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/campaign-finance-reform 2017-10-20T12:24:32+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com One-House Budgets Show Little Indication Ethics, Voting & Campaign Finance Reforms Will Advance in Albany 2017-03-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6811:one-house-budgets-show-little-indication-ethics-voting-campaign-finance-reforms-will-advance-in-albany Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/19093862735_58ab30eb75_z.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In one-house budgets passed this week, the state Legislature showed little evidence that new government ethics, voting, and campaign finance reform measures will be passed in Albany any time soon. This, despite persistent issues with public corruption, antiquated election laws, and the ongoing ability for wealthy interests to donate virtually unlimited sums to politicians.</p> <p>Through his January State of the State tour, 2017 policy book, and executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his proposals for such measures -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">an ambitious reform agenda</a>, but one that the governor has done little to promote publicly since January.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the Democrat-led Assembly aligned itself with Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, on measures like voting and campaign finance reform, while separating on other items related to transparency and budget control. The Republican majority in the Senate, on the other hand, rejected virtually all of Cuomo’s “good government and ethics” proposals.</p> <p>The one-house budgets are statements of priority from the majorities of the two legislative houses, and set the stage for the final weeks of negotiation before a new state budget is agreed upon before the April 1 start to the new fiscal year. Government ethics, voting, and campaign finance reform do not appear to be particularly high on the list of priorities for Cuomo, the Assembly majority, the Senate majority, or the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (a group of eight breakaway Democrats that has a coalition agreement with Senate Republicans but nevertheless put forward its own conference budget resolution on Wednesday).</p> <p>Both the Senate and Assembly majorities pushed back on Cuomo’s move to secure more control of the budget, specifically a provision Cuomo had outlined that would allow the governor to slash funding mid-year in the event of federal cuts without consulting the Legislature. The legislative majorities also both rejected Cuomo’s call for the creation of new inspectors general appointed by the governor’s office to oversee the Port Authority and the State Education Department. They also indicated that they oppose proposals that expand the powers of the state Inspector General and extend the state’s freedom of information law (FOIL) to the Legislature.</p> <p>However, a major difference between the two chambers is the status of the infamous “LLC loophole,” which permits politicians to benefit from virtually unlimited corporate campaign contributions -- its closure, good government groups say, is essential to stemming pay-to-play politics and corruption.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a1926/amendment/original" target="_blank">An Assembly bill</a> to close the loophole, sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, has passed multiple times with bipartisan support, and Cuomo has indicated he would sign the legislation if passed by both houses. Yet, the Senate has not brought such legislation to the floor for a vote, despite a companion bill existing for years.</p> <p>Both Cuomo’s executive budget proposal and <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Reports/WAM/20170313/" target="_blank">the Assembly’s one-house</a> resolution recommend that LLCs be subject to the same campaign contribution limitations as other corporations and require that the owners of each limited liability company be disclosed, but the Senate GOP’s resolution makes no mention of the legislation. It vaguely indicates that the Senate will “consider modifications” to the governor’s ethics and good governance proposals. “Any ethics reform requires balanced and measured actions to ensure New Yorkers are best served by their public officials,” the Senate document states.</p> <p>Senator Daniel Squadron, who sponsors <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s496" target="_blank">the Senate bill</a> to close the LLC Loophole, criticized the Senate Majority's removal of a measure from the budget resolution in a statement referencing the recent firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has famously crusaded against corrupt Albany lawmakers, including the former leaders of both legislative houses. "The vacancy in the Southern District of New York is a reminder that the Senate Majority must no longer be vacant on real ethics reform,” Squadron, a New York City Democrat, said in a statement. "There's a clear step to help get big money out of New York politics: closing the LLC Loophole. Taking that step will begin to reduce corruption and restore faith in government.”</p> <p>On the Senate floor Wednesday, Squadron asked Senator Catharine Young, a Republican from Chautauqua and Allegany Counties who chairs the Senate finance committee, for confirmation that the Senate Majority will not block closure of the LLC loophole in the final budget.</p> <p>“Under the Article XII bill that we introduced, we did not make any modification to the governor’s proposal, however in the resolution we say we are open to making modifications to the governor’s proposal,” responded Young.</p> <p>Cuomo's wide-ranging, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">10-point ethics reform agenda</a> advocates for a public campaign financing system, early voting, and several additional measures that reform-minded advocates and legislators have been calling for, as well as others of his own.</p> <p>One of the governor’s proposals would require lawmakers consult the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee regarding any outside income, but stops short of banning such income. Cuomo also wants to significantly cap the outside income legislators can make. Legislators addressed the proposal in February, when the Senate and Assembly passed a joint resolution requiring any legislator earning more than $5,000 in outside income to seek an advisory opinion from the Legislative Ethics Commission as to whether the employment is consistent with the Public Officers Law.</p> <p>In their budget resolutions, the Assembly and Senate both call for increased disclosure and transparency requirements for the members of Cuomo’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs), which have been accused by lawmakers of self-dealing. The Legislature want to require council members to file annual financial disclosure statements, adhere to the Code of Ethics and FOIL requirements in the Public Officers Law, and abide by the open meetings law.</p> <p>Cuomo and his allies have pushed back on the idea of these disclosure requirements, saying that the regulations would make it difficult to recruit new members, who are volunteers and typically successful businesspeople.</p> <p>“Now several members want to derail the REDCs by requiring their members to disclose personal financial information to a degree that is inappropriate for a private citizen volunteer,’’ Virginia Horvath and Jeff Belt, co-chairs of the governor's Western New York regional economic development council, wrote in a Feb. 27 letter to Western New York legislators, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/01/cuomo-economic-development-appointees-blast-lawmakers/" target="_blank">according to the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, in campaign finance reform, the Assembly is proposing new legislation to “prohibit housekeeping monies from being transferred or contributed out of the account to another segregated housekeeping account” or to be used “for political communications referencing a candidate.” An Assembly spokesperson confirmed to Gotham Gazette that this proposal is in response to tactics used by both Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference during recent election cycles.</p> <p>While both Cuomo and Assembly Democrats favor creating a system of public campaign financing, perhaps similar to New York City’s, the Assembly did not specifically include that in its one-house and Senate Republicans in their one-house budget resolution again expressed opposition to taxpayer-funded campaigns. Senate Republicans also stated that they do not believe a full-time professional Legislature best represents the state -- meaning they do not want to see strict limits placed on legislators’ outside income.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r1050" target="_blank">The Senate majority also stated</a> its objection to Cuomo’s proposal that the Legislature and the Legislative Ethics Commission become subject to the same freedom of information law provisions to which executive agencies are subject.</p> <p>“The legislative process is inherently open to the public for input, scrutiny and review. In contrast, the public is made aware of many Executive agency activities only after they occur. As such, for purposes of freedom of information law, these branches are treated differently,” the Senate’s one-house resolution states.</p> <p>The resolution notes that confidentiality is necessary with respect to the legislative ethics commission in order to encourage individuals to seek ethics guidance.</p> <p>As for voting reform, the Assembly voted to agree with Cuomo’s calls for automatic registration and early voting, but recommends a period of early voting commencing eight days before an election rather than the 12-day window proposed by the governor. Like the rest of Cuomo’s reform proposals, the Senate did not give indication of support to voting reforms.</p> <p>As usual, there was little drama in the Assembly, where Democrats hold a wide majority margin. But, in the Senate proceedings grew contentious Wednesday when mainline Democrats were forced, with little notice, to vote on two one-house resolutions, one for the Senate Majority and one for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). This, while Senate Democrats were blocked from submitting their own resolution for a vote. In a headed session on the Senate floor, Democratic conference members, led by Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, objected to the unprecedented change in procedure, and expressed dismay that most of their policies were not represented in either the majority or IDC budget proposal.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy leader of the mainline Democrats, asked for his conference to have a chance to put forth its own resolution, a request that was denied by a chamber vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r1051" target="_blank">The IDC’s resolution</a>, written in broader strokes than the Republican majority’s, suggests that its members are on board with all of the governor’s proposed ethics reforms, including closure of the LLC loophole. While the IDC has some influence with Senate Republicans given that the breakaway conference helps bolster the GOP’s razor thin majority, it is unlikely that influence will extend to significant ethics, voting, or campaign finance reform this year.</p> <p>“The Governor has included comprehensive ethics reform in his Executive Budget proposal just as he has every other year," said Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer. "We strongly urge the Legislature to join us in this effort and pass these proposals this year.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/19093862735_58ab30eb75_z.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In one-house budgets passed this week, the state Legislature showed little evidence that new government ethics, voting, and campaign finance reform measures will be passed in Albany any time soon. This, despite persistent issues with public corruption, antiquated election laws, and the ongoing ability for wealthy interests to donate virtually unlimited sums to politicians.</p> <p>Through his January State of the State tour, 2017 policy book, and executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his proposals for such measures -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">an ambitious reform agenda</a>, but one that the governor has done little to promote publicly since January.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the Democrat-led Assembly aligned itself with Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, on measures like voting and campaign finance reform, while separating on other items related to transparency and budget control. The Republican majority in the Senate, on the other hand, rejected virtually all of Cuomo’s “good government and ethics” proposals.</p> <p>The one-house budgets are statements of priority from the majorities of the two legislative houses, and set the stage for the final weeks of negotiation before a new state budget is agreed upon before the April 1 start to the new fiscal year. Government ethics, voting, and campaign finance reform do not appear to be particularly high on the list of priorities for Cuomo, the Assembly majority, the Senate majority, or the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (a group of eight breakaway Democrats that has a coalition agreement with Senate Republicans but nevertheless put forward its own conference budget resolution on Wednesday).</p> <p>Both the Senate and Assembly majorities pushed back on Cuomo’s move to secure more control of the budget, specifically a provision Cuomo had outlined that would allow the governor to slash funding mid-year in the event of federal cuts without consulting the Legislature. The legislative majorities also both rejected Cuomo’s call for the creation of new inspectors general appointed by the governor’s office to oversee the Port Authority and the State Education Department. They also indicated that they oppose proposals that expand the powers of the state Inspector General and extend the state’s freedom of information law (FOIL) to the Legislature.</p> <p>However, a major difference between the two chambers is the status of the infamous “LLC loophole,” which permits politicians to benefit from virtually unlimited corporate campaign contributions -- its closure, good government groups say, is essential to stemming pay-to-play politics and corruption.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a1926/amendment/original" target="_blank">An Assembly bill</a> to close the loophole, sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, has passed multiple times with bipartisan support, and Cuomo has indicated he would sign the legislation if passed by both houses. Yet, the Senate has not brought such legislation to the floor for a vote, despite a companion bill existing for years.</p> <p>Both Cuomo’s executive budget proposal and <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Reports/WAM/20170313/" target="_blank">the Assembly’s one-house</a> resolution recommend that LLCs be subject to the same campaign contribution limitations as other corporations and require that the owners of each limited liability company be disclosed, but the Senate GOP’s resolution makes no mention of the legislation. It vaguely indicates that the Senate will “consider modifications” to the governor’s ethics and good governance proposals. “Any ethics reform requires balanced and measured actions to ensure New Yorkers are best served by their public officials,” the Senate document states.</p> <p>Senator Daniel Squadron, who sponsors <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s496" target="_blank">the Senate bill</a> to close the LLC Loophole, criticized the Senate Majority's removal of a measure from the budget resolution in a statement referencing the recent firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has famously crusaded against corrupt Albany lawmakers, including the former leaders of both legislative houses. "The vacancy in the Southern District of New York is a reminder that the Senate Majority must no longer be vacant on real ethics reform,” Squadron, a New York City Democrat, said in a statement. "There's a clear step to help get big money out of New York politics: closing the LLC Loophole. Taking that step will begin to reduce corruption and restore faith in government.”</p> <p>On the Senate floor Wednesday, Squadron asked Senator Catharine Young, a Republican from Chautauqua and Allegany Counties who chairs the Senate finance committee, for confirmation that the Senate Majority will not block closure of the LLC loophole in the final budget.</p> <p>“Under the Article XII bill that we introduced, we did not make any modification to the governor’s proposal, however in the resolution we say we are open to making modifications to the governor’s proposal,” responded Young.</p> <p>Cuomo's wide-ranging, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">10-point ethics reform agenda</a> advocates for a public campaign financing system, early voting, and several additional measures that reform-minded advocates and legislators have been calling for, as well as others of his own.</p> <p>One of the governor’s proposals would require lawmakers consult the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee regarding any outside income, but stops short of banning such income. Cuomo also wants to significantly cap the outside income legislators can make. Legislators addressed the proposal in February, when the Senate and Assembly passed a joint resolution requiring any legislator earning more than $5,000 in outside income to seek an advisory opinion from the Legislative Ethics Commission as to whether the employment is consistent with the Public Officers Law.</p> <p>In their budget resolutions, the Assembly and Senate both call for increased disclosure and transparency requirements for the members of Cuomo’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs), which have been accused by lawmakers of self-dealing. The Legislature want to require council members to file annual financial disclosure statements, adhere to the Code of Ethics and FOIL requirements in the Public Officers Law, and abide by the open meetings law.</p> <p>Cuomo and his allies have pushed back on the idea of these disclosure requirements, saying that the regulations would make it difficult to recruit new members, who are volunteers and typically successful businesspeople.</p> <p>“Now several members want to derail the REDCs by requiring their members to disclose personal financial information to a degree that is inappropriate for a private citizen volunteer,’’ Virginia Horvath and Jeff Belt, co-chairs of the governor's Western New York regional economic development council, wrote in a Feb. 27 letter to Western New York legislators, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/01/cuomo-economic-development-appointees-blast-lawmakers/" target="_blank">according to the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, in campaign finance reform, the Assembly is proposing new legislation to “prohibit housekeeping monies from being transferred or contributed out of the account to another segregated housekeeping account” or to be used “for political communications referencing a candidate.” An Assembly spokesperson confirmed to Gotham Gazette that this proposal is in response to tactics used by both Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference during recent election cycles.</p> <p>While both Cuomo and Assembly Democrats favor creating a system of public campaign financing, perhaps similar to New York City’s, the Assembly did not specifically include that in its one-house and Senate Republicans in their one-house budget resolution again expressed opposition to taxpayer-funded campaigns. Senate Republicans also stated that they do not believe a full-time professional Legislature best represents the state -- meaning they do not want to see strict limits placed on legislators’ outside income.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r1050" target="_blank">The Senate majority also stated</a> its objection to Cuomo’s proposal that the Legislature and the Legislative Ethics Commission become subject to the same freedom of information law provisions to which executive agencies are subject.</p> <p>“The legislative process is inherently open to the public for input, scrutiny and review. In contrast, the public is made aware of many Executive agency activities only after they occur. As such, for purposes of freedom of information law, these branches are treated differently,” the Senate’s one-house resolution states.</p> <p>The resolution notes that confidentiality is necessary with respect to the legislative ethics commission in order to encourage individuals to seek ethics guidance.</p> <p>As for voting reform, the Assembly voted to agree with Cuomo’s calls for automatic registration and early voting, but recommends a period of early voting commencing eight days before an election rather than the 12-day window proposed by the governor. Like the rest of Cuomo’s reform proposals, the Senate did not give indication of support to voting reforms.</p> <p>As usual, there was little drama in the Assembly, where Democrats hold a wide majority margin. But, in the Senate proceedings grew contentious Wednesday when mainline Democrats were forced, with little notice, to vote on two one-house resolutions, one for the Senate Majority and one for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). This, while Senate Democrats were blocked from submitting their own resolution for a vote. In a headed session on the Senate floor, Democratic conference members, led by Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, objected to the unprecedented change in procedure, and expressed dismay that most of their policies were not represented in either the majority or IDC budget proposal.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy leader of the mainline Democrats, asked for his conference to have a chance to put forth its own resolution, a request that was denied by a chamber vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r1051" target="_blank">The IDC’s resolution</a>, written in broader strokes than the Republican majority’s, suggests that its members are on board with all of the governor’s proposed ethics reforms, including closure of the LLC loophole. While the IDC has some influence with Senate Republicans given that the breakaway conference helps bolster the GOP’s razor thin majority, it is unlikely that influence will extend to significant ethics, voting, or campaign finance reform this year.</p> <p>“The Governor has included comprehensive ethics reform in his Executive Budget proposal just as he has every other year," said Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer. "We strongly urge the Legislature to join us in this effort and pass these proposals this year.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Business Contributions and Campaign Finance in New York: Deep Historical Roots 2017-03-07T05:00:00+00:00 2017-03-07T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6795:business-contributions-and-campaign-finance-in-new-york-deep-historical-roots Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32271185940_a5e50b70ab_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo casino ribbon cutting" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: The Governor's Office on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Business money and New York politics<br /></strong>The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an oversight panel, recently proposed legislation to increase the requirements for lobbyists to disclose their political fundraising. The recommendation would help show the ways in those seeking to influence policy by day are raising money for policy-makers by night.</p> <p dir="ltr">Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Group, one of several groups critical of New York's loose campaign finance laws, said recently that during this time in the legislative session in Albany, "It's pretty much pedal-to-the-metal when it comes to [legislators] hitting up lobbyists for campaign contributions."</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York State League of Women Voters called for "a significant reduction of all contribution limits, special 'pay-to-play' limits on contributions by lobbyists and those who do business with the state and eliminating the LLC loophole." The Citizens Union, another reform group, has also called for campaign finance reform in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">In his annual message to the Legislature, the governor denounced "political contributions by business corporations" as "morally wrong....Their contributions are influenced by business and not by patriotism and, like other investments, are made in the hope and expectation of financial return or to avert threatened pecuniary injury." The governor recommended making political payments by corporations a criminal offense.</p> <p dir="ltr">It almost sounds like Governor Andrew Cuomo last year and this year. But actually, it was Governor Frank W. Higgins, in 1906.</p> <p dir="ltr">Concern with the influence of campaign contributions has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6514-corruption-in-albany-will-anything-really-change" target="_blank">deep historical roots</a> here in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Scandals led to New York's first campaign finance law<br /></strong>Governor Higgins was reacting to two scandals.