warren’s campaign committee said that its staff works hard to comply with election law and coordinates closely with the state Board of Elections, but did not address the illegal coordination charge.</p> <p>“Our all volunteer treasurer and fundraising teams always strive to be certain that contributions are within the limits set by the election board,” said Brittaney Wells, campaign manager for Friends of Lovely Warren. “If any contributors have unknowingly exceeded that limit in the past we have refunded the contribution in question and believe we are in full compliance. We will continue to work closely with the Board of Elections in the future on these and other campaign issues.”</p> <p>However, a review of refunds made by the committee during this election cycle indicates that just $5,300 was returned to Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3 in 2016 and a $2,500 donation was <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/01/18/sheppard-warren-raise-and-refund-union-cash/96723730/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">refunded</a> to a nonprofit called Rochester Community TV Inc. in 2015.</p> <p>There are other problems with the campaign finance filings of Friends of Lovely Warren committee that span more than a decade. Warren began her political career as aide to long-time Rochester Assemblymember David Gantt, who has described her as family. A comparison of Warren and Gantt’s campaign committees shows discrepancies, including more than 10 contributions between 2005 and 2015 reported as expenditures by Gantt’s committees that Warren’s committees shows no record of receiving.</p> <p>Warren’s campaign has also reported more than $22,000 in contributions from unspecified donors between 2005 to 2016, with approximately half of those donations received by the committee after Warren won the mayoral seat in 2013, according to the filings. The donations are simply listed as “unitemized,” and it is unclear if they meet the $100 threshold for including the donor’s name because they are grouped together by date.</p> <p>Warren has made significant campaign committee reimbursements to herself and an employee that have not been explained. Between 2007 and 2016, Warren has paid herself $17,783.98 in total from both of her committees, including at least $3,921.98 since she became mayor, records show. At least 18 reimbursements totalling $4,315.98 are either left blank or vaguely identified as “REMI” or “reimbursement.”</p> <p>In 2015 and 2016, Warren’s committees also collectively paid 10 unexplained reimbursements totaling $1,615 to Kiara Warren (it is unclear if Kiara is related to Lovely Warren).</p> <p>Finally, the campaign committee has failed to submit several filings and appears to have accepted contributions from nonprofits and other likely prohibited groups, such as a neighborhood association that is not officially registered as a corporate entity.</p> <p>A representative for the Warren campaign -- erroneously assuming Gotham Gazette was tipped off to these issues by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy, a former supporter of Warren who has since had <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a falling out</a> with the Rochester mayor -- responded by pointing out that Gaddy’s lobbying firm <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was late </a>in filing disclosure forms with the state's Joint Commision on Public Ethics (JCOPE).</p> <p>Gaddy, who also once worked for Gantt alongside Warren, was involved in questionable campaign finance practices the first time Warren ran for mayor. In 2013, shortly before the Rochester mayoral primary, Gaddy spent more than $40,000 to support Warren through a last-minute independent expenditure committee called Rochester Rising. The committee was opened just prior to the Democratic primary and closed within one month. The practice,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2013/10/03/hidden-cash-fueled-warren-campaign-/2919063/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drew criticism</a> from Rochester elected officials and good government groups given that it allowed Gaddy to circumvent the $3,335 contribution limits from a single individual to the Warren campaign. Gaddy is now backing Warren’s other Democratic challenger, Rachel Barnhart, a former television reporter.</p> <p>Areas of Upstate New York have seen outside expenditure committees infusing big money into local races for more than a decade. At times, these have been lawful but perhaps unseemly attempts for wealthy interests to influence political campaigns, but in other instances, lines appear to have been crossed. Recently, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office <a href="http://www.wkbw.com/news/more-charges-against-steve-pigeon-for-election-law-violations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">charged</a> Erie County operative Steve Pigeon and two others with bribery and "knowingly and willfully" coordinating illegally with campaign committees through their WNY Progressive Committee.</p> <p><em>Note: The figures in this story are from before January 2017 -- the next batch of campaign finance filings are due on July 15.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><a id="Letter"></a>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Cuomo Refuses to Comply with Trump Election Commission Request 2017-06-30T00:00:00+00:00 2017-06-30T00:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7044:new-york-weighs-response-to-president-s-election-integrity-commission Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/new_yorkers_cast_their_votes_for_president_.jpg" alt="new yorkers cast their votes for president " width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>New Yorkers cast their votes for President (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York has joined the ranks of states refusing to comply with a request for voter information sent yesterday by Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of the newly-created federal Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.</p> <p>“We will not be complying with this request and I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked theories of voter fraud,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement on Friday afternoon.</p> <p>The letter, which asks that each state provide the administration with available data including the names, addresses, social security numbers, voter registrations, and voting histories of every voter in the state, immediately prompted concern over voter suppression and privacy.</p> <p>N.Y.U. School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice put out a statement calling on states to carefully review their legal obligations before turning over the data. While voter data is technically public, accessing it generally requires adhering to special protocols and making payments, such as submitting requests in writing for specific data. In New York, accessing public voter data requires mailing a completed form to the state’s Board of Elections, leaving a record of who is requesting the information.</p> <p>In the statement, Mryna Pérez, the center’s deputy director, recommended that secretaries of state have “frank conversations with their lawyers about the privacy and other implications of complying with Kobach’s extensive request.”</p> <p>Several voting rights organizations have also condemned the request, including the League of Women Voters, whose president, Chris Carson, called it a “fishing expedition” and a “distraction from the real issue of voter suppression” in a statement.</p> <p>Activists worry that the data will be used to target voters based on their political affiliations as opposed to the stated purpose of investigating voter fraud. The commission was created by President Donald Trump to investigate non-citizens casting ballots following his widely discredited claim that three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.</p> <p>As Kansas Secretary of State, Kobach ran a multi-year campaign and developed new computer systems to crack down on illegal voting, which ultimately resulted in only nine convictions, mostly of older Americans who had voted in two states or otherwise violated procedural laws. Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project once referred to Kobach as the “king of voter suppression” because of his efforts to limit voter registration in Kansas.</p> <p>New York joins California, Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in turning away Kobach’s request, which is not legally binding.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/new_yorkers_cast_their_votes_for_president_.jpg" alt="new yorkers cast their votes for president " width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>New Yorkers cast their votes for President (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York has joined the ranks of states refusing to comply with a request for voter information sent yesterday by Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of the newly-created federal Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.</p> <p>“We will not be complying with this request and I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked theories of voter fraud,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement on Friday afternoon.</p> <p>The letter, which asks that each state provide the administration with available data including the names, addresses, social security numbers, voter registrations, and voting histories of every voter in the state, immediately prompted concern over voter suppression and privacy.</p> <p>N.Y.U. School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice put out a statement calling on states to carefully review their legal obligations before turning over the data. While voter data is technically public, accessing it generally requires adhering to special protocols and making payments, such as submitting requests in writing for specific data. In New York, accessing public voter data requires mailing a completed form to the state’s Board of Elections, leaving a record of who is requesting the information.</p> <p>In the statement, Mryna Pérez, the center’s deputy director, recommended that secretaries of state have “frank conversations with their lawyers about the privacy and other implications of complying with Kobach’s extensive request.”</p> <p>Several voting rights organizations have also condemned the request, including the League of Women Voters, whose president, Chris Carson, called it a “fishing expedition” and a “distraction from the real issue of voter suppression” in a statement.</p> <p>Activists worry that the data will be used to target voters based on their political affiliations as opposed to the stated purpose of investigating voter fraud. The commission was created by President Donald Trump to investigate non-citizens casting ballots following his widely discredited claim that three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.</p> <p>As Kansas Secretary of State, Kobach ran a multi-year campaign and developed new computer systems to crack down on illegal voting, which ultimately resulted in only nine convictions, mostly of older Americans who had voted in two states or otherwise violated procedural laws. Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project once referred to Kobach as the “king of voter suppression” because of his efforts to limit voter registration in Kansas.</p> <p>New York joins California, Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in turning away Kobach’s request, which is not legally binding.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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8%! New Report Shows Shockingly Low Voter Turnout in NYC 2017-06-27T04:00:09+00:00 2017-06-27T04:00:09+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7036:8-new-report-shows-shockingly-low-voter-turnout-in-nyc Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/30833378216_dde865964a_z.jpg" alt="30833378216 dde865964a z" width="640" height="426" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/documents/boe/AnnualReports/BOEAnnualReport16.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recent report</a> by New York City’s Board of Elections details shockingly low voter turnout in the 2016 congressional and state primary elections. The new numbers come amid increased attention to New York’s suppressive voting laws but little action from state lawmakers who could implement reforms like early voting, same-day registration, automatic voter registration, or even consolidation of primaries.</p> <p>Because it was a presidential year, New Yorkers voted in three primaries -- presidential (April), congressional (June) and state (September) -- and the November general election.</p> <p>The BOE report shows middling turnout for the presidential primaries, despite -- or because of -- New York’s strict party registration rules, and somewhat strong turnout for the November general election. The two other primaries show abysmal numbers, however.</p> <p>The November 8 general election, wherein Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump topped the ballot, there was a 62% turnout rate among active eligible voters. Active voters are a smaller pool than eligible voters, which includes unregistered voters, and slightly smaller than if inactive registered voters would be included. The city turnout was slighter higher than the national turnout of 59.7%.