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/common-cause 2018-02-24T06:01:36+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Reform Groups Launch 'Restore Public Trust' Campaign 2018-01-04T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-04T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7405:reform-groups-launch-restore-public-trust-campaign Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39402901692_296107dc65_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Long Island flag" width="600" height="423" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s leading government reform groups reacted to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State agenda on Thursday in Albany, holding a press conference to urge the governor and legislative leaders to adopt a package of reforms to help restore public confidence in state government.</p> <p>Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Cuomo failed to pass any of the reforms he promised in the wake of the alleged bid-rigging schemes associated with his signature economic development programs, government ethics and contracting reform got barely a mention in Cuomo’s 92-minute Wednesday address. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7403-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state-reform-agenda-largely-repeats-past-proposals" target="_blank" rel="noopener">His 2018 policy book includes many of the same reform measures included in his 2017 version</a>, such as closure of the LLC loophole, limits on outside income for state legislators, the creation of a chief procurement officer, and expansion of the oversight of the state inspector general. Critics point out that the latter two measures would not be significant reforms given they would both be under the governor.</p> <p>Citing the six upcoming corruption trials of former high-ranking public officials that begin this month, representatives from New York Public Interest Group, Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause/NY, and League of Women Voters outlined specific actions they believe must be taken to prevent corruption and clean up state government.</p> <p>The coalition is urging state leaders to approve a package of reforms, titled “Restore the Public’s Trust,” which includes procurement reform, transparency in lump-sum budget appropriations, an end to “pay-to-play,” closure of the LLC Loophole, strict limits on outside income for legislators, and the empowerment of “independent, effective, well-resourced” watchdog agencies.</p> <p>The courtroom dramas that are bound to cast a shadow over this legislative session touch on both the executive and legislative branches, as well as state and local government. Two of the trials directly touch Gov. Cuomo’s inner circle of aides, allies, and donors, while the two former legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, will be retried after their corruption convictions were overturned due to a new Supreme Court ruling.</p> <p>The trial of Joseph Percoco, former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Cuomo, is scheduled to begin January 22; former State Senator George Maziarz’s trial will start February 5; former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano will be tried beginning March 12, and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros’ trial is set to begin May 15.</p> <p>“Pay-to-play is a major issue in New York State because of lump sum appropriations in the budget and because of a lack of transparency in the procurement process,” said Jennifer Wilson of League of Women Voters at Thursday’s news conference. “In 2016, we learned that a lot of the RFPs in Buffalo Billion were people who gave huge donations to the governor. Other states have pay to play laws; we can’t allow that in New York State.</p> <p>Especially pointing to the Silver and Skelos sagas, the civic groups are calling on legislative leaders to act.</p> <p>“LLCs loom large in the Skelos and Silver cases,” said NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner. “Glenwood Management pumped in more than $10 million into campaign contributions.”</p> <p>“The Senate has to be brought along; there’s no way around it,” Horner said, referring to the fact that campaign finance reforms are more popular in the Democrat-led Assembly than the Republican-led Senate.</p> <p>The cases the groups mentioned are just the latest in a seemingly endless barrage of corruption scandals plaguing state and local government, earning New York its reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the nation. At least 33 legislators have left office since 2000 due to corruption-related issues.</p> <p>Good government groups have been pushing for some of these measures for years, and to some might sound like a broken record, as state Senate leadership has continued to block campaign finance reform and the governor has opposed the type of procurement reform being called for by the groups, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and others. But after last session, good government leaders say there have been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7007-with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal" target="_blank" rel="noopener">some encouraging signs</a> on the transparency front, citing legislation from Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, that progressed through the finance committee, but ultimately did not make it to the floor of the Senate.<br /><br />“Last year we saw some movement on the clean contracting bill from the Comptroller, and on the database of deals, and the governor’s put forth his proposal on prohibiting vendors from making campaign contributions during the bidding process,” said Alex Camarda, of ReInvent Albany.</p> <ul> <li>As presented by the groups, the Restore Public Trust agenda, which they say will be the basis of a “campaign,” includes:<br />Clean Contracting. Basic accountability measures that would result in an open, ethical, and efficient way to award government contracts appropriations, an area which was identified as a key problem in the indictments of the governor’s top aides.</li> <li>Real Budget Transparency. Make lump-sum budget appropriations and the resulting expenditures fully transparent.</li> <li>Ban “Pay to Play.” Strict “pay to play” restrictions on state vendors. The U.S. Attorney’s charges that $800m in state contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors to the governor underscores the need to strictly limit contributions from those seeking state contracts.</li> <li>Close the “LLC Loophole.” Current practice allows essentially unlimited campaign contributions via Limited Liability Companies. LLCs have been at the heart of some of Albany’s largest scandals.</li> <li>Strict Limits on Outside Income. Real limits on the outside income for legislators and the executive branch. Moonlighting by top legislative leaders and top members of the executive branch has triggered indictments by the federal prosecutors.</li> <li>Effective Watchdogs. Truly independent, effective, well-resourced, ethics enforcement agencies are needed (e.g. JCOPE, SBOE, ABO).</li> </ul> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39402901692_296107dc65_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Long Island flag" width="600" height="423" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s leading government reform groups reacted to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State agenda on Thursday in Albany, holding a press conference to urge the governor and legislative leaders to adopt a package of reforms to help restore public confidence in state government.</p> <p>Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Cuomo failed to pass any of the reforms he promised in the wake of the alleged bid-rigging schemes associated with his signature economic development programs, government ethics and contracting reform got barely a mention in Cuomo’s 92-minute Wednesday address. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7403-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state-reform-agenda-largely-repeats-past-proposals" target="_blank" rel="noopener">His 2018 policy book includes many of the same reform measures included in his 2017 version</a>, such as closure of the LLC loophole, limits on outside income for state legislators, the creation of a chief procurement officer, and expansion of the oversight of the state inspector general. Critics point out that the latter two measures would not be significant reforms given they would both be under the governor.</p> <p>Citing the six upcoming corruption trials of former high-ranking public officials that begin this month, representatives from New York Public Interest Group, Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause/NY, and League of Women Voters outlined specific actions they believe must be taken to prevent corruption and clean up state government.</p> <p>The coalition is urging state leaders to approve a package of reforms, titled “Restore the Public’s Trust,” which includes procurement reform, transparency in lump-sum budget appropriations, an end to “pay-to-play,” closure of the LLC Loophole, strict limits on outside income for legislators, and the empowerment of “independent, effective, well-resourced” watchdog agencies.</p> <p>The courtroom dramas that are bound to cast a shadow over this legislative session touch on both the executive and legislative branches, as well as state and local government. Two of the trials directly touch Gov. Cuomo’s inner circle of aides, allies, and donors, while the two former legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, will be retried after their corruption convictions were overturned due to a new Supreme Court ruling.</p> <p>The trial of Joseph Percoco, former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Cuomo, is scheduled to begin January 22; former State Senator George Maziarz’s trial will start February 5; former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano will be tried beginning March 12, and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros’ trial is set to begin May 15.</p> <p>“Pay-to-play is a major issue in New York State because of lump sum appropriations in the budget and because of a lack of transparency in the procurement process,” said Jennifer Wilson of League of Women Voters at Thursday’s news conference. “In 2016, we learned that a lot of the RFPs in Buffalo Billion were people who gave huge donations to the governor. Other states have pay to play laws; we can’t allow that in New York State.</p> <p>Especially pointing to the Silver and Skelos sagas, the civic groups are calling on legislative leaders to act.</p> <p>“LLCs loom large in the Skelos and Silver cases,” said NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner. “Glenwood Management pumped in more than $10 million into campaign contributions.”</p> <p>“The Senate has to be brought along; there’s no way around it,” Horner said, referring to the fact that campaign finance reforms are more popular in the Democrat-led Assembly than the Republican-led Senate.</p> <p>The cases the groups mentioned are just the latest in a seemingly endless barrage of corruption scandals plaguing state and local government, earning New York its reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the nation. At least 33 legislators have left office since 2000 due to corruption-related issues.</p> <p>Good government groups have been pushing for some of these measures for years, and to some might sound like a broken record, as state Senate leadership has continued to block campaign finance reform and the governor has opposed the type of procurement reform being called for by the groups, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and others. But after last session, good government leaders say there have been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7007-with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal" target="_blank" rel="noopener">some encouraging signs</a> on the transparency front, citing legislation from Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, that progressed through the finance committee, but ultimately did not make it to the floor of the Senate.<br /><br />“Last year we saw some movement on the clean contracting bill from the Comptroller, and on the database of deals, and the governor’s put forth his proposal on prohibiting vendors from making campaign contributions during the bidding process,” said Alex Camarda, of ReInvent Albany.</p> <ul> <li>As presented by the groups, the Restore Public Trust agenda, which they say will be the basis of a “campaign,” includes:<br />Clean Contracting. Basic accountability measures that would result in an open, ethical, and efficient way to award government contracts appropriations, an area which was identified as a key problem in the indictments of the governor’s top aides.</li> <li>Real Budget Transparency. Make lump-sum budget appropriations and the resulting expenditures fully transparent.</li> <li>Ban “Pay to Play.” Strict “pay to play” restrictions on state vendors. The U.S. Attorney’s charges that $800m in state contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors to the governor underscores the need to strictly limit contributions from those seeking state contracts.</li> <li>Close the “LLC Loophole.” Current practice allows essentially unlimited campaign contributions via Limited Liability Companies. LLCs have been at the heart of some of Albany’s largest scandals.</li> <li>Strict Limits on Outside Income. Real limits on the outside income for legislators and the executive branch. Moonlighting by top legislative leaders and top members of the executive branch has triggered indictments by the federal prosecutors.</li> <li>Effective Watchdogs. Truly independent, effective, well-resourced, ethics enforcement agencies are needed (e.g. JCOPE, SBOE, ABO).</li> </ul> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State 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>