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 1904 presidential campaign, the New York World alleged that business interests were funding the campaign of President Theodore Roosevelt, hoping to curry favor with his administration. His Democratic challenger, former New York Chief Judge Alton Parker, charged that TR was receiving large contributions from New York railroad magnate Edwin H. Harriman and Wall Street banker J.P. Morgan. "Would the public interest be safe in the hands of a party the greater part of whose campaign funds had been contributed by corporations and trusts?" Parker asked. Roosevelt denounced the charges as "unqualifiably and atrociously false."</p> <p dir="ltr">Historians now know Parker was right but at the time he could not produce concrete proof. Roosevelt was dissembling. For instance, he had secretly asked Harriman to contribute to the Republican Party in New York State with the plea that its gubernatorial candidate, then-Lieutenant Governor Frank Higgins, needed help getting elected. Harriman complied, raising about $250,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, as TR fully realized, supporting the party and Higgins in New York also meant indirectly supporting Roosevelt himself -- he was running for president on the same ticket. TR had directed that some business contributions be returned to their donors but campaign aides had not followed through and the president had not really checked.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the other hand, Parker, too, received large contributions from business interests, mostly in New York City, though not as much as Roosevelt. There were rumors in the press, but nothing specific came out in public.</p> <p dir="ltr">TR won in a landslide. But public concern about campaign finance was sharpened.</p> <p dir="ltr">The next year, the Legislature investigated the management of insurance companies, uncovering a corrupt pattern of insider trading, fraudulent accounting, and deceptive sales practices. But the committee's counsel, Charles Evans Hughes (who would later himself be a reformist governor), dug deeper and got company officials to admit to providing large campaign contributions for state and federal offices. &nbsp;Hughes pressed U.S. Senator Thomas C. Platt, the long-time boss of the state Republican Party, about the real purpose of the contributions:</p> <blockquote> <p dir="ltr">"Hughes: To see that the legislature, for example, did not enact legislation which they thought hostile to their policyholders?</p> <p dir="ltr">"Platt: That is what it would amount to.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Hughes: Is not that the way it really comes about, Senator, that they use of these contributions in the election of candidates to office puts the candidates in more or less of a moral obligation not to attack the interests supporting [them]?</p> <p dir="ltr">"Platt: That is what would naturally be involved."</p> </blockquote> <p dir="ltr">The contributions were not really bribes. They were more in the vein of what we now call building influence or access.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the 1904 and 1905 scandals stirred public opinion. Higgins, whose 1904 campaign had benefitted from business campaign contributions as indicated above, did not mention that fact when he made his strong appeal to the Legislature for action in 1906.</p> <p dir="ltr">After Governor Higgins' speech, the Legislature passed three pieces of legislation. One prohibited corporate campaign contributions. Another required candidates and political committees to make public a record of their campaign receipts and expenditures. A third redefined corrupt practices by defining what campaign expenditures were acceptable.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Closing one door, opening another<br /></strong>The campaign finance law was changed and updated in 1949 and 1976. It currently provides that corporations are limited to political donations of $5,000 a year, according to the <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CFContributionLimits.html" target="_blank">New York State Board of Elections</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">But there is a large loophole or exception, through Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). The New York State Department of State offers this <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/corps/llcfaq.asp#whatisllc" target="_blank">definition of an LLC:</a></p> <blockquote> <p dir="ltr">"A limited liability company (LLC) is an unincorporated business organization of one or more persons who have limited liability for the contractual obligations and other liabilities of the business. The LLC is a hybrid form that combines corporation-style limited liability with partnership-style flexibility. The owners of an LLC are “members” rather than shareholders or partners. A member may be an individual, a corporation, a partnership, another limited liability company, or any other legal entity. An LLC may organize for any lawful business purpose or purposes."</p> </blockquote> <p dir="ltr">LLCs are flexible, versatile entities. But in 1976, the State Board of Elections decided that, when it came to campaign contribution, LLCs were more like individuals than corporations or partnerships. That meant they were subject to much higher limits on contributions, and much less stringent reporting requirements. The Board's decision was based on a since-changed federal definition.</p> <p dir="ltr">This opened the way for huge contributions. The names of individuals behind LLCs are not disclosed. LLCs now routinely make large contributions to candidates for governor, other statewide offices, and the Legislature. It has become a way for monied interests to influence elections and gain access and influence.</p> <p dir="ltr">Good government groups have called for the "LLC loophole" to be closed for several years. In 2015, the Board considered eliminating it but deadlocked, two to two, and issued a decision that it was up to the Legislature to change it. Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Democratic Majority in the Assembly support the change but the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, so far has balked. Cuomo and many legislators benefit from the contributions, so their efforts toward repeal look half-hearted.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2015, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/closing-new-york-llc-loophole" target="_blank">went to court</a> to force the Board to change its ruling. Last year, State Supreme Court Justice Lisa Fisher dismissed the case, finding that the statute of limitations for challenging the Board's 1996 action has passed. She also characterized the issue as a “political question best suited for resolution through legislative action.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Money and politics: what can citizens do?<br /></strong>One hundred and eleven years after New York's first campaign finance regulation, the state is once again searching for a solution to the issue. Good government groups and the Joint Commission on Public Ethics have set forth proposals, including closing the LLC loophole and increasing disclosure requirements. Governor Cuomo mostly seems to have given up. He has remarked that it is now up to the people to get the loophole closed.</p> <p dir="ltr">As it turns out, the people may have a chance to do that this fall, when New Yorkers vote on whether to hold a state constitutional convention. A convention could alter the way we conduct and finance campaigns, including even proposing public funding of political campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">Actually, an amendment to the constitution prohibiting corporate campaign contributions was proposed before in a constitutional convention:</p> <p dir="ltr">"The idea of this section...is to prevent the great moneyed corporations of the country from furnishing the money with which to elect members of the legislature of this State in order that these members of the legislature may vote to protect the corporations," said its sponsor. "It strikes...at a constantly growing evil in our political affairs, which has, in my judgment, done more to shake the confidence of the plan people of small means in this country in our political institutions than any other practice which has ever obtained since the foundations of our government."</p> <p dir="ltr">The amendment's sponsor acknowledged that the contributions were not akin to bribes. He said companies regarded them as "investments" made to get an "inexpressible sympathy between the candidate and the contributor."</p> <p dir="ltr">Like the quotation from Governor Higgins in 1906, these words sound applicable to our situation today. But these were the words of New York attorney and statesman Elihu Root, a Republican, and the constitutional convention was in 1894.</p> <p dir="ltr">Political insiders who were delegates to the convention opposed the amendment. It would cut off their campaign contributions. Democratic delegates derided it as a political charade. One Democrat said that "the whole business was buncombe, pure and simple, and [proposed] only for the sake of allowing Republicans to deliver patriot speeches for the record and their constituents." The proposed amendment was tabled and did not find its way into the constitution.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, New Yorkers have an opportunity to try again to get at the issue of money in politics. If the state's three branches of government -- governor, the Legislature, and the courts -- can't resolve the issue, then the voters may decide that is one strong reason to vote for a constitutional convention in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of course, political insiders could bottle up reform amendments as they did with Root's proposal in 1894. On the other hand, with so much public interest and concern about the issue, publicity by good government groups and the media, and given the recent bouts of corruption in Albany, the prospects for changing the constitution to deal with the issue seem very good.</p> <p>***<br />Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne's latest book is <a href="http://www.sunypress.edu/p-6054-the-spirit-of-new-york.aspx" target="_blank">The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History</a>, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32271185940_a5e50b70ab_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo casino ribbon cutting" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: The Governor's Office on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Business money and New York politics<br /></strong>The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an oversight panel, recently proposed legislation to increase the requirements for lobbyists to disclose their political fundraising. The recommendation would help show the ways in those seeking to influence policy by day are raising money for policy-makers by night.</p> <p dir="ltr">Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Group, one of several groups critical of New York's loose campaign finance laws, said recently that during this time in the legislative session in Albany, "It's pretty much pedal-to-the-metal when it comes to [legislators] hitting up lobbyists for campaign contributions."</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York State League of Women Voters called for "a significant reduction of all contribution limits, special 'pay-to-play' limits on contributions by lobbyists and those who do business with the state and eliminating the LLC loophole." The Citizens Union, another reform group, has also called for campaign finance reform in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">In his annual message to the Legislature, the governor denounced "political contributions by business corporations" as "morally wrong....Their contributions are influenced by business and not by patriotism and, like other investments, are made in the hope and expectation of financial return or to avert threatened pecuniary injury." The governor recommended making political payments by corporations a criminal offense.</p> <p dir="ltr">It almost sounds like Governor Andrew Cuomo last year and this year. But actually, it was Governor Frank W. Higgins, in 1906.</p> <p dir="ltr">Concern with the influence of campaign contributions has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6514-corruption-in-albany-will-anything-really-change" target="_blank">deep historical roots</a> here in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Scandals led to New York's first campaign finance law<br /></strong>Governor Higgins was reacting to two scandals.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 1904 presidential campaign, the New York World alleged that business interests were funding the campaign of President Theodore Roosevelt, hoping to curry favor with his administration. His Democratic challenger, former New York Chief Judge Alton Parker, charged that TR was receiving large contributions from New York railroad magnate Edwin H. Harriman and Wall Street banker J.P. Morgan. "Would the public interest be safe in the hands of a party the greater part of whose campaign funds had been contributed by corporations and trusts?" Parker asked. Roosevelt denounced the charges as "unqualifiably and atrociously false."</p> <p dir="ltr">Historians now know Parker was right but at the time he could not produce concrete proof. Roosevelt was dissembling. For instance, he had secretly asked Harriman to contribute to the Republican Party in New York State with the plea that its gubernatorial candidate, then-Lieutenant Governor Frank Higgins, needed help getting elected. Harriman complied, raising about $250,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, as TR fully realized, supporting the party and Higgins in New York also meant indirectly supporting Roosevelt himself -- he was running for president on the same ticket. TR had directed that some business contributions be returned to their donors but campaign aides had not followed through and the president had not really checked.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the other hand, Parker, too, received large contributions from business interests, mostly in New York City, though not as much as Roosevelt. There were rumors in the press, but nothing specific came out in public.</p> <p dir="ltr">TR won in a landslide. But public concern about campaign finance was sharpened.</p> <p dir="ltr">The next year, the Legislature investigated the management of insurance companies, uncovering a corrupt pattern of insider trading, fraudulent accounting, and deceptive sales practices. But the committee's counsel, Charles Evans Hughes (who would later himself be a reformist governor), dug deeper and got company officials to admit to providing large campaign contributions for state and federal offices. &nbsp;Hughes pressed U.S. Senator Thomas C. Platt, the long-time boss of the state Republican Party, about the real purpose of the contributions:</p> <blockquote> <p dir="ltr">"Hughes: To see that the legislature, for example, did not enact legislation which they thought hostile to their policyholders?</p> <p dir="ltr">"Platt: That is what it would amount to.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Hughes: Is not that the way it really comes about, Senator, that they use of these contributions in the election of candidates to office puts the candidates in more or less of a moral obligation not to attack the interests supporting [them]?</p> <p dir="ltr">"Platt: That is what would naturally be involved."</p> </blockquote> <p dir="ltr">The contributions were not really bribes. They were more in the vein of what we now call building influence or access.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the 1904 and 1905 scandals stirred public opinion. Higgins, whose 1904 campaign had benefitted from business campaign contributions as indicated above, did not mention that fact when he made his strong appeal to the Legislature for action in 1906.</p> <p dir="ltr">After Governor Higgins' speech, the Legislature passed three pieces of legislation. One prohibited corporate campaign contributions. Another required candidates and political committees to make public a record of their campaign receipts and expenditures. A third redefined corrupt practices by defining what campaign expenditures were acceptable.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Closing one door, opening another<br /></strong>The campaign finance law was changed and updated in 1949 and 1976. It currently provides that corporations are limited to political donations of $5,000 a year, according to the <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CFContributionLimits.html" target="_blank">New York State Board of Elections</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">But there is a large loophole or exception, through Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). The New York State Department of State offers this <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/corps/llcfaq.asp#whatisllc" target="_blank">definition of an LLC:</a></p> <blockquote> <p dir="ltr">"A limited liability company (LLC) is an unincorporated business organization of one or more persons who have limited liability for the contractual obligations and other liabilities of the business. The LLC is a hybrid form that combines corporation-style limited liability with partnership-style flexibility. The owners of an LLC are “members” rather than shareholders or partners. A member may be an individual, a corporation, a partnership, another limited liability company, or any other legal entity. An LLC may organize for any lawful business purpose or purposes."</p> </blockquote> <p dir="ltr">LLCs are flexible, versatile entities. But in 1976, the State Board of Elections decided that, when it came to campaign contribution, LLCs were more like individuals than corporations or partnerships. That meant they were subject to much higher limits on contributions, and much less stringent reporting requirements. The Board's decision was based on a since-changed federal definition.</p> <p dir="ltr">This opened the way for huge contributions. The names of individuals behind LLCs are not disclosed. LLCs now routinely make large contributions to candidates for governor, other statewide offices, and the Legislature. It has become a way for monied interests to influence elections and gain access and influence.</p> <p dir="ltr">Good government groups have called for the "LLC loophole" to be closed for several years. In 2015, the Board considered eliminating it but deadlocked, two to two, and issued a decision that it was up to the Legislature to change it. Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Democratic Majority in the Assembly support the change but the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, so far has balked. Cuomo and many legislators benefit from the contributions, so their efforts toward repeal look half-hearted.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2015, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/closing-new-york-llc-loophole" target="_blank">went to court</a> to force the Board to change its ruling. Last year, State Supreme Court Justice Lisa Fisher dismissed the case, finding that the statute of limitations for challenging the Board's 1996 action has passed. She also characterized the issue as a “political question best suited for resolution through legislative action.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Money and politics: what can citizens do?<br /></strong>One hundred and eleven years after New York's first campaign finance regulation, the state is once again searching for a solution to the issue. Good government groups and the Joint Commission on Public Ethics have set forth proposals, including closing the LLC loophole and increasing disclosure requirements. Governor Cuomo mostly seems to have given up. He has remarked that it is now up to the people to get the loophole closed.</p> <p dir="ltr">As it turns out, the people may have a chance to do that this fall, when New Yorkers vote on whether to hold a state constitutional convention. A convention could alter the way we conduct and finance campaigns, including even proposing public funding of political campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">Actually, an amendment to the constitution prohibiting corporate campaign contributions was proposed before in a constitutional convention:</p> <p dir="ltr">"The idea of this section...is to prevent the great moneyed corporations of the country from furnishing the money with which to elect members of the legislature of this State in order that these members of the legislature may vote to protect the corporations," said its sponsor. "It strikes...at a constantly growing evil in our political affairs, which has, in my judgment, done more to shake the confidence of the plan people of small means in this country in our political institutions than any other practice which has ever obtained since the foundations of our government."</p> <p dir="ltr">The amendment's sponsor acknowledged that the contributions were not akin to bribes. He said companies regarded them as "investments" made to get an "inexpressible sympathy between the candidate and the contributor."</p> <p dir="ltr">Like the quotation from Governor Higgins in 1906, these words sound applicable to our situation today. But these were the words of New York attorney and statesman Elihu Root, a Republican, and the constitutional convention was in 1894.</p> <p dir="ltr">Political insiders who were delegates to the convention opposed the amendment. It would cut off their campaign contributions. Democratic delegates derided it as a political charade. One Democrat said that "the whole business was buncombe, pure and simple, and [proposed] only for the sake of allowing Republicans to deliver patriot speeches for the record and their constituents." The proposed amendment was tabled and did not find its way into the constitution.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, New Yorkers have an opportunity to try again to get at the issue of money in politics. If the state's three branches of government -- governor, the Legislature, and the courts -- can't resolve the issue, then the voters may decide that is one strong reason to vote for a constitutional convention in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of course, political insiders could bottle up reform amendments as they did with Root's proposal in 1894. On the other hand, with so much public interest and concern about the issue, publicity by good government groups and the media, and given the recent bouts of corruption in Albany, the prospects for changing the constitution to deal with the issue seem very good.</p> <p>***<br />Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne's latest book is <a href="http://www.sunypress.edu/p-6054-the-spirit-of-new-york.aspx" target="_blank">The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History</a>, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.</p> <p>