</p> <p>Primary elections were a different story entirely: for the presidential primary in April 2016, the city saw a 35% turnout; for the June federal primary, 8%; and for the September state and local primary, 10% turnout.</p> <p>The report, simply titled “Annual Report 2016,” was released on the BOE’s website, although it does not indicate a date of publish and multiple representatives at the BOE could not provide a specific date of its publication. Along with information about the board’s president, Maria Guastella, and its borough commissioners, the report also includes data beyond just 2016 voter turnout.</p> <p>The city Board of Elections has been the focus of criticism for many years, especially of late, for mismanagement or even malice; after a mistaken voter roll purge led to thousands of active voters being removed from the rolls, many votes in the presidential primary were declared invalid, in a situation Attorney General Eric Schneiderman referred to in harsh terms. “Democracy itself is under attack,” he <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/purge-outdated-voter-rolls-nyc-tried-bad-results/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> upon joining a lawsuit over the purge.</p> <p>The BOE report on 2016 details actions undertaken by the board to increase turnout and streamline the election process, such as a public education campaign on city elections conducted in five different languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Bengali are listed), along with voter registration drives at community events and pre-registration information sessions with high school students. There were 4,477,091 active registered voters in the city as of November 1, 2016, with Democrats (3,343,041) outnumbering Republicans (501,976) by almost seven to one.</p> <p>There were also 909,611 registered voters unaffiliated with any party; 123,677 voters registered with the Independence Party; 20,956 with the Conservative Party; and 16,651 with the Working Families Party; along with several thousand more registered with smaller parties.</p> <p>In each election held in 2016, turnout was higher in Manhattan than in the other boroughs. In the June federal primary, Manhattan saw 14% turnout; Brooklyn and the Bronx each saw 5% turnout and Queens saw 4%. Staten Island didn’t have a federal primary in 2016, owing to the fact that neither incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan nor his Democratic challenger faced a primary challenge. Manhattan’s higher turnout for the congressional primary is at least somewhat due to the fact that there was an open seat race: Charles Rangel, the longtime Harlem congressional representative, retired, leading to a crowded, open race for the seat. Over half of primary votes in Manhattan in 2016 were cast in Rangel’s 13th district, now represented by fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat.</p> <p>However, Manhattan’s turnout was still higher than the other boroughs in the other elections. Manhattan’s turnout in state and local primaries was three points higher than the citywide average, nine points higher in the presidential primaries, and six points higher in the general election.</p> <p>Low voter turnout is nothing new for New York City, or New York State, of course. New York’s legislative districts are severely gerrymandered to the point that most legislative races in the state are noncompetitive. A <a href="https://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/nygerrymander.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> from the Prison Gerrymandering Project shows that in the Republican-controlled New York State Senate, districts in the city, which are mostly represented by Democrats, are overpopulated and therefore dilute the city’s voice in the Senate, whereas upstate districts more likely to be represented by Republicans are underpopulated and thus have an amplified voice relative to population size. The same is true of the Assembly, except in favor of city Democrats rather than upstate Republicans.</p> <p>Beyond gerrymandering, New York has regressive voting laws. The state does not allow no-excuse early voting, an electoral feature in 38 states, including many with notorious voting laws such as Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. It also doesn’t allow no-excuse absentee voting.</p> <p>The Assembly, in this past legislative session, passed a voting reform package including early voting, automatic voter registration, and electronic poll books, which was endorsed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who held two telephone town halls on electoral reform, but the package stalled in the Senate, with no action being taken in the body before the legislative session ended last week. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who outlined an electoral reform package in January, did nothing publicly to push the cause thereafter.</p> <p>Although voter apathy, or simply a lack of awareness, could’ve contributed to the extremely low turnout, the city’s primary elections have been criticized as suppressive as well. The state had three separate primary elections in 2016 rather than consolidate the federal and state primaries favored by voting rights advocates. State legislators have debated this issue, with the Assembly voting to consolidate primaries in June while the Senate has pushed an August date.</p> <p>New York also has a long six-month window between the required date to register with a party and the party’s actual primary, though this is only the case for those already registered who seek to enroll in a party or change party identification (newly enrolled voters can register within a few weeks of voting). In the presidential primary, wherein two unconventional outsider candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, drove large numbers of people to the polls who hadn’t voted before, some of whom were registered by not with a major political party, many hopeful voters learned that they couldn’t actually vote because they didn’t declare a party affiliation six months in advance. So-called independents, or “unaffiliated” registered voters, are blocked from voting in party primaries.</p> <p>Francis Barry, the Director of Public Affairs and a former speechwriter for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-18/voter-suppression-in-deep-blue-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote in Bloomberg</a> that New York “is the worst state for independents, bar none.”</p> <p>Voting rights and government reform advocates and many legislators have called for an overhaul of the state’s election law. Most agree that the state should institute early voting, same-day registration, consolidated primaries, automatic registration, and other reforms. Some argue for open primaries where any registered voter could vote in a primary election of their choosing.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/30833378216_dde865964a_z.jpg" alt="30833378216 dde865964a z" width="640" height="426" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/documents/boe/AnnualReports/BOEAnnualReport16.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recent report</a> by New York City’s Board of Elections details shockingly low voter turnout in the 2016 congressional and state primary elections. The new numbers come amid increased attention to New York’s suppressive voting laws but little action from state lawmakers who could implement reforms like early voting, same-day registration, automatic voter registration, or even consolidation of primaries.</p> <p>Because it was a presidential year, New Yorkers voted in three primaries -- presidential (April), congressional (June) and state (September) -- and the November general election.</p> <p>The BOE report shows middling turnout for the presidential primaries, despite -- or because of -- New York’s strict party registration rules, and somewhat strong turnout for the November general election. The two other primaries show abysmal numbers, however.</p> <p>The November 8 general election, wherein Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump topped the ballot, there was a 62% turnout rate among active eligible voters. Active voters are a smaller pool than eligible voters, which includes unregistered voters, and slightly smaller than if inactive registered voters would be included. The city turnout was slighter higher than the national turnout of 59.7%.</p> <p>Primary elections were a different story entirely: for the presidential primary in April 2016, the city saw a 35% turnout; for the June federal primary, 8%; and for the September state and local primary, 10% turnout.</p> <p>The report, simply titled “Annual Report 2016,” was released on the BOE’s website, although it does not indicate a date of publish and multiple representatives at the BOE could not provide a specific date of its publication. Along with information about the board’s president, Maria Guastella, and its borough commissioners, the report also includes data beyond just 2016 voter turnout.</p> <p>The city Board of Elections has been the focus of criticism for many years, especially of late, for mismanagement or even malice; after a mistaken voter roll purge led to thousands of active voters being removed from the rolls, many votes in the presidential primary were declared invalid, in a situation Attorney General Eric Schneiderman referred to in harsh terms. “Democracy itself is under attack,” he <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/purge-outdated-voter-rolls-nyc-tried-bad-results/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> upon joining a lawsuit over the purge.</p> <p>The BOE report on 2016 details actions undertaken by the board to increase turnout and streamline the election process, such as a public education campaign on city elections conducted in five different languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Bengali are listed), along with voter registration drives at community events and pre-registration information sessions with high school students. There were 4,477,091 active registered voters in the city as of November 1, 2016, with Democrats (3,343,041) outnumbering Republicans (501,976) by almost seven to one.</p> <p>There were also 909,611 registered voters unaffiliated with any party; 123,677 voters registered with the Independence Party; 20,956 with the Conservative Party; and 16,651 with the Working Families Party; along with several thousand more registered with smaller parties.</p> <p>In each election held in 2016, turnout was higher in Manhattan than in the other boroughs. In the June federal primary, Manhattan saw 14% turnout; Brooklyn and the Bronx each saw 5% turnout and Queens saw 4%. Staten Island didn’t have a federal primary in 2016, owing to the fact that neither incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan nor his Democratic challenger faced a primary challenge. Manhattan’s higher turnout for the congressional primary is at least somewhat due to the fact that there was an open seat race: Charles Rangel, the longtime Harlem congressional representative, retired, leading to a crowded, open race for the seat. Over half of primary votes in Manhattan in 2016 were cast in Rangel’s 13th district, now represented by fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat.</p> <p>However, Manhattan’s turnout was still higher than the other boroughs in the other elections. Manhattan’s turnout in state and local primaries was three points higher than the citywide average, nine points higher in the presidential primaries, and six points higher in the general election.</p> <p>Low voter turnout is nothing new for New York City, or New York State, of course. New York’s legislative districts are severely gerrymandered to the point that most legislative races in the state are noncompetitive. A <a href="https://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/nygerrymander.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> from the Prison Gerrymandering Project shows that in the Republican-controlled New York State Senate, districts in the city, which are mostly represented by Democrats, are overpopulated and therefore dilute the city’s voice in the Senate, whereas upstate districts more likely to be represented by Republicans are underpopulated and thus have an amplified voice relative to population size. The same is true of the Assembly, except in favor of city Democrats rather than upstate Republicans.</p> <p>Beyond gerrymandering, New York has regressive voting laws. The state does not allow no-excuse early voting, an electoral feature in 38 states, including many with notorious voting laws such as Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. It also doesn’t allow no-excuse absentee voting.</p> <p>The Assembly, in this past legislative session, passed a voting reform package including early voting, automatic voter registration, and electronic poll books, which was endorsed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who held two telephone town halls on electoral reform, but the package stalled in the Senate, with no action being taken in the body before the legislative session ended last week. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who outlined an electoral reform package in January, did nothing publicly to push the cause thereafter.</p> <p>Although voter apathy, or simply a lack of awareness, could’ve contributed to the extremely low turnout, the city’s primary elections have been criticized as suppressive as well. The state had three separate primary elections in 2016 rather than consolidate the federal and state primaries favored by voting rights advocates. State legislators have debated this issue, with the Assembly voting to consolidate primaries in June while the Senate has pushed an August date.</p> <p>New York also has a long six-month window between the required date to register with a party and the party’s actual primary, though this is only the case for those already registered who seek to enroll in a party or change party identification (newly enrolled voters can register within a few weeks of voting). In the presidential primary, wherein two unconventional outsider candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, drove large numbers of people to the polls who hadn’t voted before, some of whom were registered by not with a major political party, many hopeful voters learned that they couldn’t actually vote because they didn’t declare a party affiliation six months in advance. So-called independents, or “unaffiliated” registered voters, are blocked from voting in party primaries.</p> <p>Francis Barry, the Director of Public Affairs and a former speechwriter for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-18/voter-suppression-in-deep-blue-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote in Bloomberg</a> that New York “is the worst state for independents, bar none.”</p> <p>Voting rights and government reform advocates and many legislators have called for an overhaul of the state’s election law. Most agree that the state should institute early voting, same-day registration, consolidated primaries, automatic registration, and other reforms. Some argue for open primaries where any registered voter could vote in a primary election of their choosing.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Crowley Appointee to Board of Elections Sees Spike in Queens Court Profits 2017-05-21T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6944:crowley-appointee-to-board-of-elections-sees-spike-in-queens-court-profits Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/crowley_voting.jpg" alt="crowley voting" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Rep. Joe Crowley photo: @JoeCrowleyNY</p> <hr /> <p>The Queens Democratic Board of Elections commissioner, who in the past has come under fire for conflicts of interest, is quickly becoming one of the highest earning recipients of Queens court patronage, Gotham Gazette has learned.</p> <p>In 2014, Jose Miguel Araujo, then the newly elected BOE president, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/conflicts-board-fines-board-elections-prez-hiring-kin-blog-entry-1.1993052" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was fined</a> $10,000 by the city's Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) -- the maximum penalty for nepotism -- because he gave his wife Rita Patron Araujo a job as a temporary clerk between 2010 and 2012.</p> <p>The fines issued against Araujo and other BOE employees followed a scathing 2013 Department of Investigation (DOI) report, which found the agency to be rife with nepotism, incompetence, and overall dysfunction.</p> <p>"The imposition of the maximum legal fine on the Board’s President should send a powerful message that this conduct will not be tolerated,” DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said in a statement at the time of the fines.</p> <p>Despite the incident, Araujo was renominated for the position by the Queens County Democratic Party and reconfirmed for a four-year term by the City Council in 2016. Since then, his law practice has become one of the top earners of Queens Court patronage doled out by the Queens Surrogate’s Court and Queens Supreme Court, raising questions about his impartiality as a BOE commissioner and other conflicts of interest this outside business might present.</p> <p>Before he became a commissioner, from 2005 through 2007, Araujo earned significant payments from the Queens Surrogate’s Court, which settles estates of Queens residents who die without wills. The appointments required Araujo to act as a “guardian ad litem,” to advocate for individuals incapacitated by age or mental illness. After Araujo joined the BOE in 2008, the appointments stopped. Several payments trickled in again in 2011, but after the 2014 COIB fine, the appointments escalated from both Surrogate’s Court and also Supreme Court, which gave Araujo work as a court evaluator or counsel for guardians of incapacitated individuals.</p> <p>Of the roughly $140,000 Araujo earned from Queens court appointments since 2005, half of the money -- $69,513 -- flowed to Araujo’s practice in the last two years, according to records obtained from the New York State Unified Court System.</p> <p>Rita Araujo, the commissioner’s wife, has had financial difficulties in her past -- a records search shows she is named in 15 nonpayment eviction lawsuits by a previous landlord between 2000 and 2007 -- and Jose Araujo said during his 2014 COIB deposition that he put her on the BOE payroll to qualify her for health benefits. By 2015, the couple was able to purchase a home in Brookhaven, Suffolk County for $203,000, without a mortgage.</p> <p>The couple’s additional income appears to be no coincidence -- current Queens Surrogate’s Court Judge Peter Kelly owes his position to Congressional Rep. Joseph Crowley, the chair of the Queens Democratic Party who nominated Kelly before he ran unopposed for a 14-year term in 2010. Kelly’s sister, Ann Anzalone, is Crowley’s district chief of staff and a Democratic district leader, a locally elected party official that comes with no salary but some political clout. As party chair, Crowley also appoints the Queens Democratic representative to the Board of Elections.</p> <p>In most boroughs, Democratic judicial candidates are nominated by the party heads and must pass the scrutiny of an independent judicial screening panel before they make it on the ballot. In Queens, the Democratic Party does not require a screening for judges and the party’s pick is rarely opposed. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/11/opinion/topics-of-the-times-surrogate-democracy.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For half a century</a>, Queens Democratic Party heads have successfully avoided a primary for the powerful Surrogate’s Court post, but if a rogue lawyer did challenge the party’s preferred candidate, it would be helpful for Crowley to have a friendly Board of Elections commissioner, were anything related to ballot petitions or other matters to arise. This is also the case for virtually all other elected offices, where the county party runs a preferred candidate, whether for seats in the City Council, state Assembly, state Senate, and so on.</p> <p>The fact that Queens court appointments are notoriously handed out to a select few lawyers by judges that have the backing and support of Crowley’s machine makes the arrangement particularly questionable, according to one election attorney who spoke on the condition of anonymity.</p> <p>"There doesn't seem to be any reason that [Jose Miguel Araujo] should to be sitting there as a commissioner while he is getting all these appointments. No one can say getting a job as a surrogate in a particular county is unrelated to the politics of the county," said the lawyer. “They have to like you, or you're not getting that job.”</p> <p>The Queens judicial courts have been plagued by charges of cronyism and patronage <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/nyregion/in-queens-political-center-is-in-surrogates-court.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">for decades</a>. Surrogate’s and Supreme Court judges, hand-picked by party leaders, assign lucrative and easy cases to a small group of lawyers with connections to the Queens County Democratic Party machine. However, besides Araujo, no other sitting Board of Elections commissioner has been handed court appointments since being confirmed to the BOE.</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group, said the Queens Surrogate’s Courts have been used as a reward system for the party machine for too long and that it’s time for the proper authorities, in this case New York State’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, to step in. “The scandal and corruption risk around Queens Surrogate’s has reached a level of outrageousness that’s unacceptable," he said. "It’s turned into a kind of a punchline in good government and political circles."</p> <p>A Board of Elections commissioner taking payment for these court assignments may also violate the city’s conflict of interest law. <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/html/law/law_chap_68_dir.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chapter 68</a> of New York City’s Charter limits the types of outside work public servants who practice law can pursue. For example, public servants may not use their city positions for “financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect” -- which would be the case if Araujo’s influence at the BOE was the driving force behind his recent appointments -- according to a 2001 advisory opinion from COIB. They also may not represent private clients that have business dealings before the City, according to the same opinion. While Surrogate’s Court and Supreme Court are state agencies, if a Surrogate's Court estate proceeding results in a property sale, that sale would be conducted by the Queens Public Administrator's Office, which is a city agency.</p> <p>The Queens public administrator also has ties to the Democratic party machine. The sole counsel to Queens Public Administrator Lois Rosenblatt is Gerard Sweeney, who takes a hefty percentage of each sale referred by the courts. Sweeney -- who in the 1990s was the party’s law chair, charged with ensuring party favorites wound up on the ballot while insurgents were disqualified -- no longer holds an official position in the Queens County Democratic Party, but was described in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a recent Daily News article</a> as its “most important strategist, helping guide the party’s political machinations on the homefront as it jousts for influence in City Hall and Albany.”</p> <p>Sweeney has reportedly earned $30 million since 2006 for administering these sales referred by Surrogate’s Court, according to <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Daily News</a>. Meanwhile, Rosenblatt was herself fined $3,000 <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/05/10/two-city-officials-slapped-with-ethics-violations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">earlier this month</a>&nbsp;by the COIB for nepotism.</p> <p>In at least one case, Araujo did represent a client who had business before the public administrator. On November 10, 2011, Araujo was appointed “guardian ad litem” in Queens Surrogate's Court for the estate of Josephine Ralton, a 92-year-old woman who had died in 2009 with no clear heirs. Eight days later, the Queens Public Administrator sold Ralton's luxury Forest Hills apartment. Araujo received a $3,000 payment from Queens Surrogate's Court for his work on the case, according to court records.</p> <p>Reached by phone, Araujo first denied having received court appointments in recent years. After being reminded that in fact the bulk of his appointments occurred in 2015 and 2016, he said some of cases were done pro-bono because of his “expertise.”</p> <p>But court records show that only a single appointment throughout Araujo's career has ever gone unpaid - a guardianship for Dorothy Noto Lewis, a BOE employee, in April 2016. When Gotham Gazette pointed out that Araujo had in fact earned nearly $70,000 from Surrogate’s Court and Supreme Court in the last two years, Araujo cited <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/rules/chiefjudge/36.shtml#02" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the court’s rules</a>, which limits how much one attorney can earn from court appointments in a calendar year, saying he is “capped out at a certain amount.”</p> <p>Araujo said he sees no potential conflicts of interest which could arise from holding the part-time but influential job as Board of Elections commissioner while also benefiting from Surrogate’s appointments. "There is no conflict for me. I'm able to distinguish between the two and I’m able to recuse myself if necessary, but that hasn't happened and it hasn't been necessary," he said.</p> <p>Like other BOE commissioners, Araujo’s work includes voting on whether candidates are eligible for the election ballot. This often includes petition signature validation and cases of petition fraud or irregularity. Commissioners also supervise recounts and oversee numerous issues that impact the voter turnout for elections, including the viability and location of poll sites.</p> <p>These calls are supposed to be impartial, but the notoriously <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">complex system</a> often favors the incumbent or party’s prefered candidates, while outsiders -- who may be less experienced in electoral requirements or lack resources and access to select election lawyers -- are booted off the ballot.