Cuomo Criticized for Failing to Call Special Election January 1 2018-01-02T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-02T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7399:cuomo-criticized-for-failing-to-call-special-election-january-1 Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/38327452395_6411fb6775_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Flanagan Long Island" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo and John Flanagan, right (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the legislative session kicks off this week, there are a slew of open state Senate and Assembly seats, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has not indicated when or whether he will call a special election to fill the vacancies.</p> <p>January 1 was the earliest the second-term governor could have called the election day to fill all 11 vacancies, and a growing number of critics are pressuring Cuomo to make the pronouncement as soon as possible. The election would occur 70 days after declared by Cuomo, who has not made clear if he intends to do so in time for the seats to be filled before the state budget is due, by April 1.</p> <p>On the first of this month, George Latimer officially vacated his Westchester County Senate seat to take on his new role as Westchester County Executive, which he won in the fall, and Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., of the Bronx, left his Senate seat to assume his newly won City Council position. Nine Assembly seats remain empty for a variety of reasons, including officials who have won other elected posts, like Brian Kavanagh, who moved from the Assembly to the Senate.</p> <p>If the governor calls a special election this week, 70 days would mean votes cast in the middle of March. However, Cuomo, a Democrat, has indicated that he may call the elections for a date after the budget process is concluded. Cuomo’s delay is being criticized by progressive activists and good government leaders, either because of how the Senate elections factor into majority control of the chamber, which is currently held by a narrow margin by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, or because of the basic lack of representation hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are experiencing with the seats unfilled.</p> <p>The state’s $160-plus billion budget will be negotiated over the coming months by a heavily Democratic Assembly and the Senate, which has multiple party fractures and a Democratic unity deal on the table that could throw the process into disarray if the two vacant seats are filled by Democrats before April 1.</p> <p>“The governor has a responsibility to his constituents to call a special election immediately,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause NY in a statement on Tuesday. “There’s no excuse to delay.” Lerner stressed that all New Yorkers deserve their due representation in government.</p> <p>The stakes are highest for the 63-seat Senate, where Democrats are now two seats short of the 32 votes needed to pass legislation. A Democratic majority can only occur if mainline conference members are joined by the nine Democrats who caucus with Republicans, along with Democratic victories for the Latimer and Diaz, Sr. seats. Complicating the situation is a potential deal between Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/12/21/asc-unity-deal-is-cuomos-doing-for-better-or-worse-159909" target="_blank" rel="noopener">brokered by Cuomo and his allies</a>, which would reunify the Democratic conference at the end of the 2018 legislative session, provided multiple developments and guarantees.</p> <p>The vacancies have less of an impact on the 150-seat Assembly, which Democrats control handily under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. But leaving nine vacancies would undermine the state’s democratic budget process and leave millions of New Yorkers without representation, notes Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group.</p> <p>According to NYPIRG’s calculation, 625,484 Senate constituents and more than 1.1 million Assembly constituents are unrepresented as the legislative session starts on Wednesday, January 3 in Albany.</p> <p>Joining the calls for a special election sooner rather than later is Kat Brezler, a public school teacher and former Bernie Sanders organizer who is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7118-progressive-activist-starts-campaign-committee-for-latimer-s-senate-seat" target="_blank" rel="noopener">seeking Latimer’s seat in the event that a special election is called</a>.</p> <p>“If you, the Governor, do not call a special election before the budget vote, you will effectively disenfranchise more than 700,000 residents in these Districts,” Brezler said in a statement. “Representation matters. The residents of District 37 deserve to have a seat at the table” during budget negotiations. “It is for this reason that a special election cannot wait,” Brezler said.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office, when asked whether governor planned to call the election during the legislative session, pointed to the governor’s comments during recent press appearances, when he said he would make a decision in January.</p> <p>“There are some that want it sooner, some that want it later, there’s some who don’t,” Cuomo told reporters in December. “Some would argue politicizing the budget isn’t the best idea. It’s a decision that we have to make next year in January.”</p> <p>Bronx Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-assemblyman-run-nys-senate-article-1.3625964" target="_blank" rel="noopener">who announced</a> that he plans to run for Diaz, Sr.’s Senate seat, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that he is confident both Senate seats will be filled by Democrats and hopes that a special election will happen in March.</p> <p>“I think one of the most pressing things in the state Legislature is to continue to push for progressive policies and progressive legislation,” said Sepulveda. “I encourage the governor to call the special election as soon as possible.”</p> <p>While the Bronx seat is virtually guaranteed to stay Democratic, the Westchester seat is less of a sure thing, though Democrats will have multiple advantages there.</p> <p>Policy changes coming out of Washington are expected to have serious implications for New York, which is facing a larger than usual budget deficit, and progressives are mounting pressure on the governor, who, like all of the Legislature, is up for reelection this year, to call the special election before budget negotiations really heat up.</p> <p>The balance of power in the state Senate will have significant influence over the final state spending plan that emerges. A number of Democratic activists insist Cuomo prefers Republican control of the Senate for as long as possible, especially during budget season, so that he can best limit state spending.</p> <p>Heastie, whose Assembly majority conference is down several members, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/12/06/heastie-wants-a-democratic-senate-as-soon-as-possible-137436" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in December</a> that he hopes for a Democratic majority in the Senate, but in an <a href="http://www.wcny.org/december-8-2017-assembly-speaker-carl-heastie/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">interview with WCNY’s Susan Arbetter</a> said that he would defer to the governor’s decision about the election.</p> <p>“I’ve always said, as a Democrat, I look forward to the day of a Democratic Senate. I hope they get it together as soon as possible — particularly in light of what’s happening in Washington,” Heastie told reporters during a gaggle at the Capitol in December.</p> <p>In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, wields enormous influence over how state funds are distributed. Flanagan, outlining his priorities for the coming session, struck a conciliatory note, but made clear that raising property taxes was a non-starter for addressing New York’s growing budget shortfall.</p> <p>“In Washington, Democrats and Republicans battle each other with predictable ferocity -- sometimes producing gridlock and dysfunction, and sometimes producing policies that are counterproductive for many New Yorkers. Here in New York, we’ve taken a vastly different approach,” he said in a Tuesday statement. “We’re working across the aisle to find common ground, partnering with Upstate and suburban Democrats to move our state forward.”</p> <p>Spokespersons for Heastie and Flanagan did not return requests for comment on when Cuomo should call the special election. The governor will deliver his 2018 State of the State speech on Wednesday in Albany.</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/reset_1/38327452395_6411fb6775_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Flanagan Long Island" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo and John Flanagan, right (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the legislative session kicks off this week, there are a slew of open state Senate and Assembly seats, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has not indicated when or whether he will call a special election to fill the vacancies.</p> <p>January 1 was the earliest the second-term governor could have called the election day to fill all 11 vacancies, and a growing number of critics are pressuring Cuomo to make the pronouncement as soon as possible. The election would occur 70 days after declared by Cuomo, who has not made clear if he intends to do so in time for the seats to be filled before the state budget is due, by April 1.</p> <p>On the first of this month, George Latimer officially vacated his Westchester County Senate seat to take on his new role as Westchester County Executive, which he won in the fall, and Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., of the Bronx, left his Senate seat to assume his newly won City Council position. Nine Assembly seats remain empty for a variety of reasons, including officials who have won other elected posts, like Brian Kavanagh, who moved from the Assembly to the Senate.</p> <p>If the governor calls a special election this week, 70 days would mean votes cast in the middle of March. However, Cuomo, a Democrat, has indicated that he may call the elections for a date after the budget process is concluded. Cuomo’s delay is being criticized by progressive activists and good government leaders, either because of how the Senate elections factor into majority control of the chamber, which is currently held by a narrow margin by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, or because of the basic lack of representation hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are experiencing with the seats unfilled.</p> <p>The state’s $160-plus billion budget will be negotiated over the coming months by a heavily Democratic Assembly and the Senate, which has multiple party fractures and a Democratic unity deal on the table that could throw the process into disarray if the two vacant seats are filled by Democrats before April 1.</p> <p>“The governor has a responsibility to his constituents to call a special election immediately,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause NY in a statement on Tuesday. “There’s no excuse to delay.” Lerner stressed that all New Yorkers deserve their due representation in government.</p> <p>The stakes are highest for the 63-seat Senate, where Democrats are now two seats short of the 32 votes needed to pass legislation. A Democratic majority can only occur if mainline conference members are joined by the nine Democrats who caucus with Republicans, along with Democratic victories for the Latimer and Diaz, Sr. seats. Complicating the situation is a potential deal between Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/12/21/asc-unity-deal-is-cuomos-doing-for-better-or-worse-159909" target="_blank" rel="noopener">brokered by Cuomo and his allies</a>, which would reunify the Democratic conference at the end of the 2018 legislative session, provided multiple developments and guarantees.</p> <p>The vacancies have less of an impact on the 150-seat Assembly, which Democrats control handily under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. But leaving nine vacancies would undermine the state’s democratic budget process and leave millions of New Yorkers without representation, notes Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group.</p> <p>According to NYPIRG’s calculation, 625,484 Senate constituents and more than 1.1 million Assembly constituents are unrepresented as the legislative session starts on Wednesday, January 3 in Albany.</p> <p>Joining the calls for a special election sooner rather than later is Kat Brezler, a public school teacher and former Bernie Sanders organizer who is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7118-progressive-activist-starts-campaign-committee-for-latimer-s-senate-seat" target="_blank" rel="noopener">seeking Latimer’s seat in the event that a special election is called</a>.