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Campaign Finance Board Fines De Blasio, Others for 2013 Campaign Violations 2016-12-15T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6673:campaign-finance-board-fines-de-blasio-others-for-2013-campaign-violations Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_32bj_1.jpg" width="600" height="581" alt="bdb 32bj 1" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio accepts a union endorsement for re-election (photo: Ben Max)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign is being fined $47,778 by the Campaign Finance Board for ten separate violations, including improper post-election spending. Additionally, the board determined at its Thursday hearing, of the $3,994,496 in public matching funds de Blasio’s 2013 campaign received, it must repay $485.02.</p> <p dir="ltr">The single largest fine to de Blasio’s campaign, $21,159, is for making impermissible post-election expenditures. <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_deBlasio_Bill_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank">The CFB found</a> that de Blasio’s 2013 campaign improperly spent $160,888.45 after the election to 13 vendors; $116,250 of which was spent on Hilltop Public Solutions, the political strategy firm of de Blasio’s campaign manager.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We strongly disagree with the CFB’s finding,” said Dan Levitan, de Blasio’s campaign spokesperson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The CFB’s own rules would prohibit Hilltop from not charging for this campaign wind-down work.”</p> <p dir="ltr">CFB ruled that the campaign “failed to provide sufficient explanations and documentation” regarding Hilltop’s role and services as a “general consultant” to the Campaign, and thus failed to demonstrate that the post-election expenditures spent on Hilltop were justified. In August 2015, The New York Post had <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/08/03/de-blasios-campaign-committee-still-paying-firm-over-a-year-later/" target="_blank">reported</a> on the eyebrow-raising post-election spending to Hilltop.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the same time de Blasio’s 2013 campaign continued to pay Hilltop after the November 2013 general election, the newly-created Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit advocacy group started by de Blasio and his allies, began to employ the firm as well. Several of the same strategists who ran de Blasio’s campaign ran the Campaign for One New York, which was shut down amid controversy after taking millions of dollars in donations from entities with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other violations and fines imposed on the de Blasio 2013 campaign by the CFB include accepting over-the-limit contributions ($12,483); accepting contributions from corporations, LLCs, or partnerships ($6,086); failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements ($3,200); failing to file or late filing of daily pre-election disclosure statements ($2,087); accepting contributions from unregistered political committees ($1,000); failing to demonstrate that spending was in furtherance of the campaign ($806); failing to report transactions ($407); failing to document transactions ($300); and commingling campaign funds with funds accepted for a different election ($250).</p> <p dir="ltr">Levitan said the campaign is “pleased that the 2013 campaign audit is now complete,” though they “strongly disagree with many of the CFB’s findings.” De Blasio’s 2017 re-election campaign, which again employs Levitan’s BerlinRosen firm, is already underway, holding fundraisers and even rolling out several endorsements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Campaign Finance Board on Thursday also determined that 13 other campaigns involved in the 2013 citywide election cycle committed violations, including City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (who lost to de Blasio in the mayoral primary), chair of the City Council Committee on Finance Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p dir="ltr">No one from the de Blasio campaign appeared before the board to contest the violations, nor did anyone from the Quinn or Ferreas-Copeland campaigns. Brewer, Stringer, and Council Member Vanessa Gibson did send representatives to contest the board’s findings.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 14 campaigns determined to have committed violations, the board determined that nine campaigns are required to repay public funds -- which are issued to match small-dollar private donations to candidate campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">”Today’s determinations reflect the Board’s commitment to safeguarding the public matching funds,” CFB said in a statement. “The $38.2 million that the Board distributed in 2013 helped ensure cleaner, fairer elections in New York City. Every campaign receives a nonpartisan, independent review, and the results encompass a range from technical errors to serious violations."</p> <p dir="ltr">Quinn was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Quinn_Christine_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank"> $13,611 for eight violations</a> made in relation to her 2013 mayoral bid, including $5,425 for accepting over-the-limit contributions and $3,200 for failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The board fined Stringer a total of<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Stringer_Scott_PM_20161215.pdf?utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=4f4202a958-Post_Bd_Meeting_PR_2016_1215&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-4f4202a958-290602913" target="_blank"> $10,514 for seven violations</a>, including failing to report transactions ($3,689); accepting over-the-limit contributions ($3,500); failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements ($1,500) accepting contributions from unregistered political committees ($675); accepting contributions from corporations, limited liability companies, or partnerships ($550); failing to document transactions ($400); and failing to file or late filing of daily pre-election disclosure statements ($200).</p> <p dir="ltr">Laurence Laufer, an attorney representing Stringer in 2013, and Peter Frank, treasurer of Stringer’s 2013 campaign, appeared before the board to contest three penalties (though they did not contest the board’s findings), asserting that the penalties were too high. Bethany Persky, an attorney for the Campaign Finance Board, dismissed all of Laufer’s arguments, noting that the campaign had “ample opportunity” to respond to the board’s requests accordingly, and that, in regard to intermediary policy, “the campaign is essentially asking the board to rewrite guidelines.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Four City Council members who won their 2013 elections were fined by the board on Thursday, the same day the Council passed about 20 bills to modify the campaign finance system. Also fined were six candidates who failed to get elected in 2013, many of whom appeared before the board Thursday to give explanations for their violations in an attempt to avoid paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in penalties. The CFB did a significant amount of business Thursday to wrap up much of its final work on the 2013 cycle, just before the 2017 cycle kicks into full gear.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ferreras-Copeland was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Ferreras_Julissa_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank"> $5,718 for eight violations</a> made during her 2013 campaign, most of which stems from failing to demonstrate compliance with reporting requirements for disbursements ($2,000) and failing to file or filing late disclosure statements ($1,850)</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ruben Wills was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Wills_Ruben_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank"> $810 for four violations</a>, and owes $450 in public funds repayment. Former City Council Member Maria Carmen del Arroyo, who resigned in December, 2015, was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Arroyo_Maria_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank"> $5,735 for ten violations</a>, and owes a public funds repayment of $3,607.91, which represents the campaign’s final bank balance.</p> <p dir="ltr">Out of everyone the board fined on Thursday, the steepest penalties were dealt to Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who, despite the pleas of a representative, Stanley Schlein, that the “application of the three time expenditure limit” is “draconian” and “so severe that it is disproportionate to the conduct,” now owes<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Gibson_Vanessa_PM_20161215.pdf?utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=4f4202a958-Post_Bd_Meeting_PR_2016_1215&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-4f4202a958-290602913" target="_blank"> $68,639 in penalties for nine violations</a>, as well as $2,225.68 in public funds repayment. Almost all of that $68,639 in fines comes from a $65,574 penalty for exceeding the expenditure limit.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Brewer_Gale_PM_20161215.pdf?utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=4f4202a958-Post_Bd_Meeting_PR_2016_1215&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-4f4202a958-290602913" target="_blank"> $3,036 for four penalties</a>, $2,600 of which was incurred due to a late response to the draft audit report, and owes $405 in public funds repayment.</p> <p dir="ltr">Thursday’s meeting marks the final one for CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn, who had previously announced her intent to leave the board. Mayor de Blasio, in consultation with the Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, will nominate a new CFB chair in the new year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gill Hearn both praised and criticized the City Council for pushing through<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6668-city-council-rushes-through-campaign-finance-bills" target="_blank"> two packages of bills that will reform the city’s campaign finance system</a>. While Gill Hearn was pleased to see the Council is finally set to approve a number of proposals previously put forward by the CFB, including a bill to eliminate public matching funds for contributions bundled by people who do business with the city, she expressed disappointment with the fact that the Council has essentially rushed through one package of bills with little time for public review and, according to the board, in need of additional tweaks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The manner in which the Council and the Campaign Finance Board worked together over a long period of time to “get the details right” for the first package of bills “contrasts sharply with the approach taken for another set of bills the Council also plans to adopt today. These bills were introduced just last month,” Gill Hearn said.</p> <p>The Council has been criticized for rushing the bills through, and CFB added to that chorus, stating in a press release sent out after the hearing that “the Board continues to believe the remaining bills could have been improved significantly if they were considered on a schedule that allowed more time for deliberation…We believe that some of these bills will have an effect that runs contrary to their stated purpose.”</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_32bj_1.jpg" width="600" height="581" alt="bdb 32bj 1" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio accepts a union endorsement for re-election (photo: Ben Max)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign is being fined $47,778 by the Campaign Finance Board for ten separate violations, including improper post-election spending. Additionally, the board determined at its Thursday hearing, of the $3,994,496 in public matching funds de Blasio’s 2013 campaign received, it must repay $485.02.</p> <p dir="ltr">The single largest fine to de Blasio’s campaign, $21,159, is for making impermissible post-election expenditures. <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_deBlasio_Bill_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank">The CFB found</a> that de Blasio’s 2013 campaign improperly spent $160,888.45 after the election to 13 vendors; $116,250 of which was spent on Hilltop Public Solutions, the political strategy firm of de Blasio’s campaign manager.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We strongly disagree with the CFB’s finding,” said Dan Levitan, de Blasio’s campaign spokesperson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The CFB’s own rules would prohibit Hilltop from not charging for this campaign wind-down work.”</p> <p dir="ltr">CFB ruled that the campaign “failed to provide sufficient explanations and documentation” regarding Hilltop’s role and services as a “general consultant” to the Campaign, and thus failed to demonstrate that the post-election expenditures spent on Hilltop were justified. In August 2015, The New York Post had <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/08/03/de-blasios-campaign-committee-still-paying-firm-over-a-year-later/" target="_blank">reported</a> on the eyebrow-raising post-election spending to Hilltop.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the same time de Blasio’s 2013 campaign continued to pay Hilltop after the November 2013 general election, the newly-created Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit advocacy group started by de Blasio and his allies, began to employ the firm as well. Several of the same strategists who ran de Blasio’s campaign ran the Campaign for One New York, which was shut down amid controversy after taking millions of dollars in donations from entities with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other violations and fines imposed on the de Blasio 2013 campaign by the CFB include accepting over-the-limit contributions ($12,483); accepting contributions from corporations, LLCs, or partnerships ($6,086); failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements ($3,200); failing to file or late filing of daily pre-election disclosure statements ($2,087); accepting contributions from unregistered political committees ($1,000); failing to demonstrate that spending was in furtherance of the campaign ($806); failing to report transactions ($407); failing to document transactions ($300); and commingling campaign funds with funds accepted for a different election ($250).</p> <p dir="ltr">Levitan said the campaign is “pleased that the 2013 campaign audit is now complete,” though they “strongly disagree with many of the CFB’s findings.” De Blasio’s 2017 re-election campaign, which again employs Levitan’s BerlinRosen firm, is already underway, holding fundraisers and even rolling out several endorsements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Campaign Finance Board on Thursday also determined that 13 other campaigns involved in the 2013 citywide election cycle committed violations, including City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (who lost to de Blasio in the mayoral primary), chair of the City Council Committee on Finance Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p dir="ltr">No one from the de Blasio campaign appeared before the board to contest the violations, nor did anyone from the Quinn or Ferreas-Copeland campaigns. Brewer, Stringer, and Council Member Vanessa Gibson did send representatives to contest the board’s findings.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 14 campaigns determined to have committed violations, the board determined that nine campaigns are required to repay public funds -- which are issued to match small-dollar private donations to candidate campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">”Today’s determinations reflect the Board’s commitment to safeguarding the public matching funds,” CFB said in a statement. “The $38.2 million that the Board distributed in 2013 helped ensure cleaner, fairer elections in New York City. Every campaign receives a nonpartisan, independent review, and the results encompass a range from technical errors to serious violations."</p> <p dir="ltr">Quinn was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Quinn_Christine_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank"> $13,611 for eight violations</a> made in relation to her 2013 mayoral bid, including $5,425 for accepting over-the-limit contributions and $3,200 for failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The board fined Stringer a total of<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Stringer_Scott_PM_20161215.pdf?utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=4f4202a958-Post_Bd_Meeting_PR_2016_1215&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-4f4202a958-290602913" target="_blank"> $10,514 for seven violations</a>, including failing to report transactions ($3,689); accepting over-the-limit contributions ($3,500); failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements ($1,500) accepting contributions from unregistered political committees ($675); accepting contributions from corporations, limited liability companies, or partnerships ($550); failing to document transactions ($400); and failing to file or late filing of daily pre-election disclosure statements ($200).</p> <p dir="ltr">Laurence Laufer, an attorney representing Stringer in 2013, and Peter Frank, treasurer of Stringer’s 2013 campaign, appeared before the board to contest three penalties (though they did not contest the board’s findings), asserting that the penalties were too high. Bethany Persky, an attorney for the Campaign Finance Board, dismissed all of Laufer’s arguments, noting that the campaign had “ample opportunity” to respond to the board’s requests accordingly, and that, in regard to intermediary policy, “the campaign is essentially asking the board to rewrite guidelines.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Four City Council members who won their 2013 elections were fined by the board on Thursday, the same day the Council passed about 20 bills to modify the campaign finance system. Also fined were six candidates who failed to get elected in 2013, many of whom appeared before the board Thursday to give explanations for their violations in an attempt to avoid paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in penalties. The CFB did a significant amount of business Thursday to wrap up much of its final work on the 2013 cycle, just before the 2017 cycle kicks into full gear.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ferreras-Copeland was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Ferreras_Julissa_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank"> $5,718 for eight violations</a> made during her 2013 campaign, most of which stems from failing to demonstrate compliance with reporting requirements for disbursements ($2,000) and failing to file or filing late disclosure statements ($1,850)</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ruben Wills was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Wills_Ruben_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank"> $810 for four violations</a>, and owes $450 in public funds repayment. Former City Council Member Maria Carmen del Arroyo, who resigned in December, 2015, was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Arroyo_Maria_PM_20161215.pdf" target="_blank"> $5,735 for ten violations</a>, and owes a public funds repayment of $3,607.91, which represents the campaign’s final bank balance.</p> <p dir="ltr">Out of everyone the board fined on Thursday, the steepest penalties were dealt to Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who, despite the pleas of a representative, Stanley Schlein, that the “application of the three time expenditure limit” is “draconian” and “so severe that it is disproportionate to the conduct,” now owes<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Gibson_Vanessa_PM_20161215.pdf?utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=4f4202a958-Post_Bd_Meeting_PR_2016_1215&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-4f4202a958-290602913" target="_blank"> $68,639 in penalties for nine violations</a>, as well as $2,225.68 in public funds repayment. Almost all of that $68,639 in fines comes from a $65,574 penalty for exceeding the expenditure limit.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was fined<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/EC2013_Brewer_Gale_PM_20161215.pdf?utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=4f4202a958-Post_Bd_Meeting_PR_2016_1215&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-4f4202a958-290602913" target="_blank"> $3,036 for four penalties</a>, $2,600 of which was incurred due to a late response to the draft audit report, and owes $405 in public funds repayment.</p> <p dir="ltr">Thursday’s meeting marks the final one for CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn, who had previously announced her intent to leave the board. Mayor de Blasio, in consultation with the Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, will nominate a new CFB chair in the new year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gill Hearn both praised and criticized the City Council for pushing through<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6668-city-council-rushes-through-campaign-finance-bills" target="_blank"> two packages of bills that will reform the city’s campaign finance system</a>. While Gill Hearn was pleased to see the Council is finally set to approve a number of proposals previously put forward by the CFB, including a bill to eliminate public matching funds for contributions bundled by people who do business with the city, she expressed disappointment with the fact that the Council has essentially rushed through one package of bills with little time for public review and, according to the board, in need of additional tweaks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The manner in which the Council and the Campaign Finance Board worked together over a long period of time to “get the details right” for the first package of bills “contrasts sharply with the approach taken for another set of bills the Council also plans to adopt today. These bills were introduced just last month,” Gill Hearn said.</p> <p>The Council has been criticized for rushing the bills through, and CFB added to that chorus, stating in a press release sent out after the hearing that “the Board continues to believe the remaining bills could have been improved significantly if they were considered on a schedule that allowed more time for deliberation…We believe that some of these bills will have an effect that runs contrary to their stated purpose.”</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Rushes Through Campaign Finance Bills 2016-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6668:city-council-rushes-through-campaign-finance-bills Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27656184936_e65a162f5d_z.jpg" alt="city council chambers balcony" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>City Council chambers (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council is rushing through a package of bills to reform the city’s campaign finance system. About a dozen bills driven by Council members’ frustrations with the Campaign Finance Board and its rigorous reporting system are being moved through the Council at an almost unseen pace, raising eyebrows.</p> <p>There are actually two packages of bills that will be passed through the Council this week: one that has been sitting idle for months after a hearing, which will go through the governmental operations committee, and the second, which only had a hearing on November 21, and is moving through the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=519420&amp;GUID=639321F1-1E59-4F4B-98B6-F8A2E64300F8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">first group of bills</a> was the result of the independent Campaign Finance Board’s most recent post-election report; <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=521316&amp;GUID=3D0059E1-EDA2-443F-BCBE-FE945BAFF89D&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the second group</a> from Council members.</p> <p>Many of the bills make technical changes to the workings of the city’s public-matching campaign finance system, which is seen as a national model for limiting big money in politics, and the operation of the Campaign Finance Board itself. These include items related to documenting campaign contributions and the Campaign Finance Board’s review of filings by candidates. One bill allows elected officials to use their campaign funds to pay for a wider range of governmental activity, such as supplying food at a public meeting.</p> <p>Another bill driven by members’ frustrations disallows campaign finance board staff from being “present during an executive session of the Board when an adjudication is being discussed.”</p> <p>There are also more attention-grabbing measures, like the elimination of public matching funds for money bundled by individuals with city business. There are currently strict limits, just $400 to a campaign, on those with city business who want to donate to a candidate. Bundling involves collecting donations from others. This bill was part of the initial package, per the Campaign Finance Board’s recommendations, as another way to limit the potential for conflicts of interest and undue influence of money on politicians.</p> <p>On Wednesday, each committee voted through its respective package of bills with little discussion. There will be a full Council vote on all the bills Thursday -- all of them are expected to pass either unanimously or nearly so. Still, there are several outstanding questions about the bills and the process by which they are moving, including the speed and the committee choice for the second package.</p> <p>One of the newer bills, which alters requirements for how donor information is collected and submitted, has been adjusted after it raised significant ire from the Campaign Finance Board, good government groups, and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The alarm bells rang over a perceived increase in opportunities for fraud in filings and the bill was adjusted, seemingly satisfactorily to the critics.</p> <p>The Campaign Finance Board says the second package, which has been moving on an extraordinarily fast timeline for city legislation, is moving too fast and has elements that still need tweaks.</p> <p>“The Board continues to believe it would be better to defer action on these bills rather than move forward at this time,” said a CFB spokesperson in an emailed statement. “Some of these bills could be improved further, however we recognize and appreciate the Council’s efforts to take our feedback into account.”</p> <p>“Specifically, the revised version of Int. No. 1355 makes substantive changes that reflect our concerns and maintains the CFB’s ability to protect the public funds invested in the Campaign Finance Program,” the statement concluded, referring to the aforementioned bill that was adjusted.</p> <p>It is unusual for the Council’s standards and ethics committee to hear legislation, especially campaign finance bills that typically go through the government operations committee. A spokesperson for the City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, previously told Gotham Gazette that the package introduced through standards and ethics was placed there because it was grouped with another bill that deals directly with the Conflicts of Interest Board. That bill, sponsored by Mark-Viverito, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6666-de-blasio-fails-to-explain-his-support-for-limits-on-groups-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank">will put new limits on nonprofit organizations that are affiliated with elected officials</a> -- such as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York. The bill was also passed through committee on Wednesday and will be passed through the full Council on Thursday. Mark-Viverito will speak about it on Thursday at City Hall.