</p> <p>Araujo maintains that the uptick in court appointments was merited because he is an expert in kinship cases. Meanwhile, he chose to keep his Board of Elections commissioner job, which comes with influence and a salary not to exceed $30,000 per year, according to <a href="http://a856-gbol.nyc.gov/GBOLWebsite/GreenBook/Details?orgId=2852" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a city listing</a>.</p> <p>As the election attorney put it, “There are many, many attorneys who could be appointed to do this job. It would be fair to say that if someone is getting these kinds of referrals from Surrogate's Court [and Supreme Court], they shouldn’t be on the Board of Elections. It’s not like BOE commissioners earn $250,000 a year and people are falling over themselves to get that job.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Rep. Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party chair, declined to comment on the distribution of Queens court appointments.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/crowley_voting.jpg" alt="crowley voting" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Rep. Joe Crowley photo: @JoeCrowleyNY</p> <hr /> <p>The Queens Democratic Board of Elections commissioner, who in the past has come under fire for conflicts of interest, is quickly becoming one of the highest earning recipients of Queens court patronage, Gotham Gazette has learned.</p> <p>In 2014, Jose Miguel Araujo, then the newly elected BOE president, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/conflicts-board-fines-board-elections-prez-hiring-kin-blog-entry-1.1993052" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was fined</a> $10,000 by the city's Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) -- the maximum penalty for nepotism -- because he gave his wife Rita Patron Araujo a job as a temporary clerk between 2010 and 2012.</p> <p>The fines issued against Araujo and other BOE employees followed a scathing 2013 Department of Investigation (DOI) report, which found the agency to be rife with nepotism, incompetence, and overall dysfunction.</p> <p>"The imposition of the maximum legal fine on the Board’s President should send a powerful message that this conduct will not be tolerated,” DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said in a statement at the time of the fines.</p> <p>Despite the incident, Araujo was renominated for the position by the Queens County Democratic Party and reconfirmed for a four-year term by the City Council in 2016. Since then, his law practice has become one of the top earners of Queens Court patronage doled out by the Queens Surrogate’s Court and Queens Supreme Court, raising questions about his impartiality as a BOE commissioner and other conflicts of interest this outside business might present.</p> <p>Before he became a commissioner, from 2005 through 2007, Araujo earned significant payments from the Queens Surrogate’s Court, which settles estates of Queens residents who die without wills. The appointments required Araujo to act as a “guardian ad litem,” to advocate for individuals incapacitated by age or mental illness. After Araujo joined the BOE in 2008, the appointments stopped. Several payments trickled in again in 2011, but after the 2014 COIB fine, the appointments escalated from both Surrogate’s Court and also Supreme Court, which gave Araujo work as a court evaluator or counsel for guardians of incapacitated individuals.</p> <p>Of the roughly $140,000 Araujo earned from Queens court appointments since 2005, half of the money -- $69,513 -- flowed to Araujo’s practice in the last two years, according to records obtained from the New York State Unified Court System.</p> <p>Rita Araujo, the commissioner’s wife, has had financial difficulties in her past -- a records search shows she is named in 15 nonpayment eviction lawsuits by a previous landlord between 2000 and 2007 -- and Jose Araujo said during his 2014 COIB deposition that he put her on the BOE payroll to qualify her for health benefits. By 2015, the couple was able to purchase a home in Brookhaven, Suffolk County for $203,000, without a mortgage.</p> <p>The couple’s additional income appears to be no coincidence -- current Queens Surrogate’s Court Judge Peter Kelly owes his position to Congressional Rep. Joseph Crowley, the chair of the Queens Democratic Party who nominated Kelly before he ran unopposed for a 14-year term in 2010. Kelly’s sister, Ann Anzalone, is Crowley’s district chief of staff and a Democratic district leader, a locally elected party official that comes with no salary but some political clout. As party chair, Crowley also appoints the Queens Democratic representative to the Board of Elections.</p> <p>In most boroughs, Democratic judicial candidates are nominated by the party heads and must pass the scrutiny of an independent judicial screening panel before they make it on the ballot. In Queens, the Democratic Party does not require a screening for judges and the party’s pick is rarely opposed. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/11/opinion/topics-of-the-times-surrogate-democracy.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For half a century</a>, Queens Democratic Party heads have successfully avoided a primary for the powerful Surrogate’s Court post, but if a rogue lawyer did challenge the party’s preferred candidate, it would be helpful for Crowley to have a friendly Board of Elections commissioner, were anything related to ballot petitions or other matters to arise. This is also the case for virtually all other elected offices, where the county party runs a preferred candidate, whether for seats in the City Council, state Assembly, state Senate, and so on.</p> <p>The fact that Queens court appointments are notoriously handed out to a select few lawyers by judges that have the backing and support of Crowley’s machine makes the arrangement particularly questionable, according to one election attorney who spoke on the condition of anonymity.</p> <p>"There doesn't seem to be any reason that [Jose Miguel Araujo] should to be sitting there as a commissioner while he is getting all these appointments. No one can say getting a job as a surrogate in a particular county is unrelated to the politics of the county," said the lawyer. “They have to like you, or you're not getting that job.”</p> <p>The Queens judicial courts have been plagued by charges of cronyism and patronage <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/nyregion/in-queens-political-center-is-in-surrogates-court.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">for decades</a>. Surrogate’s and Supreme Court judges, hand-picked by party leaders, assign lucrative and easy cases to a small group of lawyers with connections to the Queens County Democratic Party machine. However, besides Araujo, no other sitting Board of Elections commissioner has been handed court appointments since being confirmed to the BOE.</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group, said the Queens Surrogate’s Courts have been used as a reward system for the party machine for too long and that it’s time for the proper authorities, in this case New York State’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, to step in. “The scandal and corruption risk around Queens Surrogate’s has reached a level of outrageousness that’s unacceptable," he said. "It’s turned into a kind of a punchline in good government and political circles."</p> <p>A Board of Elections commissioner taking payment for these court assignments may also violate the city’s conflict of interest law. <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/html/law/law_chap_68_dir.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chapter 68</a> of New York City’s Charter limits the types of outside work public servants who practice law can pursue. For example, public servants may not use their city positions for “financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect” -- which would be the case if Araujo’s influence at the BOE was the driving force behind his recent appointments -- according to a 2001 advisory opinion from COIB. They also may not represent private clients that have business dealings before the City, according to the same opinion. While Surrogate’s Court and Supreme Court are state agencies, if a Surrogate's Court estate proceeding results in a property sale, that sale would be conducted by the Queens Public Administrator's Office, which is a city agency.</p> <p>The Queens public administrator also has ties to the Democratic party machine. The sole counsel to Queens Public Administrator Lois Rosenblatt is Gerard Sweeney, who takes a hefty percentage of each sale referred by the courts. Sweeney -- who in the 1990s was the party’s law chair, charged with ensuring party favorites wound up on the ballot while insurgents were disqualified -- no longer holds an official position in the Queens County Democratic Party, but was described in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a recent Daily News article</a> as its “most important strategist, helping guide the party’s political machinations on the homefront as it jousts for influence in City Hall and Albany.”</p> <p>Sweeney has reportedly earned $30 million since 2006 for administering these sales referred by Surrogate’s Court, according to <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Daily News</a>. Meanwhile, Rosenblatt was herself fined $3,000 <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/05/10/two-city-officials-slapped-with-ethics-violations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">earlier this month</a>&nbsp;by the COIB for nepotism.</p> <p>In at least one case, Araujo did represent a client who had business before the public administrator. On November 10, 2011, Araujo was appointed “guardian ad litem” in Queens Surrogate's Court for the estate of Josephine Ralton, a 92-year-old woman who had died in 2009 with no clear heirs. Eight days later, the Queens Public Administrator sold Ralton's luxury Forest Hills apartment. Araujo received a $3,000 payment from Queens Surrogate's Court for his work on the case, according to court records.</p> <p>Reached by phone, Araujo first denied having received court appointments in recent years. After being reminded that in fact the bulk of his appointments occurred in 2015 and 2016, he said some of cases were done pro-bono because of his “expertise.”</p> <p>But court records show that only a single appointment throughout Araujo's career has ever gone unpaid - a guardianship for Dorothy Noto Lewis, a BOE employee, in April 2016. When Gotham Gazette pointed out that Araujo had in fact earned nearly $70,000 from Surrogate’s Court and Supreme Court in the last two years, Araujo cited <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/rules/chiefjudge/36.shtml#02" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the court’s rules</a>, which limits how much one attorney can earn from court appointments in a calendar year, saying he is “capped out at a certain amount.”</p> <p>Araujo said he sees no potential conflicts of interest which could arise from holding the part-time but influential job as Board of Elections commissioner while also benefiting from Surrogate’s appointments. "There is no conflict for me. I'm able to distinguish between the two and I’m able to recuse myself if necessary, but that hasn't happened and it hasn't been necessary," he said.</p> <p>Like other BOE commissioners, Araujo’s work includes voting on whether candidates are eligible for the election ballot. This often includes petition signature validation and cases of petition fraud or irregularity. Commissioners also supervise recounts and oversee numerous issues that impact the voter turnout for elections, including the viability and location of poll sites.</p> <p>These calls are supposed to be impartial, but the notoriously <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">complex system</a> often favors the incumbent or party’s prefered candidates, while outsiders -- who may be less experienced in electoral requirements or lack resources and access to select election lawyers -- are booted off the ballot.</p> <p>Araujo maintains that the uptick in court appointments was merited because he is an expert in kinship cases. Meanwhile, he chose to keep his Board of Elections commissioner job, which comes with influence and a salary not to exceed $30,000 per year, according to <a href="http://a856-gbol.nyc.gov/GBOLWebsite/GreenBook/Details?orgId=2852" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a city listing</a>.</p> <p>As the election attorney put it, “There are many, many attorneys who could be appointed to do this job. It would be fair to say that if someone is getting these kinds of referrals from Surrogate's Court [and Supreme Court], they shouldn’t be on the Board of Elections. It’s not like BOE commissioners earn $250,000 a year and people are falling over themselves to get that job.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Rep. Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party chair, declined to comment on the distribution of Queens court appointments.