</p> <p>“If you, the Governor, do not call a special election before the budget vote, you will effectively disenfranchise more than 700,000 residents in these Districts,” Brezler said in a statement. “Representation matters. The residents of District 37 deserve to have a seat at the table” during budget negotiations. “It is for this reason that a special election cannot wait,” Brezler said.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office, when asked whether governor planned to call the election during the legislative session, pointed to the governor’s comments during recent press appearances, when he said he would make a decision in January.</p> <p>“There are some that want it sooner, some that want it later, there’s some who don’t,” Cuomo told reporters in December. “Some would argue politicizing the budget isn’t the best idea. It’s a decision that we have to make next year in January.”</p> <p>Bronx Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-assemblyman-run-nys-senate-article-1.3625964" target="_blank" rel="noopener">who announced</a> that he plans to run for Diaz, Sr.’s Senate seat, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that he is confident both Senate seats will be filled by Democrats and hopes that a special election will happen in March.</p> <p>“I think one of the most pressing things in the state Legislature is to continue to push for progressive policies and progressive legislation,” said Sepulveda. “I encourage the governor to call the special election as soon as possible.”</p> <p>While the Bronx seat is virtually guaranteed to stay Democratic, the Westchester seat is less of a sure thing, though Democrats will have multiple advantages there.</p> <p>Policy changes coming out of Washington are expected to have serious implications for New York, which is facing a larger than usual budget deficit, and progressives are mounting pressure on the governor, who, like all of the Legislature, is up for reelection this year, to call the special election before budget negotiations really heat up.</p> <p>The balance of power in the state Senate will have significant influence over the final state spending plan that emerges. A number of Democratic activists insist Cuomo prefers Republican control of the Senate for as long as possible, especially during budget season, so that he can best limit state spending.</p> <p>Heastie, whose Assembly majority conference is down several members, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/12/06/heastie-wants-a-democratic-senate-as-soon-as-possible-137436" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in December</a> that he hopes for a Democratic majority in the Senate, but in an <a href="http://www.wcny.org/december-8-2017-assembly-speaker-carl-heastie/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">interview with WCNY’s Susan Arbetter</a> said that he would defer to the governor’s decision about the election.</p> <p>“I’ve always said, as a Democrat, I look forward to the day of a Democratic Senate. I hope they get it together as soon as possible — particularly in light of what’s happening in Washington,” Heastie told reporters during a gaggle at the Capitol in December.</p> <p>In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, wields enormous influence over how state funds are distributed. Flanagan, outlining his priorities for the coming session, struck a conciliatory note, but made clear that raising property taxes was a non-starter for addressing New York’s growing budget shortfall.</p> <p>“In Washington, Democrats and Republicans battle each other with predictable ferocity -- sometimes producing gridlock and dysfunction, and sometimes producing policies that are counterproductive for many New Yorkers. Here in New York, we’ve taken a vastly different approach,” he said in a Tuesday statement. “We’re working across the aisle to find common ground, partnering with Upstate and suburban Democrats to move our state forward.”</p> <p>Spokespersons for Heastie and Flanagan did not return requests for comment on when Cuomo should call the special election. The governor will deliver his 2018 State of the State speech on Wednesday in Albany.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo Unveils ‘Democracy Agenda’ of Ad Transparency, Election Security and Voting Reforms 2017-12-21T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-21T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7384:cuomo-unveils-democracy-agenda-of-ad-transparency-election-security-and-voting-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/38198034236_bf971489f7_z.jpg" alt="38198034236 bf971489f7 z" width="600" height="367" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday unveiled his “Democracy Agenda,” a plan to create more transparency in political advertising and require online platforms to archive political ads, protect state elections from hacking threats, and enhance voting opportunities.</p> <p>The 13th proposal of the governor’s developing 2018 State of the State speech, the advertising transparency and cybersecurity initiatives are joined by three voting reform measures that were introduced by Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last year</a> but did not pass: early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration.</p> <p>"What we saw during the last election was a systematic effort to undermine and manipulate our very democracy," Cuomo said in a statement. "With these new safeguards, New York — in the strongest terms possible — will combat unscrupulous and shadowy threats to our electoral process, as well as break down fundamental barriers that for far too long have prevented New Yorkers from being heard and from exercising their right to vote."</p> <p>In his 2017 agenda, Cuomo included the voting reforms as part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his 10-point government ethics program</a>, which included strengthening campaign finance laws, such as closing the LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations to elected officials. None of the planks were passed, either in the budget in April or at the end of the legislative session in June.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the governor’s office declined to reveal whether ethics and campaign finance reform will be introduced in a separate plank during the governor’s upcoming SOTS address, but said the administration was committed to getting the announced electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>“In our political environment, it can sometimes takes multiple years for the legislature to pass reforms like these—as was the case with raise the age, the minimum wage increase, and even marriage equality, which failed in 2009 and then passed with bipartisan support two years later,” said Cuomo spokesperson Elizabeth Bibi. “This administration remains committed to modernizing our election process and will work with the legislature on this issue.”</p> <p>The voting reform measures are not embraced by leadership in the Republican-controlled state Senate, which clings to power through a ruling coalition with breakaway Democrats, and Cuomo told reporters <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6823-cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">that there was “no appetite”</a> from the Legislature to implement them during budget negotiations earlier this year.</p> <p>After the legislative session, the governor did sign an executive order expanding the list of agencies required to provide voting registration assistance, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7089-voting-reform-advocates-say-cuomo-can-do-more-through-executive-order" target="_blank" rel="noopener">advocates said that the order could have gone further</a>. For example, they say, a task force assembled by Cuomo to explore the implementation of these new rules could also study the costs and benefits of more meaningful electoral reform -- such as early voting and automatic registration -- in order to better sell the proposals to legislative leaders in 2018.</p> <p>If passed, Cuomo’s early voting proposal would allow eligible New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day. Automatic voter registration would automatically register anyone who comes in contact with the Department of Motor Vehicles or other government agency unless the person chooses to opt-out, and same-day registration would allow New Yorkers to register to vote when going to the polls to cast their ballots.</p> <p>Reform advocates praised the governor’s Democracy Agenda while urging him to include funding for the proposals in his upcoming budget.</p> <p>“While Governor Cuomo's recent push in cyber security and transparency for elections is an important step forward to ensure that New York's elections remain fair and safe, our basic voting processes also demand improvement,” said Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, in a statement. “Common Cause/NY urges the Governor to include Early Voting in his upcoming budget to create a more equitable voting process for all.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s democracy platform, as presented in a press release, focuses on the proliferation of “fake news” and political ad campaigns on social media platforms, which are not regulated in the same way as advertisements on traditional media platforms. Citing the influence of &nbsp;“unscrupulous and disruptive actors” on the 2016 presidential election, Cuomo’s proposal would codify state regulations as introduced by United States Senate and House members to regulate online advertising for federal elections. The governor vowed to ensure that all social media platforms, and other states, adopt similar policies.</p> <p>“As many as 126 million Americans are estimated to have seen Russian-bought political ads on Facebook alone last year, without realizing that they were seeing content paid for by Russia. &nbsp;Additionally, 131,000 Twitter messages, linked to more than 36,000 Russian accounts, have also been identified,” states the press release from Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>To ensure the fairness and transparency of New York elections, Cuomo has put forth a three-pronged strategy to: expand New York State's definition of political communication to include paid internet and digital advertisements; require digital platforms to maintain a public file of all political advertisements purchased by a person or group for publication on the platform; and require online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.</p> <p>Violations of these requirements would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>The cybersecurity component seeks to keep elections uncorrupted by hackers. Earlier this year, following numerous reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Cuomo directed the New York State Cyber Security Advisory Board to work with state agencies and the State and County Boards of Election to assess the threats to the cybersecurity of New York's elections infrastructure, identify security priorities, and recommend any necessary additional security measures.</p> <p>As a result of this review, Cuomo says he is proposing a four-pronged approach to further strengthen cyber protections for New York's elections infrastructure: create an Election Support Center; develop an Elections Cyber Security Support Toolkit; provide cyber risk vulnerability assessments and support for local boards of elections; and require counties to report data breaches to state authorities.</p> <p>Governmental reform advocates had praise for Cuomo’s proposals, as promoted through the governor’s press release.</p> <p>"Our democracy urgently needs repair. Washington has not yet acted, but states can. Today New York lags behind many other states. With these reforms it can step into the lead, making it easier to register and vote, and protecting the system from abuse,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, in a statement.</p> <p>He noted that automatic voter registration, if done right, could add millions to the rolls, cost less, and bolster security. Meanwhile, early voting and same-day registration would make voting far easier for working people.</p> <p>“And it is vital to ensure that foreign governments and other malevolent actors can't distort elections with dark money ads or attacks on voting machines and databases. Governor Cuomo's agenda would be a powerful step forward. It's worth fighting for. We hope Albany listens," Waldman said.</p> <p>The governor’s 13th State of the State proposal also received praise from Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island who has introduced similar legislation to prevent anonymous and false political attack ads on social media, and Kaminsky’s fellow Senate Democrats, who have long pushed for voting reforms like the ones unveiled today.<a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/338555295/7-Shocking-Facts-About-New-York-s-Voting-Laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><br /></a></p> <p>“I thank Governor Cuomo for joining this important effort to rid our election process of these false, misleading, and anonymous advertisements. These often dirty attacks that are aimed at providing misinformation to voters undermine our democracy. Voters deserve full transparency during their elections,” said Kaminsky. “It is important that we restore the voters' trust in government, and Governor Cuomo advancing this initiative will ensure we are able to take real steps to clean up campaigns in New York.”</p> <p>Each year, ahead of his annual State of the State address, which for 2018 will take place on January 3, Cuomo typically previews several planks of his new agenda. Other initiatives unveiled so far have focused on environmental investment and protections, strengthening of labor laws, gun control, and returning the Islanders hockey team to Long Island.