</p> <p>The governmental operations committee is headed by Council Member Ben Kallos, who is more knowledgeable about the campaign finance system than Council Member Alan Maisel, the chair of the standards and ethics committee -- something Maisel acknowledged in a prior interview with Gotham Gazette. Kallos has expressed concerns about some of the second package of bills, including bill details and process.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Mark-Viverito did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article about the rushed timeline of the second package of bills.</p> <p>Maisel <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6647-22-campaign-finance-bills-to-move-through-city-council-soon-speaker-says" target="_blank">previously told Gotham Gazette</a> that he is not familiar with campaign finance legislation, but that he is also confident that the CFB is not being weakened by the bills his committee will quickly pass.</p> <p>At his committee's vote on Wednesday, Maisel introduced the package with a few words. He first focused on Mark-Viverito's bill that would limit contributions that can be made to nonprofit groups aligned with elected officials.&nbsp;"This bill directly addresses the concern that organizations affiliated with elected officials can raise unlimited funds even from persons doing business with the city and even when the ultimate use of these funds is for the promotion of that elected official," Maisel said. "The city’s campaign finance laws limit contributions by persons doing business with the city to protect against the potential influence of that money and to prevent the appearance of corruption.&nbsp;But under current law, those limitations could not be applied to the contributions received by the affiliated organization like the Campaign for One New York.&nbsp;That is why today we are voting on the law with the same goal: to protect against potential attempts to influence one’s elected official and to prevent even the appearance of corruption with unlimited donations to an affiliated organization that promotes that elected official."</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflect Wednesday's committee votes and new comment from Maisel.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27656184936_e65a162f5d_z.jpg" alt="city council chambers balcony" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>City Council chambers (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council is rushing through a package of bills to reform the city’s campaign finance system. About a dozen bills driven by Council members’ frustrations with the Campaign Finance Board and its rigorous reporting system are being moved through the Council at an almost unseen pace, raising eyebrows.</p> <p>There are actually two packages of bills that will be passed through the Council this week: one that has been sitting idle for months after a hearing, which will go through the governmental operations committee, and the second, which only had a hearing on November 21, and is moving through the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=519420&amp;GUID=639321F1-1E59-4F4B-98B6-F8A2E64300F8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">first group of bills</a> was the result of the independent Campaign Finance Board’s most recent post-election report; <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=521316&amp;GUID=3D0059E1-EDA2-443F-BCBE-FE945BAFF89D&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the second group</a> from Council members.</p> <p>Many of the bills make technical changes to the workings of the city’s public-matching campaign finance system, which is seen as a national model for limiting big money in politics, and the operation of the Campaign Finance Board itself. These include items related to documenting campaign contributions and the Campaign Finance Board’s review of filings by candidates. One bill allows elected officials to use their campaign funds to pay for a wider range of governmental activity, such as supplying food at a public meeting.</p> <p>Another bill driven by members’ frustrations disallows campaign finance board staff from being “present during an executive session of the Board when an adjudication is being discussed.”</p> <p>There are also more attention-grabbing measures, like the elimination of public matching funds for money bundled by individuals with city business. There are currently strict limits, just $400 to a campaign, on those with city business who want to donate to a candidate. Bundling involves collecting donations from others. This bill was part of the initial package, per the Campaign Finance Board’s recommendations, as another way to limit the potential for conflicts of interest and undue influence of money on politicians.</p> <p>On Wednesday, each committee voted through its respective package of bills with little discussion. There will be a full Council vote on all the bills Thursday -- all of them are expected to pass either unanimously or nearly so. Still, there are several outstanding questions about the bills and the process by which they are moving, including the speed and the committee choice for the second package.</p> <p>One of the newer bills, which alters requirements for how donor information is collected and submitted, has been adjusted after it raised significant ire from the Campaign Finance Board, good government groups, and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The alarm bells rang over a perceived increase in opportunities for fraud in filings and the bill was adjusted, seemingly satisfactorily to the critics.</p> <p>The Campaign Finance Board says the second package, which has been moving on an extraordinarily fast timeline for city legislation, is moving too fast and has elements that still need tweaks.</p> <p>“The Board continues to believe it would be better to defer action on these bills rather than move forward at this time,” said a CFB spokesperson in an emailed statement. “Some of these bills could be improved further, however we recognize and appreciate the Council’s efforts to take our feedback into account.”</p> <p>“Specifically, the revised version of Int. No. 1355 makes substantive changes that reflect our concerns and maintains the CFB’s ability to protect the public funds invested in the Campaign Finance Program,” the statement concluded, referring to the aforementioned bill that was adjusted.</p> <p>It is unusual for the Council’s standards and ethics committee to hear legislation, especially campaign finance bills that typically go through the government operations committee. A spokesperson for the City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, previously told Gotham Gazette that the package introduced through standards and ethics was placed there because it was grouped with another bill that deals directly with the Conflicts of Interest Board. That bill, sponsored by Mark-Viverito, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6666-de-blasio-fails-to-explain-his-support-for-limits-on-groups-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank">will put new limits on nonprofit organizations that are affiliated with elected officials</a> -- such as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York. The bill was also passed through committee on Wednesday and will be passed through the full Council on Thursday. Mark-Viverito will speak about it on Thursday at City Hall.</p> <p>The governmental operations committee is headed by Council Member Ben Kallos, who is more knowledgeable about the campaign finance system than Council Member Alan Maisel, the chair of the standards and ethics committee -- something Maisel acknowledged in a prior interview with Gotham Gazette. Kallos has expressed concerns about some of the second package of bills, including bill details and process.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Mark-Viverito did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article about the rushed timeline of the second package of bills.</p> <p>Maisel <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6647-22-campaign-finance-bills-to-move-through-city-council-soon-speaker-says" target="_blank">previously told Gotham Gazette</a> that he is not familiar with campaign finance legislation, but that he is also confident that the CFB is not being weakened by the bills his committee will quickly pass.</p> <p>At his committee's vote on Wednesday, Maisel introduced the package with a few words. He first focused on Mark-Viverito's bill that would limit contributions that can be made to nonprofit groups aligned with elected officials.&nbsp;"This bill directly addresses the concern that organizations affiliated with elected officials can raise unlimited funds even from persons doing business with the city and even when the ultimate use of these funds is for the promotion of that elected official," Maisel said. "The city’s campaign finance laws limit contributions by persons doing business with the city to protect against the potential influence of that money and to prevent the appearance of corruption.&nbsp;But under current law, those limitations could not be applied to the contributions received by the affiliated organization like the Campaign for One New York.&nbsp;That is why today we are voting on the law with the same goal: to protect against potential attempts to influence one’s elected official and to prevent even the appearance of corruption with unlimited donations to an affiliated organization that promotes that elected official."</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflect Wednesday's committee votes and new comment from Maisel.</p>
22 Campaign Finance Bills to Move Through City Council 'Soon,' Speaker Says 2016-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6647:22-campaign-finance-bills-to-move-through-city-council-soon-speaker-says Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mmv_nypl.jpg" alt="mmv nypl" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>Within the next two months, the City Council is expected to vote on a large legislative package that would alter the city’s campaign finance system in a variety of ways and regulate donations to political nonprofits, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said this week. Some of the proposals and the timing of their likely passage have raised concerns, though, that the Council is weakening the city’s model campaign finance system, pushing some reforms through after too long a wait and rushing other, newer bills through just in time for the next municipal election.</p> <p>The Council has before it 22 bills relating to campaign finance law and elections, 14 of which <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6635-city-council-hears-legislative-package-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-campaign-finance" target="_blank">were heard</a> just last week by the Committee on Standards and Ethics. It was the first hearing on legislation for the committee under this Council, which took office in January 2014, owing to the fact that the main bill in that bundle deals with conflicts of interest. The 13 others relate to the campaign finance system.</p> <p>The other eight bills of the 22 were heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">in May</a> by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, and were introduced about one year ago. They have awaited a committee vote since, but have not moved.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, who largely controls which bills are heard and voted on, has promised that the two bundles of bills will be lumped and voted on together. “We will be moving ahead with an extensive package,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions about the concerns raised at last week’s hearing. “We’ve been going through a lot of deliberations, a lot of conversations with stakeholders and others, so I’m very confident about what it is that we will be presenting.”</p> <p>When asked when the vote could happen, she said, “It’s gonna be soon. Probably within the next month or so, without a doubt.”</p> <p>Although a common theme unites 21 of the 22 bills, they have taken vastly different trajectories in the Council’s legislative process. The first package was only heard six months after it was introduced and has since languished in committee. Those proposals came straight out of the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report, which recommended improvements to the campaign finance law. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">These proposals</a> mainly seek to tighten gaps in the campaign finance law, including the elimination of public matching funds for contributions bundled by people with city business, enhanced disclosure rules for entities that do business with the city, and a prohibition on contributions from non-registered political committees to candidates who don’t participate in the public matching program.</p> <p>The second package has not been as thoroughly vetted, it seems, including the 22nd and most high-profile bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, which would limit donations to political nonprofits affiliated with elected officials.</p> <p>That bill is a direct response to the Campaign for One New York, a now-defunct nonprofit affiliated with Mayor Bill de Blasio that accepted large donations from people who have business with the city. Those activities have led to multiple investigations and allegations of a pay-to-play culture at City Hall, with federal authorities investigating whether government action was offered or done in exchange for donations to the Campaign for One New York. De Blasio has denied any wrongdoing and no one has been charged.&nbsp;</p> <p>Intro. 1345 and the accompanying 13 bills were introduced on November 16 and were heard just one week later. Although Intro. 1345 was embraced by the Campaign Finance Board, which is an independent city entity, the de Blasio administration, and government reform groups, the rest of the bills are seen as a bit more problematic. Even representatives of the city Conflicts of Interest Board, which would be tasked with implementing Intro. 1345, expressed doubts about COIB’s ability to do so and questioned whether it is the appropriate agency to be assigned the job. Meanwhile, representatives for the Campaign Finance Board critiqued several of the bills relevant to its operations and the city’s well-regarded public campaign finance system.</p> <p>In contrast with the first legislative package, some of <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the new bills</a> are more friendly to Council members and candidates in general, and would ease certain elements of campaign finance regulation including documentation requirements for contributions and the current restriction on the use of non-public campaign funds for official purposes.</p> <p>Government reform groups have questioned the overall approach the Council has taken with the most recent bills, which they say are being rushed along and are based on Council members’ personal experiences with the system rather than objective analysis that would usually be identified by the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>In written testimony submitted to the committee, Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, said it was “perplexing” that the 14 bills were heard by the Standards and Ethics committee when only one of them dealt with conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“These bills are, in major part, detailed technical changes that, unlike previous revisions, have not grown out of the Campaign Finance Board’s statutorily required reports and recommendations, which result in revisions of the system which are openly discussed, negotiated and considered far in advance of the City’s next election cycle,” Lerner wrote, stressing that they could inadvertently weaken the CFB’s independence.</p> <p>She also said the bills “appear to be on a fast track,” while the older bills based on recommendations in the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report have languished. Taking issue with the timing, right on the eve of a city election year, she said the Council should wait till after the 2017 elections to reconsider most of the campaign finance bills and do so through the appropriate committees.</p> <p>The CFB itself criticized the bills as hampering its ability to enforce the campaign finance law, calling them “poison pill” measures in testimony at the November 21 hearing.</p> <p>At a public meeting on December 1, CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn reiterated those concerns. “This legislation has been considered on an accelerated schedule,” she said, stressing that the “hastily drafted” proposals would undermine the board’s oversight of the campaign finance system. She specifically called on the Council to reject one of the bills, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield, which allows candidates or their committees to complete or correct contribution cards. “The board believes this bill will enable fraud,” she said, “and remove a weapon for the CFB to detect and prevent it.” Council Member Greenfield was not made available for comment for this article.</p> <p>In urging the Council to delay the bills till after the 2017 elections, Hearn did promise to work with the Council on improving the campaign finance program and commended Council members for Intro. 1345, the political nonprofit donation limits bill. This bill is sponsored by Mark-Viverito, who was not present for the hearing on the bill, which was chaired by standards and ethics committee Chair Alan Maisel.&nbsp;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, stressed that the bills need more time to breathe. “We hope we have at least a month or two to make some needed changes to these bills that represent new ideas and are a marked shift in the management of the campaign finance board,” he told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Dadey said the new package “does feel rushed to us” and that “there’s some question as to whether these will actually strengthen or weaken the program and a much fuller discussion needs to be had before these move forward.” While he acknowledged that Council members should have a significant voice in improving the campaign finance system, he said they should avoid imposing solely their own concerns. “[The campaign finance law] needs to reflect the public’s interest in protecting taxpayer dollars while making it a workable program for the candidates themselves,” Dadey said.</p> <p>Council Member Maisel said the timeline of these newer bills, from drafting to hearing to a possible vote, may be short but is necessary. “There’s an effort to try to get these bills voted on sooner than later because the election is next year,” he said in a phone interview, adding that he was not given a specific timeline to push through the bills. “Whether it’s done before December 31 or the first week of January, I can’t tell you,” he said. Maisel is meeting this week with Council staff to review feedback from the hearing to amend and tweak the bills, he said.</p> <p>Maisel also pushed back against the criticism that the bills might weaken the CFB’s authority, insisting that they’re aimed at making the system more reasonable to encourage participation. “They’re protecting their turf,” he said of the CFB. “If these bills are passed, their powers are intact. I don’t see how [the bills] undermine their authority.”</p> <p>When asked if his committee was the appropriate venue for the campaign finance bills, he said it was the speaker’s office that made the decision. “I have no experience with campaign finance bills, I deal with ethics issues,” he said, in a sense echoing the critique made by others who’ve questioned why campaign finance bills were heard in his committee as opposed to their typical place, government operations, the committee chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p>The proposals have created some degree of internal tension within the Council for multiple reasons, including the committee venue. Additionally, before the bills were introduced, Council Member Kallos was openly skeptical of the effect they might have, telling the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/02/nyregion/behind-closed-doors-measures-to-reform-citys-campaign-laws-raise-concerns.html?action=click&amp;contentCollection=nyregion&amp;region=rank&amp;module=package&amp;version=highlights&amp;contentPlacement=6&amp;pgtype=sectionfront" target="_blank">New York Times</a>, “I am concerned about undermining the best parts of a system that has worked for the people.”</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, sponsor of one of the new bills, disagrees. First, Lander told <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/11/after-campaign-for-one-new-york-fallout-council-seeks-to-regulate-political-groups-107012" target="_blank">Politico New York</a> that the Times report had mischaracterized the bills under consideration. On Tuesday, shortly after the speaker’s news conference, Lander told Gotham Gazette the concerns over the bills would be addressed through amendments and that criticism of their timing was unfounded. That the bills were heard through the standards and ethics committee rather than the governmental operations committee made little difference, he said, since the same people and advocacy groups would testify even if there were separate hearings. He also noted that Kallos, the governmental operations chair, was present at the hearing as well.</p> <p>Lander also sought to dispel the notion that the bills were being expedited through the Council. “That’s a silly thing to say,” he said, noting that discussions on Intro. 1345 in particular have been in the works since the shutdown of The Campaign for One New York was announced months ago. And while there was not the same urgency with the eight campaign finance bills from last year, he said, “I think if we get a good package that combines a lot of good reform and sensible legislation, that’s a good legislative process.”</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/mmv_nypl.jpg" alt="mmv nypl" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>Within the next two months, the City Council is expected to vote on a large legislative package that would alter the city’s campaign finance system in a variety of ways and regulate donations to political nonprofits, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said this week. Some of the proposals and the timing of their likely passage have raised concerns, though, that the Council is weakening the city’s model campaign finance system, pushing some reforms through after too long a wait and rushing other, newer bills through just in time for the next municipal election.</p> <p>The Council has before it 22 bills relating to campaign finance law and elections, 14 of which <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6635-city-council-hears-legislative-package-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-campaign-finance" target="_blank">were heard</a> just last week by the Committee on Standards and Ethics. It was the first hearing on legislation for the committee under this Council, which took office in January 2014, owing to the fact that the main bill in that bundle deals with conflicts of interest. The 13 others relate to the campaign finance system.</p> <p>The other eight bills of the 22 were heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">in May</a> by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, and were introduced about one year ago. They have awaited a committee vote since, but have not moved.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, who largely controls which bills are heard and voted on, has promised that the two bundles of bills will be lumped and voted on together. “We will be moving ahead with an extensive package,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions about the concerns raised at last week’s hearing. “We’ve been going through a lot of deliberations, a lot of conversations with stakeholders and others, so I’m very confident about what it is that we will be presenting.”</p> <p>When asked when the vote could happen, she said, “It’s gonna be soon. Probably within the next month or so, without a doubt.”</p> <p>Although a common theme unites 21 of the 22 bills, they have taken vastly different trajectories in the Council’s legislative process. The first package was only heard six months after it was introduced and has since languished in committee. Those proposals came straight out of the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report, which recommended improvements to the campaign finance law. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">These proposals</a> mainly seek to tighten gaps in the campaign finance law, including the elimination of public matching funds for contributions bundled by people with city business, enhanced disclosure rules for entities that do business with the city, and a prohibition on contributions from non-registered political committees to candidates who don’t participate in the public matching program.