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Pushing Back, Board of Elections Head Insists on ‘Personal Responsibility’ for Voters 2017-05-15T11:14:28+00:00 2017-05-15T11:14:28+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6933:pushing-back-board-of-elections-head-insists-on-personal-responsibility-for-voters Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_here_long_line.jpeg" alt="vote here long line" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Long line of voters (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The executive director of the New York City Board of Elections said at a City Council budget hearing on Friday that recent failings by the board, revealed in a <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/your-vote-didnt-count-and-board-didnt-tell-you-time-do-anything-about-it/">WNYC report</a>, were not entirely the BOE’s responsibility and that voters in New York needed to step up their participation and involvement in ensuring that their votes count.</p> <p>WNYC radio’s Brigid Bergin reported last week that more than 78,000 affidavit ballots, out of 168,000 cast by voters whose names were not listed in voter rolls in last year’s presidential election, were disqualified by the BOE and the board did not notify those voters in time for them to challenge those decisions in court and possibly have their vote count. Voters fill out affidavit ballots when they believe there is a mistake about their enrollment status, typically when their name is not in the sign-in book when they show up to cast a ballot.</p> <p>If it is not counting an affidavit vote, the law requires the board to notify affidavit voters immediately by mail and those voters have 20 days to appeal. But, as WNYC found, the board only began sending notifications two days after that deadline passed and was still sending some as of last week -- six months after the election.</p> <p>Friday’s City Council hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations was part of the ongoing round of hearings on Mayor bill de Blasio’s executive budget proposal. A new fiscal year 2018 budget is due by July 1, with the mayor and the Council needing to agree on a spending plan by then. While the BOE is governed by state law, it is funded through the city budget and the City Council has oversight. The mayor and Council have virtually no control, though, over BOE operations and personnel.</p> <p>The government operations committee, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, met to discuss the BOE’s $136.5 million proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Council members sought answers from the board about the latest WNYC report, which came after <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/people/brigid-bergin/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of reports by Bergin</a> exposing problems at the BOE, including tens of thousands of voters purged from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. Kallos said his wife was one of those voters whose vote did not count, and that she received a notice from the BOE just last month.</p> <p>“There is a quasi-manual, quasi-automated process,” said Michael Ryan, BOE executive director, insisting that the board could not send notices to voters who aren’t in the system until they provide relevant missing information to the board.</p> <p>Referring to a specific voter highlighted by WNYC, who shuttled numerous times between two poll sites in attempting to cast her vote, which eventually was not counted, Ryan said the voter’s actions on Election Day seemed “suspicious” and also said WNYC’s report, “simplistically analyzed a complex process.”</p> <p>He also said the affidavit counting process is open and voters concerned about their votes could, and should, approach the board in the days after the election to ensure their vote was valid. “The fact that there is this burden shift to any Board of Elections...that we have to take all of the responsibility and the voters don’t have to take any of the responsibility, which seems to be the argument that’s being made here, is quite simply not fair to any government agency.”</p> <p>He insisted that notifications could not be sent out to voters until the election was certified, which was done December 6 last year, nearly a month after Election Day. And the 20-day deadline to challenge a decision on a vote, he said, was a state legislative matter rather than one for the board.</p> <p>“No amount of money is going to suspend the time-space continuum,” Ryan said, when Kallos asked what the board could do to give people enough time to take a decision to court. “That is something that we all must live with. That is a law of nature.”</p> <p>Kallos suggested perhaps the BOE could use new technology to read voter addresses. But Ryan refuted that as well, insisting, somewhat contrary to his earlier testimony, that the process was an “entirely manual” one. “It’s the 20 days for the court challenge that is the issue, not the technology, not the process,” he added. “Again, that having been said, this is an open process and people are free a week after the election to come to the Board of Elections and challenge their affidavit if they think it’s an issue.”</p> <p>He reiterated that voters must accept their part in the process as well. “There is something in this society that I think is somewhat missing and that is personal responsibility,” he said. “And it doesn't all fall to the government to fix that.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_here_long_line.jpeg" alt="vote here long line" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Long line of voters (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The executive director of the New York City Board of Elections said at a City Council budget hearing on Friday that recent failings by the board, revealed in a <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/your-vote-didnt-count-and-board-didnt-tell-you-time-do-anything-about-it/">WNYC report</a>, were not entirely the BOE’s responsibility and that voters in New York needed to step up their participation and involvement in ensuring that their votes count.</p> <p>WNYC radio’s Brigid Bergin reported last week that more than 78,000 affidavit ballots, out of 168,000 cast by voters whose names were not listed in voter rolls in last year’s presidential election, were disqualified by the BOE and the board did not notify those voters in time for them to challenge those decisions in court and possibly have their vote count. Voters fill out affidavit ballots when they believe there is a mistake about their enrollment status, typically when their name is not in the sign-in book when they show up to cast a ballot.</p> <p>If it is not counting an affidavit vote, the law requires the board to notify affidavit voters immediately by mail and those voters have 20 days to appeal. But, as WNYC found, the board only began sending notifications two days after that deadline passed and was still sending some as of last week -- six months after the election.</p> <p>Friday’s City Council hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations was part of the ongoing round of hearings on Mayor bill de Blasio’s executive budget proposal. A new fiscal year 2018 budget is due by July 1, with the mayor and the Council needing to agree on a spending plan by then. While the BOE is governed by state law, it is funded through the city budget and the City Council has oversight. The mayor and Council have virtually no control, though, over BOE operations and personnel.</p> <p>The government operations committee, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, met to discuss the BOE’s $136.5 million proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Council members sought answers from the board about the latest WNYC report, which came after <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/people/brigid-bergin/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of reports by Bergin</a> exposing problems at the BOE, including tens of thousands of voters purged from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. Kallos said his wife was one of those voters whose vote did not count, and that she received a notice from the BOE just last month.</p> <p>“There is a quasi-manual, quasi-automated process,” said Michael Ryan, BOE executive director, insisting that the board could not send notices to voters who aren’t in the system until they provide relevant missing information to the board.</p> <p>Referring to a specific voter highlighted by WNYC, who shuttled numerous times between two poll sites in attempting to cast her vote, which eventually was not counted, Ryan said the voter’s actions on Election Day seemed “suspicious” and also said WNYC’s report, “simplistically analyzed a complex process.”</p> <p>He also said the affidavit counting process is open and voters concerned about their votes could, and should, approach the board in the days after the election to ensure their vote was valid. “The fact that there is this burden shift to any Board of Elections...that we have to take all of the responsibility and the voters don’t have to take any of the responsibility, which seems to be the argument that’s being made here, is quite simply not fair to any government agency.”</p> <p>He insisted that notifications could not be sent out to voters until the election was certified, which was done December 6 last year, nearly a month after Election Day. And the 20-day deadline to challenge a decision on a vote, he said, was a state legislative matter rather than one for the board.</p> <p>“No amount of money is going to suspend the time-space continuum,” Ryan said, when Kallos asked what the board could do to give people enough time to take a decision to court. “That is something that we all must live with. That is a law of nature.”</p> <p>Kallos suggested perhaps the BOE could use new technology to read voter addresses. But Ryan refuted that as well, insisting, somewhat contrary to his earlier testimony, that the process was an “entirely manual” one. “It’s the 20 days for the court challenge that is the issue, not the technology, not the process,” he added. “Again, that having been said, this is an open process and people are free a week after the election to come to the Board of Elections and challenge their affidavit if they think it’s an issue.”</p> <p>He reiterated that voters must accept their part in the process as well. “There is something in this society that I think is somewhat missing and that is personal responsibility,” he said. “And it doesn't all fall to the government to fix that.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Investigations Into De Blasio Spurred City Reform, Renewed Calls for State Changes 2017-04-10T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-10T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6864:investigations-into-de-blasio-spurred-city-reform-renewed-calls-for-state-changes Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/30870852323_dff9ac6c66_z_1.jpg" alt="de blasio spotlight town hall" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Although it was recently announced that Mayor Bill de Blasio and his aides would not be charged in two separate investigations related to their fundraising activities, both cases prompted widespread calls for reform of campaign finance laws and closure of holes that allow, even encourage, a pay-to-play political culture.</p> <p dir="ltr">The two parallel investigations, at the state and federal levels, exposed vulnerabilities in the law that allowed the mayor and his associates to skirt contribution limits that would have otherwise applied to their activities, both at the city and state levels.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the federal case looking at city-level behavior, the mayor and his team raised unlimited donations, in support of his political agenda, from people who do business with the city. These donations would have been capped had they been made to the mayor’s campaign, but they instead went to a nonprofit the mayor’s allies established soon after his election.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the state-level investigation, Manhattan District Attorney prosecutors looked into how the mayor and his allies directed donations to Democratic state Senate candidates, using county committees to avoid state election law contribution limits.</p> <p dir="ltr">The response to these investigations, which both ended without criminal charges but widespread opinion that the mayor and his allies had blurred or crossed ethical lines, has been remarkably different on the city and state levels.</p> <p dir="ltr">The federal investigation into the Campaign for One New York, the mayor’s now-defunct nonprofit that was the mechanism of unlimited fundraising and spending, led to local reforms late last year. The City Council passed and the mayor signed legislation that regulates the activities of nonprofits set up by elected officials or their allies, such as CONY. The new law places the same restrictions on such groups as those imposed by the city campaign finance law on election campaigns, including a $400 limit on donations from entities with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">In essence, the legislation prevents anything like the Campaign for One New York from operating ever again.