</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/2017/38198034236_bf971489f7_z.jpg" alt="38198034236 bf971489f7 z" width="600" height="367" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday unveiled his “Democracy Agenda,” a plan to create more transparency in political advertising and require online platforms to archive political ads, protect state elections from hacking threats, and enhance voting opportunities.</p> <p>The 13th proposal of the governor’s developing 2018 State of the State speech, the advertising transparency and cybersecurity initiatives are joined by three voting reform measures that were introduced by Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last year</a> but did not pass: early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration.</p> <p>"What we saw during the last election was a systematic effort to undermine and manipulate our very democracy," Cuomo said in a statement. "With these new safeguards, New York — in the strongest terms possible — will combat unscrupulous and shadowy threats to our electoral process, as well as break down fundamental barriers that for far too long have prevented New Yorkers from being heard and from exercising their right to vote."</p> <p>In his 2017 agenda, Cuomo included the voting reforms as part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his 10-point government ethics program</a>, which included strengthening campaign finance laws, such as closing the LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations to elected officials. None of the planks were passed, either in the budget in April or at the end of the legislative session in June.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the governor’s office declined to reveal whether ethics and campaign finance reform will be introduced in a separate plank during the governor’s upcoming SOTS address, but said the administration was committed to getting the announced electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>“In our political environment, it can sometimes takes multiple years for the legislature to pass reforms like these—as was the case with raise the age, the minimum wage increase, and even marriage equality, which failed in 2009 and then passed with bipartisan support two years later,” said Cuomo spokesperson Elizabeth Bibi. “This administration remains committed to modernizing our election process and will work with the legislature on this issue.”</p> <p>The voting reform measures are not embraced by leadership in the Republican-controlled state Senate, which clings to power through a ruling coalition with breakaway Democrats, and Cuomo told reporters <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6823-cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">that there was “no appetite”</a> from the Legislature to implement them during budget negotiations earlier this year.</p> <p>After the legislative session, the governor did sign an executive order expanding the list of agencies required to provide voting registration assistance, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7089-voting-reform-advocates-say-cuomo-can-do-more-through-executive-order" target="_blank" rel="noopener">advocates said that the order could have gone further</a>. For example, they say, a task force assembled by Cuomo to explore the implementation of these new rules could also study the costs and benefits of more meaningful electoral reform -- such as early voting and automatic registration -- in order to better sell the proposals to legislative leaders in 2018.</p> <p>If passed, Cuomo’s early voting proposal would allow eligible New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day. Automatic voter registration would automatically register anyone who comes in contact with the Department of Motor Vehicles or other government agency unless the person chooses to opt-out, and same-day registration would allow New Yorkers to register to vote when going to the polls to cast their ballots.</p> <p>Reform advocates praised the governor’s Democracy Agenda while urging him to include funding for the proposals in his upcoming budget.</p> <p>“While Governor Cuomo's recent push in cyber security and transparency for elections is an important step forward to ensure that New York's elections remain fair and safe, our basic voting processes also demand improvement,” said Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, in a statement. “Common Cause/NY urges the Governor to include Early Voting in his upcoming budget to create a more equitable voting process for all.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s democracy platform, as presented in a press release, focuses on the proliferation of “fake news” and political ad campaigns on social media platforms, which are not regulated in the same way as advertisements on traditional media platforms. Citing the influence of &nbsp;“unscrupulous and disruptive actors” on the 2016 presidential election, Cuomo’s proposal would codify state regulations as introduced by United States Senate and House members to regulate online advertising for federal elections. The governor vowed to ensure that all social media platforms, and other states, adopt similar policies.</p> <p>“As many as 126 million Americans are estimated to have seen Russian-bought political ads on Facebook alone last year, without realizing that they were seeing content paid for by Russia. &nbsp;Additionally, 131,000 Twitter messages, linked to more than 36,000 Russian accounts, have also been identified,” states the press release from Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>To ensure the fairness and transparency of New York elections, Cuomo has put forth a three-pronged strategy to: expand New York State's definition of political communication to include paid internet and digital advertisements; require digital platforms to maintain a public file of all political advertisements purchased by a person or group for publication on the platform; and require online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.</p> <p>Violations of these requirements would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>The cybersecurity component seeks to keep elections uncorrupted by hackers. Earlier this year, following numerous reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Cuomo directed the New York State Cyber Security Advisory Board to work with state agencies and the State and County Boards of Election to assess the threats to the cybersecurity of New York's elections infrastructure, identify security priorities, and recommend any necessary additional security measures.</p> <p>As a result of this review, Cuomo says he is proposing a four-pronged approach to further strengthen cyber protections for New York's elections infrastructure: create an Election Support Center; develop an Elections Cyber Security Support Toolkit; provide cyber risk vulnerability assessments and support for local boards of elections; and require counties to report data breaches to state authorities.</p> <p>Governmental reform advocates had praise for Cuomo’s proposals, as promoted through the governor’s press release.</p> <p>"Our democracy urgently needs repair. Washington has not yet acted, but states can. Today New York lags behind many other states. With these reforms it can step into the lead, making it easier to register and vote, and protecting the system from abuse,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, in a statement.</p> <p>He noted that automatic voter registration, if done right, could add millions to the rolls, cost less, and bolster security. Meanwhile, early voting and same-day registration would make voting far easier for working people.</p> <p>“And it is vital to ensure that foreign governments and other malevolent actors can't distort elections with dark money ads or attacks on voting machines and databases. Governor Cuomo's agenda would be a powerful step forward. It's worth fighting for. We hope Albany listens," Waldman said.</p> <p>The governor’s 13th State of the State proposal also received praise from Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island who has introduced similar legislation to prevent anonymous and false political attack ads on social media, and Kaminsky’s fellow Senate Democrats, who have long pushed for voting reforms like the ones unveiled today.<a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/338555295/7-Shocking-Facts-About-New-York-s-Voting-Laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><br /></a></p> <p>“I thank Governor Cuomo for joining this important effort to rid our election process of these false, misleading, and anonymous advertisements. These often dirty attacks that are aimed at providing misinformation to voters undermine our democracy. Voters deserve full transparency during their elections,” said Kaminsky. “It is important that we restore the voters' trust in government, and Governor Cuomo advancing this initiative will ensure we are able to take real steps to clean up campaigns in New York.”</p> <p>Each year, ahead of his annual State of the State address, which for 2018 will take place on January 3, Cuomo typically previews several planks of his new agenda. Other initiatives unveiled so far have focused on environmental investment and protections, strengthening of labor laws, gun control, and returning the Islanders hockey team to Long Island.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Ahead of Election Day, Comptroller Audit Highlights Board of Elections Dysfunction 2017-11-03T18:54:01+00:00 2017-11-03T18:54:01+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7296:ahead-of-election-day-comptroller-audit-highlights-board-of-elections-dysfunction Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/unnamed-6.jpg" alt="unnamed 6" width="600" /></p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo courtesy of Comptroller's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Just four days before voters head to the polls on Tuesday, November 7, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a damning report highlighting the dysfunctional election operations of the New York City Board of Elections, a quasi-city agency that administers elections in the city.</p> <p>Stringer’s audit was launched in response to the BOE’s purge of more than 117,000 voters from the rolls in Brooklyn last year, ahead of the April presidential primary. The purge prompted widespread outrage, triggering an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office and a lawsuit by Common Cause New York, a good government advocacy group. The BOE <a href="https://www.wnyc.org/story/city-board-elections-admits-it-broke-law-accepts-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently admitted</a> to violating federal and state law in the case and agreed to implement reforms.</p> <p>Following the purge, auditors from the comptroller’s office monitored 156 poll sites over the course of three subsequent elections in 2016 -- the congressional primary in June, the state legislative primary in September and the November general election -- and found that 90 percent of the sample sites showed significant problems ranging from severe violations of election law to inadequate poll worker training and lack of access for people with disabilities.</p> <p>“We have uncovered deep dysfunction,” Stringer said at a news conference Friday where he released the report.</p> <p>At 82 sites, about 53 percent, auditors witnessed violations of federal and state election laws and also of the BOE’s own rules. At 14 percent of sites, affidavit ballots were mishandled, and at 10 percent of sites, voters received no assistance when they faced issues. Some poll workers even engaged in electioneering, telling voters which candidate to vote for. Stringer even singled out an “outrageous instance” in which a poll worker failed to notify a voter that their valid ballot had been rejected by a scanning machine. The ballot was marked void.</p> <p>The BOE failed to adequately staff poll sites, Stringer said, leading to “organizational and logistical chaos” at about 118 sites, or 76 percent. At one site, 41 percent of assigned poll workers did not show up, he noted. Stringer did emphasize that the blame does not fall on poll workers who are “overworked, undertrained and underpaid” and must work nearly 17 hours straight on election days (the state launched a pilot program this year to allow half-day shifts for polling workers). “These are, at their core, the failures of the Board of Elections,” he said.</p> <p>The audit found that 45 out of 156 polling sites failed to provide adequate assistance to voters with disabilities, with one out of ten sites being inaccessible. “It’s time to own up and fix the voter purge we see in every election,” Stringer said. “This purge happens under the radar...If we’re gonna have participatory democracy, we’ve got to get rid of the barriers to participating in voting.”</p> <p>New York has notoriously antiquated election laws and consistently lags behind most other states in voter turnout. The state ranked 41 of 50 for turnout in the November general last year. (In the city, which has seen a relatively tame election season this year with many incumbents running for reelection, only about 440,000 voters cast a ballot in the September 12 Democratic primary for mayor, just 14% of registered voters.)</p> <p>“The right to vote is a bedrock of our democracy, unfortunately our own New York City Board of Elections too often makes it harder for us to exercise those fundamental rights,” said City Council Member Dan Garodnick at Friday’s news conference.