</p> <p>The second package has not been as thoroughly vetted, it seems, including the 22nd and most high-profile bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, which would limit donations to political nonprofits affiliated with elected officials.</p> <p>That bill is a direct response to the Campaign for One New York, a now-defunct nonprofit affiliated with Mayor Bill de Blasio that accepted large donations from people who have business with the city. Those activities have led to multiple investigations and allegations of a pay-to-play culture at City Hall, with federal authorities investigating whether government action was offered or done in exchange for donations to the Campaign for One New York. De Blasio has denied any wrongdoing and no one has been charged.&nbsp;</p> <p>Intro. 1345 and the accompanying 13 bills were introduced on November 16 and were heard just one week later. Although Intro. 1345 was embraced by the Campaign Finance Board, which is an independent city entity, the de Blasio administration, and government reform groups, the rest of the bills are seen as a bit more problematic. Even representatives of the city Conflicts of Interest Board, which would be tasked with implementing Intro. 1345, expressed doubts about COIB’s ability to do so and questioned whether it is the appropriate agency to be assigned the job. Meanwhile, representatives for the Campaign Finance Board critiqued several of the bills relevant to its operations and the city’s well-regarded public campaign finance system.</p> <p>In contrast with the first legislative package, some of <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the new bills</a> are more friendly to Council members and candidates in general, and would ease certain elements of campaign finance regulation including documentation requirements for contributions and the current restriction on the use of non-public campaign funds for official purposes.</p> <p>Government reform groups have questioned the overall approach the Council has taken with the most recent bills, which they say are being rushed along and are based on Council members’ personal experiences with the system rather than objective analysis that would usually be identified by the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>In written testimony submitted to the committee, Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, said it was “perplexing” that the 14 bills were heard by the Standards and Ethics committee when only one of them dealt with conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“These bills are, in major part, detailed technical changes that, unlike previous revisions, have not grown out of the Campaign Finance Board’s statutorily required reports and recommendations, which result in revisions of the system which are openly discussed, negotiated and considered far in advance of the City’s next election cycle,” Lerner wrote, stressing that they could inadvertently weaken the CFB’s independence.</p> <p>She also said the bills “appear to be on a fast track,” while the older bills based on recommendations in the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report have languished. Taking issue with the timing, right on the eve of a city election year, she said the Council should wait till after the 2017 elections to reconsider most of the campaign finance bills and do so through the appropriate committees.</p> <p>The CFB itself criticized the bills as hampering its ability to enforce the campaign finance law, calling them “poison pill” measures in testimony at the November 21 hearing.</p> <p>At a public meeting on December 1, CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn reiterated those concerns. “This legislation has been considered on an accelerated schedule,” she said, stressing that the “hastily drafted” proposals would undermine the board’s oversight of the campaign finance system. She specifically called on the Council to reject one of the bills, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield, which allows candidates or their committees to complete or correct contribution cards. “The board believes this bill will enable fraud,” she said, “and remove a weapon for the CFB to detect and prevent it.” Council Member Greenfield was not made available for comment for this article.</p> <p>In urging the Council to delay the bills till after the 2017 elections, Hearn did promise to work with the Council on improving the campaign finance program and commended Council members for Intro. 1345, the political nonprofit donation limits bill. This bill is sponsored by Mark-Viverito, who was not present for the hearing on the bill, which was chaired by standards and ethics committee Chair Alan Maisel.&nbsp;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, stressed that the bills need more time to breathe. “We hope we have at least a month or two to make some needed changes to these bills that represent new ideas and are a marked shift in the management of the campaign finance board,” he told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Dadey said the new package “does feel rushed to us” and that “there’s some question as to whether these will actually strengthen or weaken the program and a much fuller discussion needs to be had before these move forward.” While he acknowledged that Council members should have a significant voice in improving the campaign finance system, he said they should avoid imposing solely their own concerns. “[The campaign finance law] needs to reflect the public’s interest in protecting taxpayer dollars while making it a workable program for the candidates themselves,” Dadey said.</p> <p>Council Member Maisel said the timeline of these newer bills, from drafting to hearing to a possible vote, may be short but is necessary. “There’s an effort to try to get these bills voted on sooner than later because the election is next year,” he said in a phone interview, adding that he was not given a specific timeline to push through the bills. “Whether it’s done before December 31 or the first week of January, I can’t tell you,” he said. Maisel is meeting this week with Council staff to review feedback from the hearing to amend and tweak the bills, he said.</p> <p>Maisel also pushed back against the criticism that the bills might weaken the CFB’s authority, insisting that they’re aimed at making the system more reasonable to encourage participation. “They’re protecting their turf,” he said of the CFB. “If these bills are passed, their powers are intact. I don’t see how [the bills] undermine their authority.”</p> <p>When asked if his committee was the appropriate venue for the campaign finance bills, he said it was the speaker’s office that made the decision. “I have no experience with campaign finance bills, I deal with ethics issues,” he said, in a sense echoing the critique made by others who’ve questioned why campaign finance bills were heard in his committee as opposed to their typical place, government operations, the committee chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p>The proposals have created some degree of internal tension within the Council for multiple reasons, including the committee venue. Additionally, before the bills were introduced, Council Member Kallos was openly skeptical of the effect they might have, telling the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/02/nyregion/behind-closed-doors-measures-to-reform-citys-campaign-laws-raise-concerns.html?action=click&amp;contentCollection=nyregion&amp;region=rank&amp;module=package&amp;version=highlights&amp;contentPlacement=6&amp;pgtype=sectionfront" target="_blank">New York Times</a>, “I am concerned about undermining the best parts of a system that has worked for the people.”</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, sponsor of one of the new bills, disagrees. First, Lander told <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/11/after-campaign-for-one-new-york-fallout-council-seeks-to-regulate-political-groups-107012" target="_blank">Politico New York</a> that the Times report had mischaracterized the bills under consideration. On Tuesday, shortly after the speaker’s news conference, Lander told Gotham Gazette the concerns over the bills would be addressed through amendments and that criticism of their timing was unfounded. That the bills were heard through the standards and ethics committee rather than the governmental operations committee made little difference, he said, since the same people and advocacy groups would testify even if there were separate hearings. He also noted that Kallos, the governmental operations chair, was present at the hearing as well.</p> <p>Lander also sought to dispel the notion that the bills were being expedited through the Council. “That’s a silly thing to say,” he said, noting that discussions on Intro. 1345 in particular have been in the works since the shutdown of The Campaign for One New York was announced months ago. And while there was not the same urgency with the eight campaign finance bills from last year, he said, “I think if we get a good package that combines a lot of good reform and sensible legislation, that’s a good legislative process.”</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>
City Council Hears Legislative Package on Conflicts of Interest and Campaign Finance 2016-11-21T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-21T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6635:city-council-hears-legislative-package-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-campaign-finance Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/berger_council.jpg" alt="berger council" width="600" height="410" /></p> <p>Henry Berger testifying (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council heard testimony Monday on a broad package of bills that would prevent conflicts of interest between elected officials and political nonprofits, limit the electoral influence of those who do business with the city, and make it easier for first-time candidates to navigate the city’s campaign finance system.</p> <p>The Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics heard 14 bills on Monday in what was the current Council’s first hearing of the committee focused on legislation. Of the 14, the headlining bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, was the Council’s direct response to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit formed by the mayor’s allies to promote his agenda that has been at the center of controversy, criticism, and law enforcement investigations.</p> <p>The Campaign for One New York, since disbanded, skirted the city’s campaign finance law, in part by raising major sums from entities with city business. Federal investigators have been looking at whether government action was exchanged for donations. The mayor has maintained that he, his administration, and the organization followed the law and sought guidances from the Conflicts of Interest Board throughout. His activities were probed by the city Campaign Finance Board, which let him off with a slap on the wrist but stressed the need to close the loophole in the law that he took advantage of in fundraising for his group.</p> <p>The bill at hand is sponsored by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally. It takes aim at that exact loophole and limits donations from those who are lobbyists or have business before the city to nonprofits created or controlled by elected officials or their agents. The limit of $400 currently applies to donations made by such categories of donors directly to candidate committees. Under the bill, if an organization spends more than 10 percent of its annual budget on “public-facing communications that feature the name or picture of the elected official who controls them” contributions to the nonprofit would be limited and it would have to disclose its donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito did not attend the hearing, which was led by Standards and Ethics Committee Chair Alan Maisel. Mark-Viverito’s spokesperson, Robin Levine, said in an email that Council staff was monitoring the hearing and will brief the speaker as she reviews the testimony.</p> <p>While there was broad support for Mark-Viverito’s bill, there were questions about its language and the implementation that it requires. As it currently stands, the bill seeks to prevent actual and perceived conflicts of interest by preventing business interests from donating large sums of money to a nonprofit to ingratiate themselves with an elected official. But concerns were raised that the bill paints with a broad brush and would include nonprofits that are affiliated to an extent with public officials but aren’t involved in public fundraising to benefit those officials. The bill also doesn’t include high-ranking public officials in city agencies, only elected officials. Council Members sought feedback on how they could amend and improve the proposal, and agency heads suggested more clear definitions of the organizations that would be covered.</p> <p>The rest of the bills being heard Monday aim at streamlining campaign finance disclosure requirements and tweak certain aspects of the city’s campaign finance law. These bills would usually be heard by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has heard another package of campaign finance reform bills that awaits a vote, but were lumped together with the first proposal concerning conflicts of interest, which is under the standards and ethics committee’s jurisdiction.</p> <p>“All these bills are designed to ensure we streamline the process of running for office without sacrificing the safeguards that ensure integrity of our democratic process,” said Council Member David Greenfield, sponsor of five of the bills, in his opening statement.</p> <p>The campaign finance bills cover a lot of ground. One bill shortens the deadline for candidates to choose a hearing before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings for alleged campaign violations and penalties. Currently, most candidates go through a more informal hearing before the Campaign Finance Board. Another bill requires campaign contributions to be deposited within 20 business days, and cash contributions to be deposited within 10 business days.</p> <p>A bill sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander would allow non-public campaign funds to be used by public officials for their official duties. One of the proposals that the CFB particularly opposed would prohibit CFB staff from being present at an executive session of the board where campaign finance violations are being adjudicated. This bill would prevent the CFB’s own executive director from attending such a session.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=info&amp;Search" target="_blank">The main bill</a>, Intro. 1345,&nbsp;received support, with certain caveats, from the de Blasio administration, the Conflicts of Interest Board, the Campaign Finance Board, and private government reform organizations that favor more transparency in campaign finance.</p> <p>Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support of all the bills but expressed certain doubts about the scope of Intro. 1345 and about one provision in <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, one of Greenfield’s bills.</p> <p>On Intro. 1345, Berger said the administration was “generally supportive of the intent of this bill,” but said the definition of an organization affiliated with an elected official was “overbroad and may be problematic.” He warned that it could also raise legal concerns over free speech of private entities. “These concerns would need to be addressed in future discussions at a staff level,” he said.</p> <p>Berger cited the precautions that the mayor’s team took for the Campaign for One New York, including the willing disclosure of donors, which the new bill would require, and he agreed that limits should be placed on nonprofits that create a perception of helping a particular candidate. “[Intro. 1345] provides very strong assurances that would avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest,” he said. “And that’s important. Confidence in our government requires that.”</p> <p>But he worried that the bill would also apply to nonprofits that don’t raise funds and are already subject to extensive reporting requirements, such as the Economic Development Corporation, or programmatic organizations that don’t benefit an individual but may raise funds such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “We’re looking for some tightening but....we think this bill comes very close to drawing the line,” he said.</p> <p>Once a bill is heard in Council committee, behind-the-scenes negotiation usually occurs to tweak bill language, before a bill is voted on in committee and then, if it passes, the the full Council. At times, like the other package of campaign finance reform bills that was heard months ago by the government operations committee, bills do not receive a committee vote soon after a hearing, if at all. Council sources do indicate, though, that they plan to move the bills heard today quickly, while also moving the other campaign finance bills.</p> <p>Changes to the campaign finance system would already be late in the four-year election cycle as the election year of 2017 is fast-approaching and candidates have already been raising money.</p> <p>The political nonprofits bill also expands the definition for those who do business before the city to include family members, which, Berger said, would create logistical and technical issues for the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, which maintains the city’s doing business database. MOCS would need time to adjust to the bill, he later told Council members.</p> <p>Addressing Intro. 1355, which relaxes certain documentation requirements for campaign contributions, Berger said there was a potential for fraud since the bill removes the obligation for a candidate committee to collect contributor cards if they receive a check or money order with the name and address of a donor on them.</p> <p>Berger’s biggest complaints, however, were that certain necessary proposals were not included in the package of bills. He said the Council should consider legislation that would overhaul the process for post-election campaign audits, to ensure they are concluded faster; proposed that legal fees for responding to campaign finance issues should not be counted against a campaign’s expenditure limits; and suggested that candidates who must raise money for a general election during primary season be allowed to attribute fundraising expenditures to their general election spending cap instead of the primary one.</p> <p>Representatives of the Conflicts of Interest Board commended the Council on Intro. 1345, but said they are unsure about being charged with implementing it. Executive Director Carolyn Lisa Miller said the board “remains uncertain whether we are the right agency to administer the legislation,” but expressed willingness to work with the Council and the administration.</p> <p>Miller listed 20 possible issues arising from the legislation, ranging from the definition of the nonprofits covered to the substantial penalties levied and the timeframe of disclosures required by organizations. She also cited issues with enforcement and investigation. COIB is a small city agency, with 26 full-time employees, and has no investigators of its own, relying instead on the Department of Investigation which is an independent agency. Miller said COIB would likely require additional staff and funding to comply with the legislation.</p> <p>What might complicate things further is that COIB cannot enforce fines on City Council members, if one should choose not to accept a violation found and penalty assessed by the board. In such a situation, which Miller said has never arisen to date, the board could only make recommendations to the Speaker and the Council which would have to decide to refer the case to the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>Council Member Lander, co-sponsor of Intro. 1345 and a prime sponsor on another one of the bills, pushed back against Miller’s uncertainty. “To me the reason to put this legislation and its enforcement with you is it is an issue of conflicts of interest,” he said. “Even though we are concerned about the public-facing communication, what we’re guarding against here is public corruption. That’s the goal, making sure that people who have business interests with the city don’t have an avenue into giving that influences public officials. That’s not primarily campaign finance. That’s primarily conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>With 13 bills out of the package dealing directly with the Campaign Finance Board, much of the hearing focused on testimony from Amy Loprest, CFB executive director. Loprest, like COIB’s Miller, praised Intro. 1345 but had strong apprehensions nonetheless. “We note the several concerns regarding the bill’s drafting and implementation raised by our colleagues at the Conflicts of Interest Board,” Loprest said in her opening statement. “We urge the Council to take those into account, and we will be available to assist in any way they or the Council deems appropriate.”</p> <p>She also criticized the legislation’s accompanying “poison pill” measures which would “significantly weaken the CFB’s oversight of the matching funds program.”</p> <p>“These measures should not be the cost of implementing a commendable and necessary reform,” she said, taking issue with the timing of many of the proposals, saying they would be disruptive to the board’s preparations for the 2017 city elections.</p> <p>In a cordial back-and-forth with Council Member Greenfield, who argued that the Council’s proposed changes to CFB procedures were warranted, necessary, and justified under its jurisdiction, Loprest attempted to explain her broader concerns.</p> <p>“It is important for us to review how we do operate, how we do our audits, how we do our procedures,” she conceded. “I do however think that this kind of piecemeal, finger in one part of a complicated process will have unintended and unwelcome consequences and will make things more complicated when our goal is to try and make things less complicated.”</p> <p>Greenfield pushed back. “I think that’s where we’re going to come to agree to disagree,” he said. “Just like your job is to audit candidates, our job is to audit the CFB, for lack of a better term.”</p> <p>Good government groups testified in support of the bills, but had reservations about both the timing and the manner in which they were drafted and introduced. Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group, approved of the bills but said it was late in the game to consider changes to the city’s campaign finance system, with the next election so close.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, applauded the Council, but insisted that the bills should have included more public discussion when they were being drafted. Intro. 1345, in particular, addresses concerns that Citizens Union raised earlier this year in a proposal to regulate nonprofit organizations affiliated with elected officials. “We believe the proposed bill can effectively bring needed oversight to these organizations,” Dadey said at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>The only testimony that rejected most of the proposals outright came from Dominic Mauro, staff attorney for Reinvent Albany, an advocacy organization. Mauro said his organization supported the intent of Intro. 1345 but questioned how it could be implemented. The entire package of bills, Mauro said, “add up to a huge step backwards.” Admitting that the CFB is “imperfect, he said, however, that his organization thinks “Many of these bills seem like petty retaliation and an expression of irritation by Council members who are annoyed with CFB nitpicking.”</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/berger_council.jpg" alt="berger council" width="600" height="410" /></p> <p>Henry Berger testifying (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council heard testimony Monday on a broad package of bills that would prevent conflicts of interest between elected officials and political nonprofits, limit the electoral influence of those who do business with the city, and make it easier for first-time candidates to navigate the city’s campaign finance system.</p> <p>The Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics heard 14 bills on Monday in what was the current Council’s first hearing of the committee focused on legislation. Of the 14, the headlining bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, was the Council’s direct response to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit formed by the mayor’s allies to promote his agenda that has been at the center of controversy, criticism, and law enforcement investigations.</p> <p>The Campaign for One New York, since disbanded, skirted the city’s campaign finance law, in part by raising major sums from entities with city business. Federal investigators have been looking at whether government action was exchanged for donations. The mayor has maintained that he, his administration, and the organization followed the law and sought guidances from the Conflicts of Interest Board throughout. His activities were probed by the city Campaign Finance Board, which let him off with a slap on the wrist but stressed the need to close the loophole in the law that he took advantage of in fundraising for his group.