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6668-city-council-rushes-through-campaign-finance-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Council Rushes Through Campaign Finance Bills</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">At the state level, however, there has been no movement on tightening the loophole that allowed the mayor and his team to funnel donations to individual candidates, a practice that Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance criticized even as he announced the closure of his investigation.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance said in his letter to state Board of Elections enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman, who had originally referred the case his way for a criminal investigation, that the BOE could still take civil or regulatory action, that the BOE should issue advisories to define which activities are permissible. Vance also wrote that “legislation may be necessary to clarify the Election Law and to prevent any workarounds that might undermine the purpose of the contribution limits.”</p> <p dir="ltr">That sentiment is hardly new. Good government advocates have for years been calling on the state Legislature and Governor to modernize New York’s election laws, with contribution limits being an important aspect of that conversation.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The election law is riddled with loopholes that allowed the mayor to engage in this level of activity that violates the spirit of the law,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform organization. “It’s been done by people before but he really pushed the envelope on this in a way that others have not.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As Dadey pointed out, the mayor’s mechanism was not new. Even Laurence Laufer, the lawyer who helped the mayor’s team in directing the state Senate donations, said as much last year in a letter to BOE’s Sugarman about her prosecution referral. (A confidential memo sent by Sugarman had leaked to the press, bringing the investigation into the public eye.)</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is nothing novel about the 2014 Democratic Party campaign to elect Democratic candidates to the State Senate, other than your attempt to selectively criminalize it,” Laufer wrote to Sugarman, referencing <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/ny-senate-gop-loophole-ripped-dems-blog-entry-1.2208909" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">instances</a> of similar contributions made through county committees in the past, including by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who contributed a large amount of money to help keep the Senate in Republican hands.</p> <p dir="ltr">“[The mayor] still was within the law according to the district attorney, but the law is porous and provides too much opportunity for mischief and collusion,” said Dadey of Citizens Union. “So there needs to be some updating of the laws to reflect this activity that should not be permitted.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As Vance’s investigation documented, the mayor’s team funnelled massive amounts of money through county committees to candidate committees. Candidate committees can only receive up to $10,300 from individuals, unions and LLCs. County committees on the other hand can receive maximum individual contributions of $102,300. The mayor’s team solicited and directed funds to mutilple county committees, which are allowed to make unlimited contributions to candidate committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">In one such case, in October 2014, the Ulster County Democratic Committee received $364,000 in four contributions. The most contributions the committee had received in the previous five years was in 2009, and only about $50,000. The UCDC then transferred $330,000, within a matter of days, to a committee associated with Cecilia Tkaczyk, a Democrat. The committee paid $320,000 to AKPD, a political consulting firm that has close ties to de Blasio.</p> <p dir="ltr">Common Cause, another good government group, similarly called for reforms after federal and state prosecutors announced their decisions to not bring charges in the de Blasio investigations. "As the U.S. Attorney and the Manhattan D.A. have found, New York State's election law is deliberately vague and prone to conflicting interpretations,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the group, in a statement. “That's why Common Cause/NY has consistently advocated for many of the recommendations that the D.A. has made, including clarification of the law itself. Strict guidance is necessary to improve our civic life so that no one, least of all the public or elected officials, should have to parse the difference between ethical and legal.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Election lawyers also agree that it is high time the state government updates laws that have remained stagnant for decades. “I think there’s a lot of room for improvement there,” said Sarah Steiner, an election attorney. “The election law is a collection of old statutory plans and cobbled-together changes over the last 30 years or so. It needs to be updated in so many ways including this,” she added, referring to the county committee loophole that de Blasio’s team exploited.</p> <p dir="ltr">Questions about the election law and monetary contributions to political committees and campaigns are part of the larger discussion that has sort-of been happening in Albany for a number of years, with little to show for it. This debate includes the call to close the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations to candidate campaigns, and the possibility of instituting strict doing-business limits on donations, or even a public campaign financing system, akin to what New York City has. There has been limited appetite for such reforms, especially from Senate Republicans, while Governor Andrew Cuomo remains the biggest beneficiary of the LLC loophole despite calling for its closure.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, the governor announced a fresh push for government and ethics reform -- an agenda that includes campaign finance reform -- but his proposals failed to gain traction in budget negotiations and he did little to put his weight behind them.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6859-for-cuomo-ethics-reform-forgotten-as-budget-lurches" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For Cuomo, Ethics Reform Forgotten as Budget Lurches</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Jerry Goldfeder, another election attorney, said the need for campaign finance reform is perennial. “The state ought to create a public matching funds program like we have in New York City in order to reduce the role of money in elections,” he said, echoing the sentiment of many reformers who believe the state would be better off adopting the city’s program, which incentivizes small-dollar donations by matching them with public funds. The program, considered a national model, tends to level the playing field, especially for first-time candidates who may not necessarily be able to muster the larger campaign donations incumbents can.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York City also has strict doing-business donation limits, which de Blasio went around through the Campaign for One New York, and term limits for elected officials, which do not exist on the state level.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other Council members have been praised by reformers for moving on the legislation to limit groups like Campaign for One New York, though few spoke up while the nonprofit was in the midst of its work. Still, the reforms are now on the books for good, save some kind of rollback by future lawmakers, which would undoubtedly be a politically unpopular move.</p> <p dir="ltr">The state is another story. Steiner isn’t optimistic that the Legislature will act on contribution limits, or even on a broad range of common-sense electoral reforms that have been proposed in the last few months by Gov. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think the chances that the Legislature will work together in order to get to an improvement on [election laws] are minimal at best,” she said.</p> <p>She later added, “What’s happening is very little, if anything.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/30870852323_dff9ac6c66_z_1.jpg" alt="de blasio spotlight town hall" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Although it was recently announced that Mayor Bill de Blasio and his aides would not be charged in two separate investigations related to their fundraising activities, both cases prompted widespread calls for reform of campaign finance laws and closure of holes that allow, even encourage, a pay-to-play political culture.</p> <p dir="ltr">The two parallel investigations, at the state and federal levels, exposed vulnerabilities in the law that allowed the mayor and his associates to skirt contribution limits that would have otherwise applied to their activities, both at the city and state levels.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the federal case looking at city-level behavior, the mayor and his team raised unlimited donations, in support of his political agenda, from people who do business with the city. These donations would have been capped had they been made to the mayor’s campaign, but they instead went to a nonprofit the mayor’s allies established soon after his election.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the state-level investigation, Manhattan District Attorney prosecutors looked into how the mayor and his allies directed donations to Democratic state Senate candidates, using county committees to avoid state election law contribution limits.</p> <p dir="ltr">The response to these investigations, which both ended without criminal charges but widespread opinion that the mayor and his allies had blurred or crossed ethical lines, has been remarkably different on the city and state levels.</p> <p dir="ltr">The federal investigation into the Campaign for One New York, the mayor’s now-defunct nonprofit that was the mechanism of unlimited fundraising and spending, led to local reforms late last year. The City Council passed and the mayor signed legislation that regulates the activities of nonprofits set up by elected officials or their allies, such as CONY. The new law places the same restrictions on such groups as those imposed by the city campaign finance law on election campaigns, including a $400 limit on donations from entities with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">In essence, the legislation prevents anything like the Campaign for One New York from operating ever again.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6668-city-council-rushes-through-campaign-finance-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Council Rushes Through Campaign Finance Bills</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">At the state level, however, there has been no movement on tightening the loophole that allowed the mayor and his team to funnel donations to individual candidates, a practice that Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance criticized even as he announced the closure of his investigation.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance said in his letter to state Board of Elections enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman, who had originally referred the case his way for a criminal investigation, that the BOE could still take civil or regulatory action, that the BOE should issue advisories to define which activities are permissible. Vance also wrote that “legislation may be necessary to clarify the Election Law and to prevent any workarounds that might undermine the purpose of the contribution limits.”</p> <p dir="ltr">That sentiment is hardly new. Good government advocates have for years been calling on the state Legislature and Governor to modernize New York’s election laws, with contribution limits being an important aspect of that conversation.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The election law is riddled with loopholes that allowed the mayor to engage in this level of activity that violates the spirit of the law,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform organization. “It’s been done by people before but he really pushed the envelope on this in a way that others have not.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As Dadey pointed out, the mayor’s mechanism was not new. Even Laurence Laufer, the lawyer who helped the mayor’s team in directing the state Senate donations, said as much last year in a letter to BOE’s Sugarman about her prosecution referral. (A confidential memo sent by Sugarman had leaked to the press, bringing the investigation into the public eye.)</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is nothing novel about the 2014 Democratic Party campaign to elect Democratic candidates to the State Senate, other than your attempt to selectively criminalize it,” Laufer wrote to Sugarman, referencing <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/ny-senate-gop-loophole-ripped-dems-blog-entry-1.2208909" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">instances</a> of similar contributions made through county committees in the past, including by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who contributed a large amount of money to help keep the Senate in Republican hands.