</p> <p>Garodnick called attention to another BOE failing, one he attempted to fix through legislation. For the September 12 primary, the BOE changed poll sites from last year for more than 200,000 voters but did not post notices to inform voters, as required under a law sponsored by Garodnick and passed by the City Council last year. “The Board of Elections does not have the right to pick and choose which local laws it is going to follow,” Garodnick said. <br /> <br />Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said the comptroller’s audit “sadly confirms” problems over which good government organizations have long cried foul. “The barriers to voting which incompetence sets up, as the comptroller pointed out, are simply unacceptable,” she said.</p> <p>Stringer’s report recommended that the BOE implement broader reforms, particularly for poll workers, including more hours of poll worker training, increased poll worker pay, and evaluating the pilot program on half-day shifts. “We haven’t had a new idea on how to run an election in this town in a hundred years, it’s ridiculous, it’s not sustainable,” Stringer said.</p> <p>“The Comptroller’s audit report once again confirms that the Board of Elections consistently fails the voters in exercising their right to vote,” said Seth Stein, a City Hall spokesperson, in an email. Stein said it was “shameful” that the BOE had to be forced by the courts into accepting reforms, and insisted that the agency needs to be restructured. While the BOE has city jurisdiction, it is controlled by state law, and is not answerable to the mayor.</p> <p>Stein reiterated that the BOE had refused to accept an offer of $20 million from de Blasio last year as an incentive to reform its operations. “It is essential that they do so now,” he added.</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/unnamed-6.jpg" alt="unnamed 6" width="600" /></p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo courtesy of Comptroller's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Just four days before voters head to the polls on Tuesday, November 7, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a damning report highlighting the dysfunctional election operations of the New York City Board of Elections, a quasi-city agency that administers elections in the city.</p> <p>Stringer’s audit was launched in response to the BOE’s purge of more than 117,000 voters from the rolls in Brooklyn last year, ahead of the April presidential primary. The purge prompted widespread outrage, triggering an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office and a lawsuit by Common Cause New York, a good government advocacy group. The BOE <a href="https://www.wnyc.org/story/city-board-elections-admits-it-broke-law-accepts-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently admitted</a> to violating federal and state law in the case and agreed to implement reforms.</p> <p>Following the purge, auditors from the comptroller’s office monitored 156 poll sites over the course of three subsequent elections in 2016 -- the congressional primary in June, the state legislative primary in September and the November general election -- and found that 90 percent of the sample sites showed significant problems ranging from severe violations of election law to inadequate poll worker training and lack of access for people with disabilities.</p> <p>“We have uncovered deep dysfunction,” Stringer said at a news conference Friday where he released the report.</p> <p>At 82 sites, about 53 percent, auditors witnessed violations of federal and state election laws and also of the BOE’s own rules. At 14 percent of sites, affidavit ballots were mishandled, and at 10 percent of sites, voters received no assistance when they faced issues. Some poll workers even engaged in electioneering, telling voters which candidate to vote for. Stringer even singled out an “outrageous instance” in which a poll worker failed to notify a voter that their valid ballot had been rejected by a scanning machine. The ballot was marked void.</p> <p>The BOE failed to adequately staff poll sites, Stringer said, leading to “organizational and logistical chaos” at about 118 sites, or 76 percent. At one site, 41 percent of assigned poll workers did not show up, he noted. Stringer did emphasize that the blame does not fall on poll workers who are “overworked, undertrained and underpaid” and must work nearly 17 hours straight on election days (the state launched a pilot program this year to allow half-day shifts for polling workers). “These are, at their core, the failures of the Board of Elections,” he said.</p> <p>The audit found that 45 out of 156 polling sites failed to provide adequate assistance to voters with disabilities, with one out of ten sites being inaccessible. “It’s time to own up and fix the voter purge we see in every election,” Stringer said. “This purge happens under the radar...If we’re gonna have participatory democracy, we’ve got to get rid of the barriers to participating in voting.”</p> <p>New York has notoriously antiquated election laws and consistently lags behind most other states in voter turnout. The state ranked 41 of 50 for turnout in the November general last year. (In the city, which has seen a relatively tame election season this year with many incumbents running for reelection, only about 440,000 voters cast a ballot in the September 12 Democratic primary for mayor, just 14% of registered voters.)</p> <p>“The right to vote is a bedrock of our democracy, unfortunately our own New York City Board of Elections too often makes it harder for us to exercise those fundamental rights,” said City Council Member Dan Garodnick at Friday’s news conference.</p> <p>Garodnick called attention to another BOE failing, one he attempted to fix through legislation. For the September 12 primary, the BOE changed poll sites from last year for more than 200,000 voters but did not post notices to inform voters, as required under a law sponsored by Garodnick and passed by the City Council last year. “The Board of Elections does not have the right to pick and choose which local laws it is going to follow,” Garodnick said. <br /> <br />Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said the comptroller’s audit “sadly confirms” problems over which good government organizations have long cried foul. “The barriers to voting which incompetence sets up, as the comptroller pointed out, are simply unacceptable,” she said.</p> <p>Stringer’s report recommended that the BOE implement broader reforms, particularly for poll workers, including more hours of poll worker training, increased poll worker pay, and evaluating the pilot program on half-day shifts. “We haven’t had a new idea on how to run an election in this town in a hundred years, it’s ridiculous, it’s not sustainable,” Stringer said.</p> <p>“The Comptroller’s audit report once again confirms that the Board of Elections consistently fails the voters in exercising their right to vote,” said Seth Stein, a City Hall spokesperson, in an email. Stein said it was “shameful” that the BOE had to be forced by the courts into accepting reforms, and insisted that the agency needs to be restructured. While the BOE has city jurisdiction, it is controlled by state law, and is not answerable to the mayor.</p> <p>Stein reiterated that the BOE had refused to accept an offer of $20 million from de Blasio last year as an incentive to reform its operations. “It is essential that they do so now,” he added.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Proposal Would Boost Public Campaign Matching Funds 2017-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6898:proposal-would-boost-public-campaign-matching-funds Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/kallos_council.jpg" alt="kallos council" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.</p> <p>For instance, in a City Council race, for those participating in the matching system, the 2017 spending limit is $182,000 each in the primary and general election, so a candidate could receive up to $100,100 in public funds by raising about $16,800.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1130-A</a>, co-sponsored by Council Members Kallos, Brad Lander and Fernando Cabrera, would increase that public funds payment to a full match against the spending limit, minus the amount of matchable contributions raised by the candidate. Effectively, a Council candidate who raises $26,000 could receive a maximum of $156,000 in public funds, for a total budget of $182,000 (in the primary and/or in the general).</p> <p>If passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, as written the bill would go into effect in 2018, after this year’s municipal elections.</p> <p>The current system, says Kallos,, creates a “big money gap” of more than one-third of the spending limit, that would need to be filled through private contributions. For a City Council race, this gap is $65,000 while for mayoral candidates, it is about $2.5 million. “If it works, anyone could run for office entirely on small dollars,” Kallos said in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing. “If it doesn’t work, candidates could still continue to pursue big money and there would be no added cost. There is literally no downside.”</p> <p>The hearing drew a large audience outside of the usual good government advocates, including tenant and community preservation groups, immigrant advocacy organizations, NYCHA residents, current City Council candidates, and women’s groups. “This is because no matter what your cause, the road to victory starts with campaign finance reforms that amplify the voices of residents over special interests,” Kallos said.</p> <p>Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, said the bill would have a significant impact on future elections, albeit with a moderate increase in costs, about 17 to 20 percent. In 2013, she noted, 129 council candidates received public funds, and 83 of them received payments within 10 percent of the maximum. In citywide races, however, she said the impact would be minimal since candidates tend to rely on larger contributions, and it would in fact aid established candidates with stronger small-dollar fundraising operations.</p> <p>Loprest said the Board agreed with the aims of the bill, but she offered a number of alternatives that could effectively accomplish its goals and even go further. She suggested lowering contribution limits across the board, reducing the thresholds for qualifying for public funds, and floated the idea of higher matching funds for those who choose to only receive small-dollar donations. She also pointed out potential inadvertent consequences of the bill, noting that there are strict criteria for qualifying expenditures under the public funds program, and more public funds could make it harder for candidates to justify spending on non-qualifying purposes such as defending a ballot petition in court. Candidates would also have to repay higher amounts of public funds left over after a campaign.</p> <p>When asked by Kallos how the bill might affect participation in the system, Loprest emphasized that participation has consistently been high, but future behavior is hard to predict. “You want to make sure you have a system where it’s flexible, so you have as many people joining as possible and that they can choose the way they want to participate,” she said. “Allowing people to kinda have the option of the way they can participate in the program is an important aspect to encourage participation.”</p> <p>A number of government reform advocates came out in favor of the legislation including Common Cause New York, EffectiveNY, Reinvent Albany, and Demos, among others.</p> <p>“It’s very clear that the campaign finance system here in New York City has successfully encouraged more small-dollar contributions,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “but for the long range goal of diminishing the power of large contributions, it is not as successful as we would like it to be.” She said Intro. 1130-A would be a “significant and strong first step” in strengthening the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>Bill Samuels, chair of EffectiveNY, said the bill would encourage participation by women candidates, who tend to rely more heavily on small-dollar contributions because they don’t have the access to deep pockets that men often do. EffectiveNY, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, recently launched the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect at least 21 women Council Members in 2021 (there are currently 13 in the 51-seat Council). Moira McDermott, executive director of the initiative, said fundraising is often a significant barrier to women running for elected office. The gap between public funds and the spending limit, she said, is tough to cover through small contributions. “This leaves wealthy donors, political institutions, PACs and special interests, which after decades of the male-dominated structure, few women have the same connections to, and even fewer women of color.”</p> <p>The bill also received supported as a means to increase class and racial diversity in the Council. Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “Perhaps the most important potential impact of this legislation is that it would empower immigrants, low-income earners and people of color, and women, to run for office and seek adequate representation of their communities.”