</p> <p>The bill at hand is sponsored by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally. It takes aim at that exact loophole and limits donations from those who are lobbyists or have business before the city to nonprofits created or controlled by elected officials or their agents. The limit of $400 currently applies to donations made by such categories of donors directly to candidate committees. Under the bill, if an organization spends more than 10 percent of its annual budget on “public-facing communications that feature the name or picture of the elected official who controls them” contributions to the nonprofit would be limited and it would have to disclose its donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito did not attend the hearing, which was led by Standards and Ethics Committee Chair Alan Maisel. Mark-Viverito’s spokesperson, Robin Levine, said in an email that Council staff was monitoring the hearing and will brief the speaker as she reviews the testimony.</p> <p>While there was broad support for Mark-Viverito’s bill, there were questions about its language and the implementation that it requires. As it currently stands, the bill seeks to prevent actual and perceived conflicts of interest by preventing business interests from donating large sums of money to a nonprofit to ingratiate themselves with an elected official. But concerns were raised that the bill paints with a broad brush and would include nonprofits that are affiliated to an extent with public officials but aren’t involved in public fundraising to benefit those officials. The bill also doesn’t include high-ranking public officials in city agencies, only elected officials. Council Members sought feedback on how they could amend and improve the proposal, and agency heads suggested more clear definitions of the organizations that would be covered.</p> <p>The rest of the bills being heard Monday aim at streamlining campaign finance disclosure requirements and tweak certain aspects of the city’s campaign finance law. These bills would usually be heard by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has heard another package of campaign finance reform bills that awaits a vote, but were lumped together with the first proposal concerning conflicts of interest, which is under the standards and ethics committee’s jurisdiction.</p> <p>“All these bills are designed to ensure we streamline the process of running for office without sacrificing the safeguards that ensure integrity of our democratic process,” said Council Member David Greenfield, sponsor of five of the bills, in his opening statement.</p> <p>The campaign finance bills cover a lot of ground. One bill shortens the deadline for candidates to choose a hearing before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings for alleged campaign violations and penalties. Currently, most candidates go through a more informal hearing before the Campaign Finance Board. Another bill requires campaign contributions to be deposited within 20 business days, and cash contributions to be deposited within 10 business days.</p> <p>A bill sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander would allow non-public campaign funds to be used by public officials for their official duties. One of the proposals that the CFB particularly opposed would prohibit CFB staff from being present at an executive session of the board where campaign finance violations are being adjudicated. This bill would prevent the CFB’s own executive director from attending such a session.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=info&amp;Search" target="_blank">The main bill</a>, Intro. 1345,&nbsp;received support, with certain caveats, from the de Blasio administration, the Conflicts of Interest Board, the Campaign Finance Board, and private government reform organizations that favor more transparency in campaign finance.</p> <p>Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support of all the bills but expressed certain doubts about the scope of Intro. 1345 and about one provision in <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, one of Greenfield’s bills.</p> <p>On Intro. 1345, Berger said the administration was “generally supportive of the intent of this bill,” but said the definition of an organization affiliated with an elected official was “overbroad and may be problematic.” He warned that it could also raise legal concerns over free speech of private entities. “These concerns would need to be addressed in future discussions at a staff level,” he said.</p> <p>Berger cited the precautions that the mayor’s team took for the Campaign for One New York, including the willing disclosure of donors, which the new bill would require, and he agreed that limits should be placed on nonprofits that create a perception of helping a particular candidate. “[Intro. 1345] provides very strong assurances that would avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest,” he said. “And that’s important. Confidence in our government requires that.”</p> <p>But he worried that the bill would also apply to nonprofits that don’t raise funds and are already subject to extensive reporting requirements, such as the Economic Development Corporation, or programmatic organizations that don’t benefit an individual but may raise funds such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “We’re looking for some tightening but....we think this bill comes very close to drawing the line,” he said.</p> <p>Once a bill is heard in Council committee, behind-the-scenes negotiation usually occurs to tweak bill language, before a bill is voted on in committee and then, if it passes, the the full Council. At times, like the other package of campaign finance reform bills that was heard months ago by the government operations committee, bills do not receive a committee vote soon after a hearing, if at all. Council sources do indicate, though, that they plan to move the bills heard today quickly, while also moving the other campaign finance bills.</p> <p>Changes to the campaign finance system would already be late in the four-year election cycle as the election year of 2017 is fast-approaching and candidates have already been raising money.</p> <p>The political nonprofits bill also expands the definition for those who do business before the city to include family members, which, Berger said, would create logistical and technical issues for the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, which maintains the city’s doing business database. MOCS would need time to adjust to the bill, he later told Council members.</p> <p>Addressing Intro. 1355, which relaxes certain documentation requirements for campaign contributions, Berger said there was a potential for fraud since the bill removes the obligation for a candidate committee to collect contributor cards if they receive a check or money order with the name and address of a donor on them.</p> <p>Berger’s biggest complaints, however, were that certain necessary proposals were not included in the package of bills. He said the Council should consider legislation that would overhaul the process for post-election campaign audits, to ensure they are concluded faster; proposed that legal fees for responding to campaign finance issues should not be counted against a campaign’s expenditure limits; and suggested that candidates who must raise money for a general election during primary season be allowed to attribute fundraising expenditures to their general election spending cap instead of the primary one.</p> <p>Representatives of the Conflicts of Interest Board commended the Council on Intro. 1345, but said they are unsure about being charged with implementing it. Executive Director Carolyn Lisa Miller said the board “remains uncertain whether we are the right agency to administer the legislation,” but expressed willingness to work with the Council and the administration.</p> <p>Miller listed 20 possible issues arising from the legislation, ranging from the definition of the nonprofits covered to the substantial penalties levied and the timeframe of disclosures required by organizations. She also cited issues with enforcement and investigation. COIB is a small city agency, with 26 full-time employees, and has no investigators of its own, relying instead on the Department of Investigation which is an independent agency. Miller said COIB would likely require additional staff and funding to comply with the legislation.</p> <p>What might complicate things further is that COIB cannot enforce fines on City Council members, if one should choose not to accept a violation found and penalty assessed by the board. In such a situation, which Miller said has never arisen to date, the board could only make recommendations to the Speaker and the Council which would have to decide to refer the case to the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>Council Member Lander, co-sponsor of Intro. 1345 and a prime sponsor on another one of the bills, pushed back against Miller’s uncertainty. “To me the reason to put this legislation and its enforcement with you is it is an issue of conflicts of interest,” he said. “Even though we are concerned about the public-facing communication, what we’re guarding against here is public corruption. That’s the goal, making sure that people who have business interests with the city don’t have an avenue into giving that influences public officials. That’s not primarily campaign finance. That’s primarily conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>With 13 bills out of the package dealing directly with the Campaign Finance Board, much of the hearing focused on testimony from Amy Loprest, CFB executive director. Loprest, like COIB’s Miller, praised Intro. 1345 but had strong apprehensions nonetheless. “We note the several concerns regarding the bill’s drafting and implementation raised by our colleagues at the Conflicts of Interest Board,” Loprest said in her opening statement. “We urge the Council to take those into account, and we will be available to assist in any way they or the Council deems appropriate.”</p> <p>She also criticized the legislation’s accompanying “poison pill” measures which would “significantly weaken the CFB’s oversight of the matching funds program.”</p> <p>“These measures should not be the cost of implementing a commendable and necessary reform,” she said, taking issue with the timing of many of the proposals, saying they would be disruptive to the board’s preparations for the 2017 city elections.</p> <p>In a cordial back-and-forth with Council Member Greenfield, who argued that the Council’s proposed changes to CFB procedures were warranted, necessary, and justified under its jurisdiction, Loprest attempted to explain her broader concerns.</p> <p>“It is important for us to review how we do operate, how we do our audits, how we do our procedures,” she conceded. “I do however think that this kind of piecemeal, finger in one part of a complicated process will have unintended and unwelcome consequences and will make things more complicated when our goal is to try and make things less complicated.”</p> <p>Greenfield pushed back. “I think that’s where we’re going to come to agree to disagree,” he said. “Just like your job is to audit candidates, our job is to audit the CFB, for lack of a better term.”</p> <p>Good government groups testified in support of the bills, but had reservations about both the timing and the manner in which they were drafted and introduced. Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group, approved of the bills but said it was late in the game to consider changes to the city’s campaign finance system, with the next election so close.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, applauded the Council, but insisted that the bills should have included more public discussion when they were being drafted. Intro. 1345, in particular, addresses concerns that Citizens Union raised earlier this year in a proposal to regulate nonprofit organizations affiliated with elected officials. “We believe the proposed bill can effectively bring needed oversight to these organizations,” Dadey said at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>The only testimony that rejected most of the proposals outright came from Dominic Mauro, staff attorney for Reinvent Albany, an advocacy organization. Mauro said his organization supported the intent of Intro. 1345 but questioned how it could be implemented. The entire package of bills, Mauro said, “add up to a huge step backwards.” Admitting that the CFB is “imperfect, he said, however, that his organization thinks “Many of these bills seem like petty retaliation and an expression of irritation by Council members who are annoyed with CFB nitpicking.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Drafting Bills to Regulate Political Nonprofits Like Campaign for One New York 2016-09-23T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-23T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6545:city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Kallos.jpg" alt="Kallos" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: John McCarten for the City Council)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">At least three City Council members have made requests to the Council&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5587-new-city-council-bill-drafting-unit-up-and-running-lander-mark-viverito" target="_blank">bill drafting unit</a> to formulate legislation that would regulate political participation by and with &ldquo;social welfare&rdquo; nonprofit organizations. These are political advocacy, or lobbying, groups, which have been the subject of intense scrutiny in New York City of late due to the Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit established by allies of Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bills currently being drafted in the Council would increase disclosure requirements for political nonprofits and reclassify the groups under the jurisdiction of the city&rsquo;s Campaign Finance Board and its rules around donation limits, including by entities with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Social welfare&rdquo; or political nonprofits, designated 501(c)(4)s by the Internal Revenue Service, are issue advocacy groups that have been around for decades, but their heavy involvement and influence in electoral politics has been a more recent phenomenon, following the U.S. Supreme Court&rsquo;s 2012 decision in the Citizens United case. In that judgement, the Court recognized unions and corporations as individuals whose political expenditures are a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. That opened the floodgates to massive independent expenditures in political campaigns and also allowed political nonprofits that advocate, or lobby, on issues to use the unlimited fundraising at their disposal for political means, as long as politics is not their main focus. These groups are tax-exempt and are not required to disclose their donors - thus, their expenditures are often referred to as &ldquo;dark money.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Separate from promoting or attacking a candidate for office, these groups also lobby government on any number of issues or agendas.</p> <p dir="ltr">When allies of de Blasio established the Campaign for One New York to push his progressive agenda it did not take long before questions were swirling around the major donations being given to the group by labor unions, real estate developers, and others with city business. The group&rsquo;s fundraising activities, the mayor&rsquo;s involvement, and whether government action was offered or given in exchange for donations to the Campaign for One New York are currently under federal and state investigation. Earlier this year, de Blasio announced that the organization was shutting down - he declared that it had done its job given his administration&rsquo;s successes around pre-kindergarten and affordable housing policy.</p> <p dir="ltr">A separate probe by the city&rsquo;s Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank">concluded in July</a>, where the board found that the nonprofit and the mayor had not acted illegally, but criticized the mayor for exploiting loopholes in the campaign finance law. De Blasio has maintained throughout that he and the group followed the letter of the law, while also willingly disclosing donors and expenditures, which is not currently required.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor&rsquo;s deep connection with the group and its donors, including big moneyed interests with business before the city, have created impressions of a pay-to-play culture at City Hall and led to calls for closer monitoring of such organizations. Certain City Council members are taking up this charge.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Members Ben Kallos, Rory Lancman, and Elizabeth Crowley - all Democrats like de Blasio - have each submitted a request that legislation be crafted around regulating 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Kallos&rsquo; bill drafting request is &ldquo;on point&rdquo; with <a href="https://echalk-slate-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/private/districts/466/resources/4978a13c-ad33-440a-8e5b-066f4a6b1a13?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIZQPKIVDQVS7TUJA&amp;Expires=1474580429&amp;response-content-disposition=;filename=&quot;CU%20Proposal%20to%20Regulate%20Elected%20Official-Affiliated%20Nonprofit%20Organizations%207-6-16.pdf&quot;&amp;response-content-type=application/pdf&amp;Signature=mmKwFE0CIO7iVFZzgB/mrWSt9Rk=" target="_blank">a recent proposal</a> made by Citizens Union, a government reform group. That proposal would require that 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) organizations created at the behest of elected officials to promote their own image or agenda be treated like political committees under the city&rsquo;s campaign finance laws. This would entail detailed disclosure of contributions and expenditures, limits on contributions similar to those for political candidates, and oversight by the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Anytime you&rsquo;ve got elected officials whose political campaigns are limited in the money they can raise affiliated with 501(c)(4)s that engage in quasi-electoral activities that don&rsquo;t have the same limits, that is a place we should be paying attention,&rdquo; Kallos said in a phone interview. Kallos chairs the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Governmental Operations, where the bills would likely be introduced and heard.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Lancman&rsquo;s request was along similar lines. He has suggested that 501(c)(4)s face contribution restrictions similar to those imposed on political campaigns, which would also limit the amount of money donated by entities that have business before the city. For instance, in a citywide campaign, an individual can currently make a maximum contribution of $4,950 while an individual with business before the city can only give $400. A citywide candidate can also not accept contributions from corporations, partnerships, or Limited Liability Companies. Under Lancman&rsquo;s proposal, these limits would apply to 501(c)(4)s as well. He called his proposal a &ldquo;direct response to the mayor distorting the political process and undermining the campaign finance law.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The mayor&rsquo;s transformation of this loophole into a gaping hole in the campaign finance system is probably unique,&rdquo; Lancman said in an interview. &ldquo;To the extent that any other elected would think of [skirting] the campaign finance law by setting up an issue advocacy organization that is for all intents and purposes an extension of the CFB-limited campaign committee, this would be a deterrence.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The third proposal, Council Member Crowley's, would prohibit candidates who participate in the CFB's public matching funds program from fundraising for 501(c)(4)s established for lobbying purposes. "It&rsquo;s important the city look at multiple approaches to ensure that candidates who participate in the Campaign Finance Board&rsquo;s matching funds program run a fair race," Crowley said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "This legislation would work to prevent the influence of unregulated money used by an elected official or candidate for office to push their own political agenda and prevent an unfair advantage."</p> <p dir="ltr">The progress of the Council members&rsquo; bill requests is currently unclear. Both Kallos and Lancman separately indicated that their proposals may conflict with others and that they were unsure of who would finally introduce legislation. While the Campaign for One New York is closing down and appears to no longer be soliciting or accepting donations, the 2017 city election cycle is about to truly take off.</p> <p>Asked about the status of the bill requests and if City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had comment on the proposals, spokesperson Eric Koch emailed, &ldquo;We're going through our normal legislative process.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated with comment from Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.</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/2014/03/Kallos.jpg" alt="Kallos" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: John McCarten for the City Council)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">At least three City Council members have made requests to the Council&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5587-new-city-council-bill-drafting-unit-up-and-running-lander-mark-viverito" target="_blank">bill drafting unit</a> to formulate legislation that would regulate political participation by and with &ldquo;social welfare&rdquo; nonprofit organizations. These are political advocacy, or lobbying, groups, which have been the subject of intense scrutiny in New York City of late due to the Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit established by allies of Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bills currently being drafted in the Council would increase disclosure requirements for political nonprofits and reclassify the groups under the jurisdiction of the city&rsquo;s Campaign Finance Board and its rules around donation limits, including by entities with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Social welfare&rdquo; or political nonprofits, designated 501(c)(4)s by the Internal Revenue Service, are issue advocacy groups that have been around for decades, but their heavy involvement and influence in electoral politics has been a more recent phenomenon, following the U.S. Supreme Court&rsquo;s 2012 decision in the Citizens United case. In that judgement, the Court recognized unions and corporations as individuals whose political expenditures are a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. That opened the floodgates to massive independent expenditures in political campaigns and also allowed political nonprofits that advocate, or lobby, on issues to use the unlimited fundraising at their disposal for political means, as long as politics is not their main focus. These groups are tax-exempt and are not required to disclose their donors - thus, their expenditures are often referred to as &ldquo;dark money.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Separate from promoting or attacking a candidate for office, these groups also lobby government on any number of issues or agendas.</p> <p dir="ltr">When allies of de Blasio established the Campaign for One New York to push his progressive agenda it did not take long before questions were swirling around the major donations being given to the group by labor unions, real estate developers, and others with city business. The group&rsquo;s fundraising activities, the mayor&rsquo;s involvement, and whether government action was offered or given in exchange for donations to the Campaign for One New York are currently under federal and state investigation. Earlier this year, de Blasio announced that the organization was shutting down - he declared that it had done its job given his administration&rsquo;s successes around pre-kindergarten and affordable housing policy.</p> <p dir="ltr">A separate probe by the city&rsquo;s Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank">concluded in July</a>, where the board found that the nonprofit and the mayor had not acted illegally, but criticized the mayor for exploiting loopholes in the campaign finance law. De Blasio has maintained throughout that he and the group followed the letter of the law, while also willingly disclosing donors and expenditures, which is not currently required.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor&rsquo;s deep connection with the group and its donors, including big moneyed interests with business before the city, have created impressions of a pay-to-play culture at City Hall and led to calls for closer monitoring of such organizations. Certain City Council members are taking up this charge.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Members Ben Kallos, Rory Lancman, and Elizabeth Crowley - all Democrats like de Blasio - have each submitted a request that legislation be crafted around regulating 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Kallos&rsquo; bill drafting request is &ldquo;on point&rdquo; with <a href="https://echalk-slate-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/private/districts/466/resources/4978a13c-ad33-440a-8e5b-066f4a6b1a13?