</p> <p dir="ltr">“[The mayor] still was within the law according to the district attorney, but the law is porous and provides too much opportunity for mischief and collusion,” said Dadey of Citizens Union. “So there needs to be some updating of the laws to reflect this activity that should not be permitted.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As Vance’s investigation documented, the mayor’s team funnelled massive amounts of money through county committees to candidate committees. Candidate committees can only receive up to $10,300 from individuals, unions and LLCs. County committees on the other hand can receive maximum individual contributions of $102,300. The mayor’s team solicited and directed funds to mutilple county committees, which are allowed to make unlimited contributions to candidate committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">In one such case, in October 2014, the Ulster County Democratic Committee received $364,000 in four contributions. The most contributions the committee had received in the previous five years was in 2009, and only about $50,000. The UCDC then transferred $330,000, within a matter of days, to a committee associated with Cecilia Tkaczyk, a Democrat. The committee paid $320,000 to AKPD, a political consulting firm that has close ties to de Blasio.</p> <p dir="ltr">Common Cause, another good government group, similarly called for reforms after federal and state prosecutors announced their decisions to not bring charges in the de Blasio investigations. "As the U.S. Attorney and the Manhattan D.A. have found, New York State's election law is deliberately vague and prone to conflicting interpretations,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the group, in a statement. “That's why Common Cause/NY has consistently advocated for many of the recommendations that the D.A. has made, including clarification of the law itself. Strict guidance is necessary to improve our civic life so that no one, least of all the public or elected officials, should have to parse the difference between ethical and legal.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Election lawyers also agree that it is high time the state government updates laws that have remained stagnant for decades. “I think there’s a lot of room for improvement there,” said Sarah Steiner, an election attorney. “The election law is a collection of old statutory plans and cobbled-together changes over the last 30 years or so. It needs to be updated in so many ways including this,” she added, referring to the county committee loophole that de Blasio’s team exploited.</p> <p dir="ltr">Questions about the election law and monetary contributions to political committees and campaigns are part of the larger discussion that has sort-of been happening in Albany for a number of years, with little to show for it. This debate includes the call to close the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations to candidate campaigns, and the possibility of instituting strict doing-business limits on donations, or even a public campaign financing system, akin to what New York City has. There has been limited appetite for such reforms, especially from Senate Republicans, while Governor Andrew Cuomo remains the biggest beneficiary of the LLC loophole despite calling for its closure.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, the governor announced a fresh push for government and ethics reform -- an agenda that includes campaign finance reform -- but his proposals failed to gain traction in budget negotiations and he did little to put his weight behind them.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6859-for-cuomo-ethics-reform-forgotten-as-budget-lurches" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For Cuomo, Ethics Reform Forgotten as Budget Lurches</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Jerry Goldfeder, another election attorney, said the need for campaign finance reform is perennial. “The state ought to create a public matching funds program like we have in New York City in order to reduce the role of money in elections,” he said, echoing the sentiment of many reformers who believe the state would be better off adopting the city’s program, which incentivizes small-dollar donations by matching them with public funds. The program, considered a national model, tends to level the playing field, especially for first-time candidates who may not necessarily be able to muster the larger campaign donations incumbents can.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York City also has strict doing-business donation limits, which de Blasio went around through the Campaign for One New York, and term limits for elected officials, which do not exist on the state level.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other Council members have been praised by reformers for moving on the legislation to limit groups like Campaign for One New York, though few spoke up while the nonprofit was in the midst of its work. Still, the reforms are now on the books for good, save some kind of rollback by future lawmakers, which would undoubtedly be a politically unpopular move.</p> <p dir="ltr">The state is another story. Steiner isn’t optimistic that the Legislature will act on contribution limits, or even on a broad range of common-sense electoral reforms that have been proposed in the last few months by Gov. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think the chances that the Legislature will work together in order to get to an improvement on [election laws] are minimal at best,” she said.</p> <p>She later added, “What’s happening is very little, if anything.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
De Blasio Could Still Face Penalties in State Senate Fundraising Investigation 2017-04-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6853:de-blasio-could-still-face-penalties-in-state-senate-fundraising-investigation Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32945356760_feb645f399_z.jpg" width="600" height="401" alt="de blasio crane shadow" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance recently concluded his investigation into the effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his aides to funnel campaign funds to Democratic state Senate candidates in 2014. Vance did not bring any charges in the case, writing in a ten-page letter to the state Board of Elections enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman, who had referred the case for prosecution, that “the parties involved cannot be appropriately prosecuted, given their reliance on the advice of counsel.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But, Vance’s decision did not entirely vindicate the mayor. He criticized de Blasio and his team for their actions that “appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws,” and also wrote that his decision “does not foreclose the BOE or others from pursuing any civil or regulatory action that they determine might be warranted by these facts; such a remedy might well provide guidance to those involved in the electoral process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s investigation -- which ran parallel to a federal investigation of the mayor’s fundraising and City Hall behavior that also concluded with no charges filed -- delved into whether the mayor and his aides had solicited and directed campaign contributions far in excess of election law limits to individual candidate committees, using county committees as intermediaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the behest of de Blasio and his associates, large donations were made to county committees, which can receive up to $102,300 from an individual, union or LLC, instead of directly to candidate committees, which can receive a maximum of $10,300. County committees can give unlimited funds to candidate committees. The money was funneled to a handful of Democratic candidate campaigns in swing districts, and largely used to pay hefty consulting fees to firms with close links to de Blasio, including BerlinRosen, AKPD, and Red Horse Strategies.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s office could not make a case for prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt, in part because of the legal advice de Blasio and his team had received that gave them the go-ahead for their maneuvers. But the BOE has a lower burden of proof for its own enforcement actions, which include civil penalties reaching thousands of dollars.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations">De Blasio and Aides Won't Face Charges in Dual Investigations</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Under <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/law/2016NYElectionLaw.pdf">state election law</a>, the BOE chief enforcement counsel could potentially refer a case to a hearing officer who could then determine whether “based on a preponderance of the evidence” an individual, on behalf of a candidate or campaign committee, had committed violations of the law. Based on the hearing officer’s report, the case could be settled out of court or the enforcement counsel can initiate a special proceeding in state supreme court to obtain a civil penalty.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Board of Elections now does have the opportunity to determine whether or not there was a violation of the rules governing campaign activities,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group that has long called for closing holes in election law. “It is up to them now to determine whether there was a violation of the rules and whether or not to determine fault and to assign penalties based on this investigation.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s investigation found that individual contributions and transfers complied with regulations. But viewed as a whole, they showed a pattern that implied a coordinated effort to circumvent the law. “The flow of money from donor to county committee to campaign committee to consultant often occurred within days,” the DA’s letter to the BOE reads. “In most cases, the time from donation to payment of a consultant invoice was so short that the only reasonable conclusion is that the Coordinated Campaign had pre-determined the ultimate recipient of the funds at the time the donation was solicited.” (The “Coordinated Campaign” referred to de Blasio’s team.)</p> <p dir="ltr">The DA’s conclusions were similar to those that had spurred Sugarman’s referral.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance noted, for instance, that the Putnam County Democratic Committee received just over $671,000 in contributions in 2014, and within days transferred more than $640,000 to authorized candidate committees of Terry Gipson and Justin Wagner, two Democrats attempting to swing Senate seats. The most contributions that the PCDC had received in the previous five years was about $39,000 in 2012. The two committees associated with Gipson and Wagner “almost immediately expended virtually all of the funds on political consultants,” Vance wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the BOE’s letter referring the matter for prosecution leaked in April last year, the mayor alluded that it may have been politically motivated. Sugarman, the enforcement counsel, is an appointee of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has a long-running feud with the mayor. At a news conference, the mayor <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160425/civic-center/leaked-memo-calling-my-fundraising-criminal-is-political-ploy-de-blasio">said</a>, “In this instance, there is an obvious question mark around that memo that was leaked to the press and real questions about motivation and obviously huge questions about accuracy in terms of the law.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on March 17 of this year, when Gotham Gazette asked if he was concerned about the matter being referred back to the BOE and his prior allusions about it being politically motivated, de Blasio refused to comment. “I’m not going to speak to that,” he said. “I think what I’ve said in the past speaks for itself.” De Blasio’s campaign spokesperson declined to comment for this article. The mayor has all along insisted that he and his associates acted ethically and legally, and de Blasio disputed Vance's characterization that his team violated the spirit of the law.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I don’t think there’s any lack of will” for civil and regulatory action by the BOE, said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. Steiner did not address the de Blasio case in particular, but she said, “If there was a referral to a prosecutorial agency and then it was kicked back to the Board of Elections, we would have no way of knowing [its status] because it is confidential.”</p> <p dir="ltr">She also said that routine criminal prosecutions by the BOE are “fairly new” and have not been “well executed.” She added, “I don’t think their discretion is well used.