</p> <p>One testifying organization seemed to demur on the proposal: Citizens Union, a government reform group, which is questioning the timing of the proposal and the financial and documentation requirements it would impose on the CFB. “Despite its intent,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy and programs, “the introduction of the bill at this late stage in the municipal election cycle is a deviation of the carefully measured process by which the program is updated and revised.” The group did not state support the proposal, nor did it oppose it. “There are serious issues being raised by this bill that need greater time to evaluate,” Bloom said. “We would be better off looking at the issue right after our 2017 city elections.”</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito has not yet taken a position on the bill, and said Tuesday that she would wait until after the hearing. In a statement Wednesday, she said, “The city's campaign finance law is one of the strongest in the nation. We continue to look for ways to make it even stronger.”</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has in the past expressed support for full public financing of elections. At a March 16 <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/156-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-appears-live-wnyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, he said, “I believe we should go to full public financing of elections on the city level, on the state level, on the federal level....I think the system is fundamentally broken. And you know, if there are little tweaks around the edges that’s nice, but we’re not being serious about money in politics if we don’t get it out of politics entirely. We should just go to public financing of elections with very stringent spending limits.”</p> <p>At Thursday’s hearing, Kallos read out part of written testimony submitted by Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio. “After nearly three decades of experience with the city’s matching public funds, this bill starts an important discussion about how to reduce the influence of money in elections,” the statement read. “This is one good step in that direction.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/kallos_council.jpg" alt="kallos council" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.</p> <p>For instance, in a City Council race, for those participating in the matching system, the 2017 spending limit is $182,000 each in the primary and general election, so a candidate could receive up to $100,100 in public funds by raising about $16,800.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1130-A</a>, co-sponsored by Council Members Kallos, Brad Lander and Fernando Cabrera, would increase that public funds payment to a full match against the spending limit, minus the amount of matchable contributions raised by the candidate. Effectively, a Council candidate who raises $26,000 could receive a maximum of $156,000 in public funds, for a total budget of $182,000 (in the primary and/or in the general).</p> <p>If passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, as written the bill would go into effect in 2018, after this year’s municipal elections.</p> <p>The current system, says Kallos,, creates a “big money gap” of more than one-third of the spending limit, that would need to be filled through private contributions. For a City Council race, this gap is $65,000 while for mayoral candidates, it is about $2.5 million. “If it works, anyone could run for office entirely on small dollars,” Kallos said in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing. “If it doesn’t work, candidates could still continue to pursue big money and there would be no added cost. There is literally no downside.”</p> <p>The hearing drew a large audience outside of the usual good government advocates, including tenant and community preservation groups, immigrant advocacy organizations, NYCHA residents, current City Council candidates, and women’s groups. “This is because no matter what your cause, the road to victory starts with campaign finance reforms that amplify the voices of residents over special interests,” Kallos said.</p> <p>Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, said the bill would have a significant impact on future elections, albeit with a moderate increase in costs, about 17 to 20 percent. In 2013, she noted, 129 council candidates received public funds, and 83 of them received payments within 10 percent of the maximum. In citywide races, however, she said the impact would be minimal since candidates tend to rely on larger contributions, and it would in fact aid established candidates with stronger small-dollar fundraising operations.</p> <p>Loprest said the Board agreed with the aims of the bill, but she offered a number of alternatives that could effectively accomplish its goals and even go further. She suggested lowering contribution limits across the board, reducing the thresholds for qualifying for public funds, and floated the idea of higher matching funds for those who choose to only receive small-dollar donations. She also pointed out potential inadvertent consequences of the bill, noting that there are strict criteria for qualifying expenditures under the public funds program, and more public funds could make it harder for candidates to justify spending on non-qualifying purposes such as defending a ballot petition in court. Candidates would also have to repay higher amounts of public funds left over after a campaign.</p> <p>When asked by Kallos how the bill might affect participation in the system, Loprest emphasized that participation has consistently been high, but future behavior is hard to predict. “You want to make sure you have a system where it’s flexible, so you have as many people joining as possible and that they can choose the way they want to participate,” she said. “Allowing people to kinda have the option of the way they can participate in the program is an important aspect to encourage participation.”</p> <p>A number of government reform advocates came out in favor of the legislation including Common Cause New York, EffectiveNY, Reinvent Albany, and Demos, among others.</p> <p>“It’s very clear that the campaign finance system here in New York City has successfully encouraged more small-dollar contributions,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “but for the long range goal of diminishing the power of large contributions, it is not as successful as we would like it to be.” She said Intro. 1130-A would be a “significant and strong first step” in strengthening the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>Bill Samuels, chair of EffectiveNY, said the bill would encourage participation by women candidates, who tend to rely more heavily on small-dollar contributions because they don’t have the access to deep pockets that men often do. EffectiveNY, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, recently launched the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect at least 21 women Council Members in 2021 (there are currently 13 in the 51-seat Council). Moira McDermott, executive director of the initiative, said fundraising is often a significant barrier to women running for elected office. The gap between public funds and the spending limit, she said, is tough to cover through small contributions. “This leaves wealthy donors, political institutions, PACs and special interests, which after decades of the male-dominated structure, few women have the same connections to, and even fewer women of color.”</p> <p>The bill also received supported as a means to increase class and racial diversity in the Council. Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “Perhaps the most important potential impact of this legislation is that it would empower immigrants, low-income earners and people of color, and women, to run for office and seek adequate representation of their communities.”</p> <p>One testifying organization seemed to demur on the proposal: Citizens Union, a government reform group, which is questioning the timing of the proposal and the financial and documentation requirements it would impose on the CFB. “Despite its intent,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy and programs, “the introduction of the bill at this late stage in the municipal election cycle is a deviation of the carefully measured process by which the program is updated and revised.” The group did not state support the proposal, nor did it oppose it. “There are serious issues being raised by this bill that need greater time to evaluate,” Bloom said. “We would be better off looking at the issue right after our 2017 city elections.”</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito has not yet taken a position on the bill, and said Tuesday that she would wait until after the hearing. In a statement Wednesday, she said, “The city's campaign finance law is one of the strongest in the nation. We continue to look for ways to make it even stronger.”</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has in the past expressed support for full public financing of elections. At a March 16 <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/156-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-appears-live-wnyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, he said, “I believe we should go to full public financing of elections on the city level, on the state level, on the federal level....I think the system is fundamentally broken. And you know, if there are little tweaks around the edges that’s nice, but we’re not being serious about money in politics if we don’t get it out of politics entirely. We should just go to public financing of elections with very stringent spending limits.”</p> <p>At Thursday’s hearing, Kallos read out part of written testimony submitted by Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio. “After nearly three decades of experience with the city’s matching public funds, this bill starts an important discussion about how to reduce the influence of money in elections,” the statement read. “This is one good step in that direction.”</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>
Cuomo Punts Voting Reform to ‘After the Budget’ 2017-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6823:cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32759812383_521a498159_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo press conference NYC" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo all but confirmed Tuesday that major voting reforms he’s proposed would not be part of the new state budget, which is due by April 1.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo outlined the “Democracy Project” as part of his 2017 State of the State agenda, and included its widely prized measures like early voting, same-day voter registration, and an enhanced form of automatic voter registration in one of his budget bills. But, on Tuesday Cuomo indicated that the push to modernize New York’s antiquated voting laws would be left for the April through June legislative session that follows budget adoption.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has proposed sweeping voting reforms before, and New York has watched as they have been implemented with successful results in dozens of other states, while paltry voter turnout continues here.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Cuomo appeared at a press conference in New York City, which the governor had called to criticize two Republican congressional representatives from New York for authoring amendments to the federal health plan that would shift certain Medicaid burdens in New York from the counties to the state. During the question-and-answer session, a WNYC reporter asked Cuomo how he would be able to persuade Senate Republicans to adopt his voting reform agenda during budget negotiations.</p> <p>“We are going to try like heck,” he said, but added, “It’s not necessarily a budget discussion,” conceding a point Cuomo is typically hesitant to make.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo continued. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>Between now and April 1, Cuomo and legislative leaders will negotiate the details of the new state budget. The Governor sets the stage for budget season with his Executive Budget in January, which is then followed by legislative hearings, one-house budget resolutions that respond to the Governor’s proposals, and closed-door negotiations. The spending and policy pieces that make it into the budget often depend upon how much priority agenda items are given by the Governor, the Senate Majority, and the Assembly Majority.</p> <p>Cuomo, as the most powerful of the “three men in the room,” can often push through his top priorities, as he did last year with $15 minimum wage and paid family leave programs.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo announced the Democracy Project in a press release amid his six-stop State of the State tour. The goal, Cuomo's announcement stated, was “modernizing voting in New York to increase participation in the democratic system.” The Democracy Project “will remove barriers to voter registration" and "make voting easier for New Yorkers.”</p> <p>“Early voting will shorten lines at the polls,” the announcement stated, “allow New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day.” It also promised that automatic and same-day voter registration “will increase voter participation.”</p> <p>While Democrats who control the Assembly appear <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open to the three voting reforms</a>, among others, they do not appear to be placing it especially high on their list of priorities. Republicans who control the state Senate are <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">opposed</a> to voting reform, worrying that greater turnout could spell the end of their paper-thin majority margin.