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIZQPKIVDQVS7TUJA&amp;Expires=1474580429&amp;response-content-disposition=;filename=&quot;CU%20Proposal%20to%20Regulate%20Elected%20Official-Affiliated%20Nonprofit%20Organizations%207-6-16.pdf&quot;&amp;response-content-type=application/pdf&amp;Signature=mmKwFE0CIO7iVFZzgB/mrWSt9Rk=" target="_blank">a recent proposal</a> made by Citizens Union, a government reform group. That proposal would require that 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) organizations created at the behest of elected officials to promote their own image or agenda be treated like political committees under the city&rsquo;s campaign finance laws. This would entail detailed disclosure of contributions and expenditures, limits on contributions similar to those for political candidates, and oversight by the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Anytime you&rsquo;ve got elected officials whose political campaigns are limited in the money they can raise affiliated with 501(c)(4)s that engage in quasi-electoral activities that don&rsquo;t have the same limits, that is a place we should be paying attention,&rdquo; Kallos said in a phone interview. Kallos chairs the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Governmental Operations, where the bills would likely be introduced and heard.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Lancman&rsquo;s request was along similar lines. He has suggested that 501(c)(4)s face contribution restrictions similar to those imposed on political campaigns, which would also limit the amount of money donated by entities that have business before the city. For instance, in a citywide campaign, an individual can currently make a maximum contribution of $4,950 while an individual with business before the city can only give $400. A citywide candidate can also not accept contributions from corporations, partnerships, or Limited Liability Companies. Under Lancman&rsquo;s proposal, these limits would apply to 501(c)(4)s as well. He called his proposal a &ldquo;direct response to the mayor distorting the political process and undermining the campaign finance law.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The mayor&rsquo;s transformation of this loophole into a gaping hole in the campaign finance system is probably unique,&rdquo; Lancman said in an interview. &ldquo;To the extent that any other elected would think of [skirting] the campaign finance law by setting up an issue advocacy organization that is for all intents and purposes an extension of the CFB-limited campaign committee, this would be a deterrence.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The third proposal, Council Member Crowley's, would prohibit candidates who participate in the CFB's public matching funds program from fundraising for 501(c)(4)s established for lobbying purposes. "It&rsquo;s important the city look at multiple approaches to ensure that candidates who participate in the Campaign Finance Board&rsquo;s matching funds program run a fair race," Crowley said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "This legislation would work to prevent the influence of unregulated money used by an elected official or candidate for office to push their own political agenda and prevent an unfair advantage."</p> <p dir="ltr">The progress of the Council members&rsquo; bill requests is currently unclear. Both Kallos and Lancman separately indicated that their proposals may conflict with others and that they were unsure of who would finally introduce legislation. While the Campaign for One New York is closing down and appears to no longer be soliciting or accepting donations, the 2017 city election cycle is about to truly take off.</p> <p>Asked about the status of the bill requests and if City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had comment on the proposals, spokesperson Eric Koch emailed, &ldquo;We're going through our normal legislative process.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated with comment from Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
With No Clear Next Election, Council Speaker Raises and Spends 2016-08-22T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6491:with-no-clear-next-election-council-speaker-raises-and-spends Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25117701375_992510031c_z.jpg" alt="MMV CUNY J School" width="600" height="409" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">As the calendar hurtles toward 2017, one of the big New York City political questions is what the future holds for Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the City Council. Mark-Viverito will be term-limited out of office at the end of next year and while she has indicated that she may continue to be active in city politics, there is no clear next step for her, especially in terms of elected office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, told <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/melissa-mark-viverito-eyes-political-options-in-nyc-puerto-rico-1.12116704" target="_blank">Newsday</a> in an interview last month, &ldquo;I keep all my options open&rdquo; - a similar answer to the many other times she has been asked about her future. In keeping her options open, Mark-Viverito has continued to raise money in her city campaign account. She has also continued to spend it, though not directly on a run for office. Over the most recent six-month filing period, January through June, Mark-Viverito raised more than $185,000 and spent nearly $40,000. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the speaker has raised nearly $800,000 and spent about $460,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">She has not declared any intention to run for another office, like Manhattan Borough President, Public Advocate, or Mayor, all of which are held by Democratic incumbents all-but-certain to run for re-election in 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">For politicians to raise and spend money without a particular elected seat in mind is not unusual and does not violate campaign finance regulations, although it can matter if a candidate decides to eventually participate in the city&rsquo;s public matching funds program. Mark-Viverito will most likely not be participating since it&rsquo;s highly unlikely that she&rsquo;ll run for office in the city in 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">While she has been coy about any next job, speculation has been rife that Mark-Viverito could either run for Governor of Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised, or take a post in a possible Hillary Clinton administration. She may also return to labor organizing or run a not-for-profit. There has been some talk of her running for Congress. Mark-Viverito has answered repeated questions about her future with little detail, though with the presidential race heating up she has been traveling the country as a Clinton supporter, leading to increasing discussion of a federal post if the Democrat wins.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaign spokesperson Eric Koch declined to comment on which, if any, potential future election the speaker would participate in.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Mark-Viverito has been actively raising money and using it for non-campaign related expenditures, including multiple trips around the country. Between January 12 and July 11, the last disclosure period, she spent $39,048. Much of that, nearly $24,000, went to fundraising consultants. Over the same period, she received $186,580 in campaign contributions. Her overall 2017 <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=743&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Mark-Viverito,%20Melissa&amp;office=Undeclared&amp;report=summ" target="_blank">campaign account balance</a> is $319,911 - after $779,996 received and $460,085 spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">The speaker has two bundlers who raised funds for her campaign committee. The first, Joe Cayre, raised $19,800 from four donors, who all share the surname Escava, in November last year. The second bundler, Arthur Goldstein, a lawyer with Davidoff, Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP, packaged 22 separate donations totaling $7,100, mostly between May and July 2015. When asked by phone why he raised money for Mark-Viverito even though she isn&rsquo;t running for a seat, Goldstein said, &ldquo;I believe she&rsquo;s been a good speaker and apparently people we know thought so too.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Since 2014, Mark-Viverito has spent around $8,500 on flights and hotels to attend political events and rallies. She has gone on trips organized by the <a href="http://observer.com/2015/11/nyc-speakers-latino-victory-fund-backs-congressional-candidates-across-america/" target="_blank">Latino Victory Fund</a>, a super PAC that she co-chairs, to promote Latino candidates in elections across the country; she travelled to Arizona for the Netroots Nation conference in July of last year, which was her second trip there. She went to the Somos conference in Puerto Rico in November, and will probably do so again this year. She travelled to Puerto Rico with Governor Andrew Cuomo as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito has also campaigned in four states -- New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Florida -- &nbsp;for Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee. In March, Mark-Viverito was an official surrogate for Clinton in the spin room outside the Miami debate, following which she travelled through Puerto Rican areas for two days. The speaker&rsquo;s campaign said all the trips were cleared with the city Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p dir="ltr">While good government groups don&rsquo;t see anything wrong with politicians using their campaign funds liberally, they would like to see certain changes in the rules by which funds can be spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;To us the solution is the creation of what we call an office-holder account,&rdquo; said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. &ldquo;There should be a mechanism to do the sort of things the speaker is doing with her campaign money. It&rsquo;s a perfectly appropriate thing for an elected official to do.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lerner said that the separate account could help clearly demarcate which funds are spent on broader political activities and which ones are directly related to a candidate campaign. Cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland, California have such systems. &ldquo;We would urge the City Council to look into setting those up,&rdquo; Lerner added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gene Russianoff from New York Public Interest Research Group agreed that Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s spending hasn&rsquo;t been inappropriate. But he said it would be better if any and all campaign money spending came later in the election cycle. &ldquo;We would prefer that the spending start much later,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There should be no spending the first three years of the campaign cycle.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">If the speaker doesn&rsquo;t end up running in a city race, her campaign accounts must then abide by State Board of Elections regulations, which are much more permissive, rather than being audited by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. She would also have to decide what to do with those remaining funds. She could give money to other candidates or political committees. Mark-Viverito could also keep money around for a 2021 run for city-wide office.</p> <p>&ldquo;We advocate for a campaign fund to be closed within a reasonable time after an official leaves office or doesn&rsquo;t run again,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;The money should either be returned to donors or donated to charity.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25117701375_992510031c_z.jpg" alt="MMV CUNY J School" width="600" height="409" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">As the calendar hurtles toward 2017, one of the big New York City political questions is what the future holds for Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the City Council. Mark-Viverito will be term-limited out of office at the end of next year and while she has indicated that she may continue to be active in city politics, there is no clear next step for her, especially in terms of elected office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, told <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/melissa-mark-viverito-eyes-political-options-in-nyc-puerto-rico-1.12116704" target="_blank">Newsday</a> in an interview last month, &ldquo;I keep all my options open&rdquo; - a similar answer to the many other times she has been asked about her future. In keeping her options open, Mark-Viverito has continued to raise money in her city campaign account. She has also continued to spend it, though not directly on a run for office. Over the most recent six-month filing period, January through June, Mark-Viverito raised more than $185,000 and spent nearly $40,000. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the speaker has raised nearly $800,000 and spent about $460,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">She has not declared any intention to run for another office, like Manhattan Borough President, Public Advocate, or Mayor, all of which are held by Democratic incumbents all-but-certain to run for re-election in 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">For politicians to raise and spend money without a particular elected seat in mind is not unusual and does not violate campaign finance regulations, although it can matter if a candidate decides to eventually participate in the city&rsquo;s public matching funds program. Mark-Viverito will most likely not be participating since it&rsquo;s highly unlikely that she&rsquo;ll run for office in the city in 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">While she has been coy about any next job, speculation has been rife that Mark-Viverito could either run for Governor of Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised, or take a post in a possible Hillary Clinton administration. She may also return to labor organizing or run a not-for-profit. There has been some talk of her running for Congress. Mark-Viverito has answered repeated questions about her future with little detail, though with the presidential race heating up she has been traveling the country as a Clinton supporter, leading to increasing discussion of a federal post if the Democrat wins.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaign spokesperson Eric Koch declined to comment on which, if any, potential future election the speaker would participate in.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Mark-Viverito has been actively raising money and using it for non-campaign related expenditures, including multiple trips around the country. Between January 12 and July 11, the last disclosure period, she spent $39,048. Much of that, nearly $24,000, went to fundraising consultants. Over the same period, she received $186,580 in campaign contributions. Her overall 2017 <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=743&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Mark-Viverito,%20Melissa&amp;office=Undeclared&amp;report=summ" target="_blank">campaign account balance</a> is $319,911 - after $779,996 received and $460,085 spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">The speaker has two bundlers who raised funds for her campaign committee. The first, Joe Cayre, raised $19,800 from four donors, who all share the surname Escava, in November last year. The second bundler, Arthur Goldstein, a lawyer with Davidoff, Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP, packaged 22 separate donations totaling $7,100, mostly between May and July 2015. When asked by phone why he raised money for Mark-Viverito even though she isn&rsquo;t running for a seat, Goldstein said, &ldquo;I believe she&rsquo;s been a good speaker and apparently people we know thought so too.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Since 2014, Mark-Viverito has spent around $8,500 on flights and hotels to attend political events and rallies. She has gone on trips organized by the <a href="http://observer.com/2015/11/nyc-speakers-latino-victory-fund-backs-congressional-candidates-across-america/" target="_blank">Latino Victory Fund</a>, a super PAC that she co-chairs, to promote Latino candidates in elections across the country; she travelled to Arizona for the Netroots Nation conference in July of last year, which was her second trip there. She went to the Somos conference in Puerto Rico in November, and will probably do so again this year. She travelled to Puerto Rico with Governor Andrew Cuomo as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito has also campaigned in four states -- New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Florida -- &nbsp;for Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee. In March, Mark-Viverito was an official surrogate for Clinton in the spin room outside the Miami debate, following which she travelled through Puerto Rican areas for two days. The speaker&rsquo;s campaign said all the trips were cleared with the city Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p dir="ltr">While good government groups don&rsquo;t see anything wrong with politicians using their campaign funds liberally, they would like to see certain changes in the rules by which funds can be spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;To us the solution is the creation of what we call an office-holder account,&rdquo; said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. &ldquo;There should be a mechanism to do the sort of things the speaker is doing with her campaign money. It&rsquo;s a perfectly appropriate thing for an elected official to do.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lerner said that the separate account could help clearly demarcate which funds are spent on broader political activities and which ones are directly related to a candidate campaign. Cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland, California have such systems. &ldquo;We would urge the City Council to look into setting those up,&rdquo; Lerner added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gene Russianoff from New York Public Interest Research Group agreed that Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s spending hasn&rsquo;t been inappropriate. But he said it would be better if any and all campaign money spending came later in the election cycle. &ldquo;We would prefer that the spending start much later,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There should be no spending the first three years of the campaign cycle.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">If the speaker doesn&rsquo;t end up running in a city race, her campaign accounts must then abide by State Board of Elections regulations, which are much more permissive, rather than being audited by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. She would also have to decide what to do with those remaining funds. She could give money to other candidates or political committees. Mark-Viverito could also keep money around for a 2021 run for city-wide office.</p> <p>&ldquo;We advocate for a campaign fund to be closed within a reasonable time after an official leaves office or doesn&rsquo;t run again,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;The money should either be returned to donors or donated to charity.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
For 2017 Effect, Time Running Out for Campaign Finance Bills in Limbo 2016-08-21T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6489:time-running-out-for-campaign-finance-bills-in-limbo Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12526250094_b17a4d52a4_z.jpg" alt="MMV hearing flag mic" width="600" height="426" /></p> <p>above: Melissa Mark-Viverito; below: Ben Kallos (photos by William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City&rsquo;s campaign finance system, particularly its public matching funds program, is considered a national model, and it stays that way by being regularly updated and modernized. The Campaign Finance Board issues reports following each election analyzing ways to plug holes in the system and bolster the already-robust provisions of the relevant law.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, the next city election cycle, in 2017, may come and go without any improvements made to the system as a package of legislation aimed at doing just that continue to languish in the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s been more than three months since the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Governmental Operations held <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">a hearing</a> to consider eight bills related to the city&rsquo;s campaign finance laws. The most significant of the proposals would prohibit contributions from being matched with public funds if they are bundled by people with business before the city (there already significant limits on the contributions those people can make themselves).</p> <p dir="ltr">Another key bill would provide public matching funds to candidates at an earlier stage in the election, while other proposals enhance disclosure rules for individuals and firms that own entities with business before the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">These bills were introduced November 10, 2015 and have barely budged, save for the one hearing, despite having broad support from government reform groups and even the backing of the de Blasio administration. At the hearing on May 2, Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support, suggesting only a few technical changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Tuesday, Gotham Gazette asked City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito why the bills hadn&rsquo;t been prioritized with time running out for them to take effect and be effective in the 2017 cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito would only say that the Council&rsquo;s legislative process was continuing. &ldquo;Sponsors of the bill, I&rsquo;ve already engaged in conversation with them, we&rsquo;ve had hearings on all the bills,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a process internally, have those conversations and decide what we move forward. So conversations have happened with some of the sponsors of those bills.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In the past, the Council has expedited bills to a vote even if they weren&rsquo;t time sensitive, unlike the campaign finance bills. Case in point, when the Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms" target="_blank">approved large pay raises</a> for its members earlier this year, the proposal was introduced, heard and voted on within the span of eight days even though the pay raises would have been retroactive to January 1 regardless of when they passed.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although it&rsquo;s not definitively too late now for the Council to move on the campaign finance reform bills, it soon might be. &ldquo;It is getting late to change the rules of a four-year campaign cycle in what is essentially the third quarter of the game,&rdquo; said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. &ldquo;That we stand not to have any needed improvements to our campaign finance laws would be a black eye on this Council because it will have been the first time since the law was enacted 25 years ago that quadrennial changes have not been made.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The reforms under consideration were first recommended by the CFB in its 2013 <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/per/2013_PER/2013_PER.pdf" target="_blank">post-election report</a>, issued September 2014, and the board has continued to push the Council to adopt the changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;With so much attention on campaign finance reform in the presidential election,&rdquo; said Matt Sollars, director of public relations at the CFB, &ldquo;there is no better time and no better way to demonstrate that New York City&rsquo;s public financing system is the strongest in the country than by passing legislation to make it even stronger.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12526248684_b0a5bae3a0_z.jpg" alt="kallos hearing flag" width="300" height="227" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the government operations committee, is prime sponsor on four of the bills in the package. Right <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">after the May 2 hearing</a>, he said to Gotham Gazette, &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a matter of the public, who want their voices to be louder than those of special interests, to let their elected officials know that they need to sign on to this bill and they need to bring it to the floor of the Council.&rdquo; Kallos did not provide comment for this article. Of the other bills, two were introduced by Council Member Jumaane Williams, one by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, and one by Council Member Andy King.