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The enforcement counsel position at the BOE was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/new-independent-enforcement-unit-nys-board-elections-begins-tuesday-blog-entry-1.1923505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created</a> in 2014 as part of a deal on ethics reform between Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators, part of the governor’s controversial decision to shut down the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. (This decision was itself investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, which determined it had not found sufficient evidence to charge Cuomo or his associates with a crime.)</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s unclear whether the BOE will indeed move forward with any enforcement procedures in the de Blasio matter, or who the target of that enforcement would be. BOE’s Sugarman did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">After an Inspector General for the BOE identified John Conklin, a Republican BOE spokesperson, as the source of the leak, Sugarman and <a href="http://observer.com/2016/06/cuomo-thinks-de-blasio-owes-his-board-of-elections-appointee-an-apology/">Cuomo</a> both called on the mayor to apologize for his remarks. “Allegations were made primarily by the New York City Mayor that I leaked the report due to political motivations,” Sugarman told the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/31/gop-linked-boe-official-blamed-for-leaking-de-blasio-probe/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a>, in a statement. “Now that we know the facts, I hope the mayor will apologize for maligning my integrity and professionalism.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio never apologized and stood by his remarks, which he again confirmed in recent weeks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The election law states that a person who wilfully accepts illegal over-the-limit contributions would be required to repay the amount that exceeds contribution limits, and can face a civil penalty equal to that excess amount and an additional fine of $10,000. But, in de Blasio’s case, the candidate committees that benefited from the campaign contributions were not known to be the subject of investigation and appear to have acted within the law in receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from county committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m not sure who would be penalized,” said Dadey from Citizens Union, “because often times it’s not the candidate but the committees that get penalized. So there could be some state Senate candidate committees that could be at fault as well because the mayor’s political team’s activities were there to support the candidate committees.” All of the candidates de Blasio’s team supported lost in 2014, and efforts by the mayor and his associates to flip the Senate to Democrats failed.</p> <p>“I’m not sure what the Board could do,” Dadey said, “but it’s important that they at least review the analysis of the investigation conducted by the district attorney.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32945356760_feb645f399_z.jpg" width="600" height="401" alt="de blasio crane shadow" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance recently concluded his investigation into the effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his aides to funnel campaign funds to Democratic state Senate candidates in 2014. Vance did not bring any charges in the case, writing in a ten-page letter to the state Board of Elections enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman, who had referred the case for prosecution, that “the parties involved cannot be appropriately prosecuted, given their reliance on the advice of counsel.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But, Vance’s decision did not entirely vindicate the mayor. He criticized de Blasio and his team for their actions that “appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws,” and also wrote that his decision “does not foreclose the BOE or others from pursuing any civil or regulatory action that they determine might be warranted by these facts; such a remedy might well provide guidance to those involved in the electoral process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s investigation -- which ran parallel to a federal investigation of the mayor’s fundraising and City Hall behavior that also concluded with no charges filed -- delved into whether the mayor and his aides had solicited and directed campaign contributions far in excess of election law limits to individual candidate committees, using county committees as intermediaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the behest of de Blasio and his associates, large donations were made to county committees, which can receive up to $102,300 from an individual, union or LLC, instead of directly to candidate committees, which can receive a maximum of $10,300. County committees can give unlimited funds to candidate committees. The money was funneled to a handful of Democratic candidate campaigns in swing districts, and largely used to pay hefty consulting fees to firms with close links to de Blasio, including BerlinRosen, AKPD, and Red Horse Strategies.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s office could not make a case for prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt, in part because of the legal advice de Blasio and his team had received that gave them the go-ahead for their maneuvers. But the BOE has a lower burden of proof for its own enforcement actions, which include civil penalties reaching thousands of dollars.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations">De Blasio and Aides Won't Face Charges in Dual Investigations</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Under <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/law/2016NYElectionLaw.pdf">state election law</a>, the BOE chief enforcement counsel could potentially refer a case to a hearing officer who could then determine whether “based on a preponderance of the evidence” an individual, on behalf of a candidate or campaign committee, had committed violations of the law. Based on the hearing officer’s report, the case could be settled out of court or the enforcement counsel can initiate a special proceeding in state supreme court to obtain a civil penalty.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Board of Elections now does have the opportunity to determine whether or not there was a violation of the rules governing campaign activities,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group that has long called for closing holes in election law. “It is up to them now to determine whether there was a violation of the rules and whether or not to determine fault and to assign penalties based on this investigation.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s investigation found that individual contributions and transfers complied with regulations. But viewed as a whole, they showed a pattern that implied a coordinated effort to circumvent the law. “The flow of money from donor to county committee to campaign committee to consultant often occurred within days,” the DA’s letter to the BOE reads. “In most cases, the time from donation to payment of a consultant invoice was so short that the only reasonable conclusion is that the Coordinated Campaign had pre-determined the ultimate recipient of the funds at the time the donation was solicited.” (The “Coordinated Campaign” referred to de Blasio’s team.)</p> <p dir="ltr">The DA’s conclusions were similar to those that had spurred Sugarman’s referral.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance noted, for instance, that the Putnam County Democratic Committee received just over $671,000 in contributions in 2014, and within days transferred more than $640,000 to authorized candidate committees of Terry Gipson and Justin Wagner, two Democrats attempting to swing Senate seats. The most contributions that the PCDC had received in the previous five years was about $39,000 in 2012. The two committees associated with Gipson and Wagner “almost immediately expended virtually all of the funds on political consultants,” Vance wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the BOE’s letter referring the matter for prosecution leaked in April last year, the mayor alluded that it may have been politically motivated. Sugarman, the enforcement counsel, is an appointee of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has a long-running feud with the mayor. At a news conference, the mayor <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160425/civic-center/leaked-memo-calling-my-fundraising-criminal-is-political-ploy-de-blasio">said</a>, “In this instance, there is an obvious question mark around that memo that was leaked to the press and real questions about motivation and obviously huge questions about accuracy in terms of the law.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on March 17 of this year, when Gotham Gazette asked if he was concerned about the matter being referred back to the BOE and his prior allusions about it being politically motivated, de Blasio refused to comment. “I’m not going to speak to that,” he said. “I think what I’ve said in the past speaks for itself.” De Blasio’s campaign spokesperson declined to comment for this article. The mayor has all along insisted that he and his associates acted ethically and legally, and de Blasio disputed Vance's characterization that his team violated the spirit of the law.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I don’t think there’s any lack of will” for civil and regulatory action by the BOE, said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. Steiner did not address the de Blasio case in particular, but she said, “If there was a referral to a prosecutorial agency and then it was kicked back to the Board of Elections, we would have no way of knowing [its status] because it is confidential.”</p> <p dir="ltr">She also said that routine criminal prosecutions by the BOE are “fairly new” and have not been “well executed.” She added, “I don’t think their discretion is well used.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The enforcement counsel position at the BOE was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/new-independent-enforcement-unit-nys-board-elections-begins-tuesday-blog-entry-1.1923505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created</a> in 2014 as part of a deal on ethics reform between Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators, part of the governor’s controversial decision to shut down the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. (This decision was itself investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, which determined it had not found sufficient evidence to charge Cuomo or his associates with a crime.)</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s unclear whether the BOE will indeed move forward with any enforcement procedures in the de Blasio matter, or who the target of that enforcement would be. BOE’s Sugarman did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">After an Inspector General for the BOE identified John Conklin, a Republican BOE spokesperson, as the source of the leak, Sugarman and <a href="http://observer.com/2016/06/cuomo-thinks-de-blasio-owes-his-board-of-elections-appointee-an-apology/">Cuomo</a> both called on the mayor to apologize for his remarks. “Allegations were made primarily by the New York City Mayor that I leaked the report due to political motivations,” Sugarman told the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/31/gop-linked-boe-official-blamed-for-leaking-de-blasio-probe/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a>, in a statement. “Now that we know the facts, I hope the mayor will apologize for maligning my integrity and professionalism.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio never apologized and stood by his remarks, which he again confirmed in recent weeks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The election law states that a person who wilfully accepts illegal over-the-limit contributions would be required to repay the amount that exceeds contribution limits, and can face a civil penalty equal to that excess amount and an additional fine of $10,000. But, in de Blasio’s case, the candidate committees that benefited from the campaign contributions were not known to be the subject of investigation and appear to have acted within the law in receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from county committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m not sure who would be penalized,” said Dadey from Citizens Union, “because often times it’s not the candidate but the committees that get penalized. So there could be some state Senate candidate committees that could be at fault as well because the mayor’s political team’s activities were there to support the candidate committees.” All of the candidates de Blasio’s team supported lost in 2014, and efforts by the mayor and his associates to flip the Senate to Democrats failed.</p> <p>“I’m not sure what the Board could do,” Dadey said, “but it’s important that they at least review the analysis of the investigation conducted by the district attorney.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>