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Two of the three reforms</a>, early voting and automatic registration, are widely implemented throughout the country, and would be easy to implement legislatively, but have stalled in the Senate. Along with the Assembly majority, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats who have a ruling coalition with Republicans, also support the measures. However, the IDC’s power to move the GOP conference in this case may be especially limited.</p> <p>Same-day voter registration, which would allow unregistered voters to register and vote on Election Day, would likely have to be implemented through a state constitutional amendment, which requires the approval of both legislative houses for two consecutive legislative cycles and then approval by the public through a ballot vote.</p> <p>Last week, representatives from advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Working Families Party, and Common Cause NY joined with female state lawmakers at the state Capitol to push for early voting and automatic registration to be included in the budget. The press conference, which coincided with Women’s History Month and framed voter inclusion as a women’s issue, was followed by a rally on Sunday in New York City’s Battery Park.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, who helped organized the press conference and the rally, criticized the governor’s Tuesday revelation.</p> <p>“It's not enough to ‘try like heck,’” Lerner said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve the same rights as voters in Alaska and Vermont. We need voting reform now, and that means including funding in the 2017 budget to ensure that the next election cycle is an example for the nation, not a national embarrassment."</p> <p>Lerner noted that New York ranked 41st in the nation for voter turnout (based on the 2016 presidential election), with less than a third of eligible voters participating. “Far from the progressive symbol the Governor likes to tout, we are out of step with 34 other states that have some form of early voting, and nowhere near California which also has Automatic Voter Registration,” Lerner said.</p> <p>On Tuesday Cuomo did not cast blame on anyone for what he was foreshadowing as a failure to move voting reform through the budget. At the press conference, however, he did tout how well he has been able to work with Republicans over the past six years. He did not indicate that he planned to try to convince Senate Republicans to back his voting reform agenda.</p> <p>A few days ago, Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/advocates-urge-state-lawmakers-budget-voting-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told WNYC radio</a>, "There are many bills out there which seek to boost voter participation. We'll take a look at all of them."</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32759812383_521a498159_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo press conference NYC" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo all but confirmed Tuesday that major voting reforms he’s proposed would not be part of the new state budget, which is due by April 1.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo outlined the “Democracy Project” as part of his 2017 State of the State agenda, and included its widely prized measures like early voting, same-day voter registration, and an enhanced form of automatic voter registration in one of his budget bills. But, on Tuesday Cuomo indicated that the push to modernize New York’s antiquated voting laws would be left for the April through June legislative session that follows budget adoption.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has proposed sweeping voting reforms before, and New York has watched as they have been implemented with successful results in dozens of other states, while paltry voter turnout continues here.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Cuomo appeared at a press conference in New York City, which the governor had called to criticize two Republican congressional representatives from New York for authoring amendments to the federal health plan that would shift certain Medicaid burdens in New York from the counties to the state. During the question-and-answer session, a WNYC reporter asked Cuomo how he would be able to persuade Senate Republicans to adopt his voting reform agenda during budget negotiations.</p> <p>“We are going to try like heck,” he said, but added, “It’s not necessarily a budget discussion,” conceding a point Cuomo is typically hesitant to make.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo continued. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>Between now and April 1, Cuomo and legislative leaders will negotiate the details of the new state budget. The Governor sets the stage for budget season with his Executive Budget in January, which is then followed by legislative hearings, one-house budget resolutions that respond to the Governor’s proposals, and closed-door negotiations. The spending and policy pieces that make it into the budget often depend upon how much priority agenda items are given by the Governor, the Senate Majority, and the Assembly Majority.</p> <p>Cuomo, as the most powerful of the “three men in the room,” can often push through his top priorities, as he did last year with $15 minimum wage and paid family leave programs.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo announced the Democracy Project in a press release amid his six-stop State of the State tour. The goal, Cuomo's announcement stated, was “modernizing voting in New York to increase participation in the democratic system.” The Democracy Project “will remove barriers to voter registration" and "make voting easier for New Yorkers.”</p> <p>“Early voting will shorten lines at the polls,” the announcement stated, “allow New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day.” It also promised that automatic and same-day voter registration “will increase voter participation.”</p> <p>While Democrats who control the Assembly appear <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open to the three voting reforms</a>, among others, they do not appear to be placing it especially high on their list of priorities. Republicans who control the state Senate are <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">opposed</a> to voting reform, worrying that greater turnout could spell the end of their paper-thin majority margin.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Two of the three reforms</a>, early voting and automatic registration, are widely implemented throughout the country, and would be easy to implement legislatively, but have stalled in the Senate. Along with the Assembly majority, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats who have a ruling coalition with Republicans, also support the measures. However, the IDC’s power to move the GOP conference in this case may be especially limited.</p> <p>Same-day voter registration, which would allow unregistered voters to register and vote on Election Day, would likely have to be implemented through a state constitutional amendment, which requires the approval of both legislative houses for two consecutive legislative cycles and then approval by the public through a ballot vote.</p> <p>Last week, representatives from advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Working Families Party, and Common Cause NY joined with female state lawmakers at the state Capitol to push for early voting and automatic registration to be included in the budget. The press conference, which coincided with Women’s History Month and framed voter inclusion as a women’s issue, was followed by a rally on Sunday in New York City’s Battery Park.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, who helped organized the press conference and the rally, criticized the governor’s Tuesday revelation.</p> <p>“It's not enough to ‘try like heck,’” Lerner said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve the same rights as voters in Alaska and Vermont. We need voting reform now, and that means including funding in the 2017 budget to ensure that the next election cycle is an example for the nation, not a national embarrassment."</p> <p>Lerner noted that New York ranked 41st in the nation for voter turnout (based on the 2016 presidential election), with less than a third of eligible voters participating. “Far from the progressive symbol the Governor likes to tout, we are out of step with 34 other states that have some form of early voting, and nowhere near California which also has Automatic Voter Registration,” Lerner said.</p> <p>On Tuesday Cuomo did not cast blame on anyone for what he was foreshadowing as a failure to move voting reform through the budget. At the press conference, however, he did tout how well he has been able to work with Republicans over the past six years. He did not indicate that he planned to try to convince Senate Republicans to back his voting reform agenda.</p> <p>A few days ago, Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/advocates-urge-state-lawmakers-budget-voting-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told WNYC radio</a>, "There are many bills out there which seek to boost voter participation. We'll take a look at all of them."</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Undermines Own ‘Highest Standards' Claim 2016-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6655:de-blasio-undermines-own-claim-of-highest-standards Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/30273519456_42bc0e6616_z.jpg" alt="de blasio panel mayors" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In a surprise move on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared during a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank">NY1 television appearance</a> that going forward his communications with five outside advisors would be subject to public disclosure. In doing so, the mayor betrayed his own rhetoric from a week prior when he vigorously defended his actions in keeping those communications confidential and maintained that “the highest standards were adhered to” in his dealings with unpaid consultants, some of whom have clients with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the last several months, the mayor has pushed back against allegations of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall stemming from his close relationships with multiple consultants that have clients with city business and the mayor’s political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, for which some of those consultants also worked. Much of de Blasio’s explanation around the Campaign for One New York and his relationship with outside consultants has indicated a bare adherence to legal and ethical guidelines, not to the “highest standards.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Campaign for One New York, which de Blasio has repeatedly said was OK’d by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, raised unlimited funds from wealthy donors who have business with the city, including labor unions and real estate developers. The now-defunct group, which voluntarily disclosed its donors, is under federal and state investigation to determine whether donors were offered or received political favors from City Hall. No one has been charged with wrongdoing and the mayor has insisted that he and his allies sought proper guidance and conducted themselves ethically and legally. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration has sought to keep the communications with his unpaid consultants, termed “agents of the city,” exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law, inviting a lawsuit from the New York Post and NY1 for their release. Two weeks ago, the day before Thanksgiving, the administration released some of those communications, just over 1,500 emails dating back three years, exchanged with one of the consultants, Jonathan Rosen of the BerlinRosen firm.</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPc9toffYg" target="_blank">news conference</a> on November 29, de Blasio argued that his exchanges with Rosen were appropriate and did not present conflicts of interest. “I’m absolutely convinced that the highest standards were adhered to,” he told reporters. “Everything we did – I said it last night, I’ll say it again. Everything we did, we did with legal clearance for the way to approach things – in the case of Campaign for One New York, with pre-clearance from the Conflict of Interest Board. I am convinced everything was done appropriately.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s argument has not swayed good government groups who would like to see a higher standard of conduct and more transparency from a mayor who campaigned on that very promise.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It's common sense that you can't serve two masters,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in an email. “The Mayor's closest advisors, so called “Agents of the City,” represent private interests with business before the city, and they're not accountable to anyone other than their clients. They should not also have a prominent role in public policy.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, the mayor sought to make a move towards more openness, telling anchor Errol Louis on NY1’s Inside City Hall that he would no longer shield communications on government matters with outside consultants. He described the move as necessary since the email issue had “obviously become a distraction” to his administration, but in doing so, he effectively acknowledged a higher standard to follow.