</p> <p dir="ltr">On June 6, the campaign finance board made another campaign finance-related recommendation when ruling on the matter of Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s fundraising for the Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit group set up by his allies to promote universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing. The CFB ruled in the mayor&rsquo;s favor but also took the opportunity to question the methods. They urged the Council &ldquo;to strengthen the city&rsquo;s protections against influence-seeking by wealthy interests, and pass legislation to more closely regulate fundraising solicitations by elected officials for non-profit organizations, especially 501(c)(4) entities,&rdquo; referring to the IRS&rsquo; designation for issue advocacy organizations like Campaign for One New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, another good government group, also believes the Council could still make changes to the law if it moves quickly. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re definitely approaching the point at which it&rsquo;ll become difficult to implement these bills for the coming election cycle,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;The delay is a matter of concern and is unnecessary.&rdquo;</p> <p>The bills are well within the public policy goals of the campaign finance system, Lerner said, and none of them could be considered controversial, although she suspects the bill related to bundlers could be holding up the process. &ldquo;I think voters and constituents need to know that officials are on the side of the public,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;and not lobbyists who want to use bundling as a way to gain influence.&rdquo;</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/2014/03/12526250094_b17a4d52a4_z.jpg" alt="MMV hearing flag mic" width="600" height="426" /></p> <p>above: Melissa Mark-Viverito; below: Ben Kallos (photos by William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City&rsquo;s campaign finance system, particularly its public matching funds program, is considered a national model, and it stays that way by being regularly updated and modernized. The Campaign Finance Board issues reports following each election analyzing ways to plug holes in the system and bolster the already-robust provisions of the relevant law.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, the next city election cycle, in 2017, may come and go without any improvements made to the system as a package of legislation aimed at doing just that continue to languish in the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s been more than three months since the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Governmental Operations held <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">a hearing</a> to consider eight bills related to the city&rsquo;s campaign finance laws. The most significant of the proposals would prohibit contributions from being matched with public funds if they are bundled by people with business before the city (there already significant limits on the contributions those people can make themselves).</p> <p dir="ltr">Another key bill would provide public matching funds to candidates at an earlier stage in the election, while other proposals enhance disclosure rules for individuals and firms that own entities with business before the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">These bills were introduced November 10, 2015 and have barely budged, save for the one hearing, despite having broad support from government reform groups and even the backing of the de Blasio administration. At the hearing on May 2, Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support, suggesting only a few technical changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Tuesday, Gotham Gazette asked City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito why the bills hadn&rsquo;t been prioritized with time running out for them to take effect and be effective in the 2017 cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito would only say that the Council&rsquo;s legislative process was continuing. &ldquo;Sponsors of the bill, I&rsquo;ve already engaged in conversation with them, we&rsquo;ve had hearings on all the bills,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a process internally, have those conversations and decide what we move forward. So conversations have happened with some of the sponsors of those bills.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In the past, the Council has expedited bills to a vote even if they weren&rsquo;t time sensitive, unlike the campaign finance bills. Case in point, when the Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms" target="_blank">approved large pay raises</a> for its members earlier this year, the proposal was introduced, heard and voted on within the span of eight days even though the pay raises would have been retroactive to January 1 regardless of when they passed.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although it&rsquo;s not definitively too late now for the Council to move on the campaign finance reform bills, it soon might be. &ldquo;It is getting late to change the rules of a four-year campaign cycle in what is essentially the third quarter of the game,&rdquo; said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. &ldquo;That we stand not to have any needed improvements to our campaign finance laws would be a black eye on this Council because it will have been the first time since the law was enacted 25 years ago that quadrennial changes have not been made.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The reforms under consideration were first recommended by the CFB in its 2013 <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/per/2013_PER/2013_PER.pdf" target="_blank">post-election report</a>, issued September 2014, and the board has continued to push the Council to adopt the changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;With so much attention on campaign finance reform in the presidential election,&rdquo; said Matt Sollars, director of public relations at the CFB, &ldquo;there is no better time and no better way to demonstrate that New York City&rsquo;s public financing system is the strongest in the country than by passing legislation to make it even stronger.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12526248684_b0a5bae3a0_z.jpg" alt="kallos hearing flag" width="300" height="227" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the government operations committee, is prime sponsor on four of the bills in the package. Right <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">after the May 2 hearing</a>, he said to Gotham Gazette, &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a matter of the public, who want their voices to be louder than those of special interests, to let their elected officials know that they need to sign on to this bill and they need to bring it to the floor of the Council.&rdquo; Kallos did not provide comment for this article. Of the other bills, two were introduced by Council Member Jumaane Williams, one by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, and one by Council Member Andy King.</p> <p dir="ltr">On June 6, the campaign finance board made another campaign finance-related recommendation when ruling on the matter of Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s fundraising for the Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit group set up by his allies to promote universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing. The CFB ruled in the mayor&rsquo;s favor but also took the opportunity to question the methods. They urged the Council &ldquo;to strengthen the city&rsquo;s protections against influence-seeking by wealthy interests, and pass legislation to more closely regulate fundraising solicitations by elected officials for non-profit organizations, especially 501(c)(4) entities,&rdquo; referring to the IRS&rsquo; designation for issue advocacy organizations like Campaign for One New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, another good government group, also believes the Council could still make changes to the law if it moves quickly. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re definitely approaching the point at which it&rsquo;ll become difficult to implement these bills for the coming election cycle,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;The delay is a matter of concern and is unnecessary.&rdquo;</p> <p>The bills are well within the public policy goals of the campaign finance system, Lerner said, and none of them could be considered controversial, although she suspects the bill related to bundlers could be holding up the process. &ldquo;I think voters and constituents need to know that officials are on the side of the public,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;and not lobbyists who want to use bundling as a way to gain influence.&rdquo;</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>
For Cuomo, Passing Ethics Bill was Urgent, Signing It is Not 2016-08-11T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6476:for-cuomo-passing-ethics-bill-was-urgent-signing-it-is-not Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24278049491_ffa076d6a7_z.jpg" alt="cuomo state of the state ethics podium" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo during his 2016 State of the State (via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>After nearly two months, Governor Andrew Cuomo requested on Friday that the Legislature send him an ethics reform package he personally designed and pushed the Legislature to pass in June with the assistance of a message of necessity he issued to speed the process. The governor now has 10 days to sign it, which he is expected to do.</p> <p>Announced by Cuomo late in the legislative session, the actual bill was then a mystery for days before being introduced in the wee hours of the morning on the final day of the session. Thanks to the governor&rsquo;s message, the bill was not required to age the otherwise-mandatory three days and legislators passed it within hours despite mostly not being familiar with it.</p> <p>The legislation deals with putting more scrutiny and regulations on independent expenditure campaigns and non-profit advocacy groups, known at times as 501(c)(4)s (for their tax classification) and Super PACs, which can support or oppose candidates for office, but not coordinate with them. The legislation requires greater disclosure of donors and donations, and gives stricter guidelines of who can work for the groups and what constitutes coordination between a group and a candidate.</p> <p>&ldquo;For the first time, independent expenditure groups and PACs will be required to adhere to unprecedented disclosure requirements, and New York will have the nation&rsquo;s strongest rules defining and governing coordination and independence,&rdquo; Cuomo said in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-and-legislative-leaders-announce-agreement-5-point-ethics-reform-plan" target="_blank">a statement</a> announcing an agreement on the legislation in June.</p> <p>Cuomo has already received hundreds of bills from the Legislature since session ended in June and it has not been clear why he took weeks to request one of his own signature bills. Just before Cuomo asked the Legislature for the bill, spokesperson Dani Lever told Gotham Gazette, &ldquo;We plan to call the bill down and sign it in the coming weeks.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>The matter of prioritization for the bill-signing also underscores questions about the bill being necessary in the first place, but also issue that many took with Cuomo&rsquo;s abandonment of other, more pressing government ethics and campaign finance reform proposals, many of which he had previously claimed to champion.</p> <p>Many legislators and advocates disagreed with Cuomo&rsquo;s assessment that the new bill required emergency action, saying that super PACs were not an issue in the major corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and other recently disgraced legislators. It was a distraction, critics say, from the real issues facing Albany like closing the LLC loophole, eliminating current and potential conflicts of interest, and more. Some say the bill seeks to stifle contributions to issue advocacy groups that campaign for changes to environmental, education, criminal justice, government ethics, and other policies.</p> <p>Discussing the legislation, Robert Perry, legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) said, "This is a complex regulatory scheme that requires nonprofits to report not only the donations they make but that they receive, as well as their communications on issues that are important to the public. This should be of grave concern to the public as it reaches out to groups that do not engage in lobbying or campaigns but work on issues that impact us all. The lobbying law is not a place to insert reporting requirements and restrictions. They are running headlong into constitutionally protected activities."</p> <p>Cuomo put the bill on the table <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">late in the legislative session</a> after it had become clear that the majority of the ethics reforms he proposed in his State of the State address would not pass in the Legislature, especially the Republican-controlled Senate. Many have questioned Cuomo&rsquo;s commitment to his reform agenda, which he held no events to promote. When announcing the new bill June 8, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">gave a booming speech</a> about money in politics at Fordham Law School, decrying the Supreme Court&rsquo;s Citizens United decision and calling his proposal a national model.</p> <p>Before Cuomo even called the legislation to his desk, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) passed a series of emergency regulations prompted by the bill that will go into effect 30 days after the governor does sign it. Observers see JCOPE moving at an unprecedented pace.</p> <p>JCOPE regulations would change the donor disclosure limits that currently require groups spending more than $50,000 in a year on an issue or on behalf of a candidate for office disclose their donors of more than $5,000. Under the new law, groups that spend more than $15,000 would have to disclose donors of more than $2,500.</p> <p>Even more irksome to many lobbyists and nonprofits is the fact that the regulations are set to be retroactive for five months before the bill was actually introduced, going back to the beginning of the year.</p> <p>&ldquo;I am mystified at how an agency can push through regulations that are retroactive for a bill that hasn't even become law,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group.&nbsp;&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not sure why it matters so much right now as [Albany] lobbyists won&rsquo;t be at work until January and the Legislature is not in session right now.&rdquo;</p> <p>Seth Agata, executive director of JCOPE, responded to concerns raised by Horner and others in a statement:</p> <p>&ldquo;The timetable in the emergency regulations the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has begun promulgating was set by the Governor and Legislature in the bill that was passed near-unanimously. The regulations only become effective 30 days after the Governor signs the legislation which is when the law becomes effective &ndash; there is no retroactive application. By acting now, JCOPE has released these emergency regulations for extended public comment before they become effective, and indeed, before they even become permanent. The Legislature and Governor have clearly spoken and enacted a law that expands the disclosure of sources of funding, and imposes those new disclosure requirements as soon as the law becomes effective, regardless of when contributions were made. JCOPE must effectuate that mandate. &rdquo;</p> <p>Issues of speed and timing are at play for other portions of the bill. As Politico NY <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/08/questions-of-timing-surround-reform-bills-implementation-104652" target="_blank">reported</a> on Thursday, 11 sections of the bill go into effect 30 days after it is signed. One of those includes language detailing what kind of interaction is forbidden between a candidate campaign and a Super PAC. Since the bill was not signed by Sunday, the rules will not be in effect for the September primaries, when all 213 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot. Some Super PACS <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6450-super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race" target="_blank">have been spending in city races already</a>.</p> <p>Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan embraced Cuomo&rsquo;s push, introducing the bill himself in the Senate. Both Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, appeared behind Cuomo&rsquo;s use of a message of necessity to rush the bill through. Such messages are supposed to only be used in the case of emergency as the three-day aging period is designed to give the public and legislators a chance to review a measure before it comes to a vote.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflect the fact that Gov. Cuomo called the bill from the Legislature.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24278049491_ffa076d6a7_z.jpg" alt="cuomo state of the state ethics podium" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo during his 2016 State of the State (via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>After nearly two months, Governor Andrew Cuomo requested on Friday that the Legislature send him an ethics reform package he personally designed and pushed the Legislature to pass in June with the assistance of a message of necessity he issued to speed the process. The governor now has 10 days to sign it, which he is expected to do.</p> <p>Announced by Cuomo late in the legislative session, the actual bill was then a mystery for days before being introduced in the wee hours of the morning on the final day of the session. Thanks to the governor&rsquo;s message, the bill was not required to age the otherwise-mandatory three days and legislators passed it within hours despite mostly not being familiar with it.</p> <p>The legislation deals with putting more scrutiny and regulations on independent expenditure campaigns and non-profit advocacy groups, known at times as 501(c)(4)s (for their tax classification) and Super PACs, which can support or oppose candidates for office, but not coordinate with them. The legislation requires greater disclosure of donors and donations, and gives stricter guidelines of who can work for the groups and what constitutes coordination between a group and a candidate.</p> <p>&ldquo;For the first time, independent expenditure groups and PACs will be required to adhere to unprecedented disclosure requirements, and New York will have the nation&rsquo;s strongest rules defining and governing coordination and independence,&rdquo; Cuomo said in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-and-legislative-leaders-announce-agreement-5-point-ethics-reform-plan" target="_blank">a statement</a> announcing an agreement on the legislation in June.</p> <p>Cuomo has already received hundreds of bills from the Legislature since session ended in June and it has not been clear why he took weeks to request one of his own signature bills. Just before Cuomo asked the Legislature for the bill, spokesperson Dani Lever told Gotham Gazette, &ldquo;We plan to call the bill down and sign it in the coming weeks.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>The matter of prioritization for the bill-signing also underscores questions about the bill being necessary in the first place, but also issue that many took with Cuomo&rsquo;s abandonment of other, more pressing government ethics and campaign finance reform proposals, many of which he had previously claimed to champion.</p> <p>Many legislators and advocates disagreed with Cuomo&rsquo;s assessment that the new bill required emergency action, saying that super PACs were not an issue in the major corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and other recently disgraced legislators. It was a distraction, critics say, from the real issues facing Albany like closing the LLC loophole, eliminating current and potential conflicts of interest, and more. Some say the bill seeks to stifle contributions to issue advocacy groups that campaign for changes to environmental, education, criminal justice, government ethics, and other policies.</p> <p>Discussing the legislation, Robert Perry, legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) said, "This is a complex regulatory scheme that requires nonprofits to report not only the donations they make but that they receive, as well as their communications on issues that are important to the public. This should be of grave concern to the public as it reaches out to groups that do not engage in lobbying or campaigns but work on issues that impact us all. The lobbying law is not a place to insert reporting requirements and restrictions. They are running headlong into constitutionally protected activities."</p> <p>Cuomo put the bill on the table <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">late in the legislative session</a> after it had become clear that the majority of the ethics reforms he proposed in his State of the State address would not pass in the Legislature, especially the Republican-controlled Senate. Many have questioned Cuomo&rsquo;s commitment to his reform agenda, which he held no events to promote. When announcing the new bill June 8, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">gave a booming speech</a> about money in politics at Fordham Law School, decrying the Supreme Court&rsquo;s Citizens United decision and calling his proposal a national model.</p> <p>Before Cuomo even called the legislation to his desk, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) passed a series of emergency regulations prompted by the bill that will go into effect 30 days after the governor does sign it. Observers see JCOPE moving at an unprecedented pace.</p> <p>JCOPE regulations would change the donor disclosure limits that currently require groups spending more than $50,000 in a year on an issue or on behalf of a candidate for office disclose their donors of more than $5,000. Under the new law, groups that spend more than $15,000 would have to disclose donors of more than $2,500.</p> <p>Even more irksome to many lobbyists and nonprofits is the fact that the regulations are set to be retroactive for five months before the bill was actually introduced, going back to the beginning of the year.</p> <p>&ldquo;I am mystified at how an agency can push through regulations that are retroactive for a bill that hasn't even become law,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group.&nbsp;&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not sure why it matters so much right now as [Albany] lobbyists won&rsquo;t be at work until January and the Legislature is not in session right now.&rdquo;</p> <p>Seth Agata, executive director of JCOPE, responded to concerns raised by Horner and others in a statement:</p> <p>&ldquo;The timetable in the emergency regulations the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has begun promulgating was set by the Governor and Legislature in the bill that was passed near-unanimously. The regulations only become effective 30 days after the Governor signs the legislation which is when the law becomes effective &ndash; there is no retroactive application. By acting now, JCOPE has released these emergency regulations for extended public comment before they become effective, and indeed, before they even become permanent. The Legislature and Governor have clearly spoken and enacted a law that expands the disclosure of sources of funding, and imposes those new disclosure requirements as soon as the law becomes effective, regardless of when contributions were made. JCOPE must effectuate that mandate. &rdquo;</p> <p>Issues of speed and timing are at play for other portions of the bill. As Politico NY <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/08/questions-of-timing-surround-reform-bills-implementation-104652" target="_blank">reported</a> on Thursday, 11 sections of the bill go into effect 30 days after it is signed. One of those includes language detailing what kind of interaction is forbidden between a candidate campaign and a Super PAC. Since the bill was not signed by Sunday, the rules will not be in effect for the September primaries, when all 213 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot. Some Super PACS <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6450-super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race" target="_blank">have been spending in city races already</a>.</p> <p>Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan embraced Cuomo&rsquo;s push, introducing the bill himself in the Senate. Both Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, appeared behind Cuomo&rsquo;s use of a message of necessity to rush the bill through. Such messages are supposed to only be used in the case of emergency as the three-day aging period is designed to give the public and legislators a chance to review a measure before it comes to a vote.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflect the fact that Gov. Cuomo called the bill from the Legislature.</p>