</p> <p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, earlier communications with those “agents” are still being held confidential and the lawsuit continues.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s hardly the highest standard when the response of the administration, in my opinion, is inconsistent with law,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which provides guidance on the state’s Freedom of Information law. “A consultant according to the state’s highest court refers to persons or entities retained by the city,” he added, pointing out that the mayor’s advisors are private citizens who are not on the city’s payroll, which is the basic requirement for shielding communications.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio similarly undermined his own argument about high standards when he shifted the policy of including Rosen in high-level government cabinet meetings, with a spokesperson telling Gotham Gazette Rosen is no longer attending such meetings (BerlinRosen is again running communications for de Blasio’s campaign) after de Blasio himself told Gotham Gazette at the Nov. 29 news conference that he is rarely talking with those termed “agents of the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, faults de Blasio for not matching his lofty rhetoric, but believes he hasn’t done anything untoward. “He should probably refrain from using superlatives in explaining what he’s done,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s been illegal or detrimental.” If there was any illegal conduct, Greer is confident that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is investigating the Campaign for One New York, would have found it by now.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though de Blasio never admitted that the Campaign for One New York was a mistake, he had it shuttered when it too had become a significant distraction. He said it had accomplished its goals, chiefly helping to secure state funding for pre-Kindergarten.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think [de Blasio] has an Obama problem,” Greer said. “He cares about the city, he has time constraints, and in his expedience to try and implement policy, he doesn’t necessarily explain how or why.” She said that approach creates two negative consequences: constituents are unaware of the positive changes the mayor is making and, because of the lack of transparency, they are skeptical of whether the mayor’s actions are “above board.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s bigger problem, Greer said, is that he faces different pressures than his predecessor, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I really do wonder if this is just the cost of doing business for someone who is not a billionaire and can’t finance his own projects,” she said, insisting that the mayor has to be able to make deals. “If he doesn’t get in bed with wealthy capitalists, how is he going to help poor people. That’s the question for American politics,” Greer said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Back when de Blasio was public advocate, he made a show of calling out city agencies for their lack of transparency. He issued a “<a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank">Transparency Report Card</a>” in which he gave failing grades to agencies that consistently failed to comply with the law. “The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” de Blasio said, in April 2013. “That’s the last thing New York City can afford right now. We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio is a far cry from that public advocate when it comes to transparency. “We’d like to believe that he is holding himself and others to the highest standard, but we don’t have any independent verification of that,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “When one is devising his own rules to shield people from public information, it raises questions about the validity of such claims. He cannot be the arbiter of whether he is doing so or not particularly when it involves protecting his closest associates.”</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/30273519456_42bc0e6616_z.jpg" alt="de blasio panel mayors" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In a surprise move on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared during a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank">NY1 television appearance</a> that going forward his communications with five outside advisors would be subject to public disclosure. In doing so, the mayor betrayed his own rhetoric from a week prior when he vigorously defended his actions in keeping those communications confidential and maintained that “the highest standards were adhered to” in his dealings with unpaid consultants, some of whom have clients with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the last several months, the mayor has pushed back against allegations of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall stemming from his close relationships with multiple consultants that have clients with city business and the mayor’s political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, for which some of those consultants also worked. Much of de Blasio’s explanation around the Campaign for One New York and his relationship with outside consultants has indicated a bare adherence to legal and ethical guidelines, not to the “highest standards.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Campaign for One New York, which de Blasio has repeatedly said was OK’d by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, raised unlimited funds from wealthy donors who have business with the city, including labor unions and real estate developers. The now-defunct group, which voluntarily disclosed its donors, is under federal and state investigation to determine whether donors were offered or received political favors from City Hall. No one has been charged with wrongdoing and the mayor has insisted that he and his allies sought proper guidance and conducted themselves ethically and legally. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration has sought to keep the communications with his unpaid consultants, termed “agents of the city,” exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law, inviting a lawsuit from the New York Post and NY1 for their release. Two weeks ago, the day before Thanksgiving, the administration released some of those communications, just over 1,500 emails dating back three years, exchanged with one of the consultants, Jonathan Rosen of the BerlinRosen firm.</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPc9toffYg" target="_blank">news conference</a> on November 29, de Blasio argued that his exchanges with Rosen were appropriate and did not present conflicts of interest. “I’m absolutely convinced that the highest standards were adhered to,” he told reporters. “Everything we did – I said it last night, I’ll say it again. Everything we did, we did with legal clearance for the way to approach things – in the case of Campaign for One New York, with pre-clearance from the Conflict of Interest Board. I am convinced everything was done appropriately.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s argument has not swayed good government groups who would like to see a higher standard of conduct and more transparency from a mayor who campaigned on that very promise.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It's common sense that you can't serve two masters,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in an email. “The Mayor's closest advisors, so called “Agents of the City,” represent private interests with business before the city, and they're not accountable to anyone other than their clients. They should not also have a prominent role in public policy.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, the mayor sought to make a move towards more openness, telling anchor Errol Louis on NY1’s Inside City Hall that he would no longer shield communications on government matters with outside consultants. He described the move as necessary since the email issue had “obviously become a distraction” to his administration, but in doing so, he effectively acknowledged a higher standard to follow.</p> <p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, earlier communications with those “agents” are still being held confidential and the lawsuit continues.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s hardly the highest standard when the response of the administration, in my opinion, is inconsistent with law,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which provides guidance on the state’s Freedom of Information law. “A consultant according to the state’s highest court refers to persons or entities retained by the city,” he added, pointing out that the mayor’s advisors are private citizens who are not on the city’s payroll, which is the basic requirement for shielding communications.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio similarly undermined his own argument about high standards when he shifted the policy of including Rosen in high-level government cabinet meetings, with a spokesperson telling Gotham Gazette Rosen is no longer attending such meetings (BerlinRosen is again running communications for de Blasio’s campaign) after de Blasio himself told Gotham Gazette at the Nov. 29 news conference that he is rarely talking with those termed “agents of the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, faults de Blasio for not matching his lofty rhetoric, but believes he hasn’t done anything untoward. “He should probably refrain from using superlatives in explaining what he’s done,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s been illegal or detrimental.” If there was any illegal conduct, Greer is confident that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is investigating the Campaign for One New York, would have found it by now.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though de Blasio never admitted that the Campaign for One New York was a mistake, he had it shuttered when it too had become a significant distraction. He said it had accomplished its goals, chiefly helping to secure state funding for pre-Kindergarten.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think [de Blasio] has an Obama problem,” Greer said. “He cares about the city, he has time constraints, and in his expedience to try and implement policy, he doesn’t necessarily explain how or why.” She said that approach creates two negative consequences: constituents are unaware of the positive changes the mayor is making and, because of the lack of transparency, they are skeptical of whether the mayor’s actions are “above board.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s bigger problem, Greer said, is that he faces different pressures than his predecessor, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I really do wonder if this is just the cost of doing business for someone who is not a billionaire and can’t finance his own projects,” she said, insisting that the mayor has to be able to make deals. “If he doesn’t get in bed with wealthy capitalists, how is he going to help poor people. That’s the question for American politics,” Greer said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Back when de Blasio was public advocate, he made a show of calling out city agencies for their lack of transparency. He issued a “<a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank">Transparency Report Card</a>” in which he gave failing grades to agencies that consistently failed to comply with the law. “The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” de Blasio said, in April 2013. “That’s the last thing New York City can afford right now. We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio is a far cry from that public advocate when it comes to transparency. “We’d like to believe that he is holding himself and others to the highest standard, but we don’t have any independent verification of that,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “When one is devising his own rules to shield people from public information, it raises questions about the validity of such claims. He cannot be the arbiter of whether he is doing so or not particularly when it involves protecting his closest associates.”</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>
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>

***
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>
State Pay Commission Implodes as Cuomo Appointees Effectively Kill Salary Increases 2016-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6625:state-pay-commission-implodes-as-cuomo-appointees-effectively-kill-salary-increases Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/pay_commission_shot_nov_15_2016.png" alt="pay commission shot nov 15 2016" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>State pay commission panelists at final meeting, Nov. 15, 2016</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The final meeting of the state commission tasked with recommending pay raises for executive branch employees and state legislators was marred by disagreement and accusations, and failed to produce any results on Tuesday. It appears that the panel will be disbanded without taking any substantive action.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a chamber at the New York City Bar Association in midtown, members of the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, &amp; Executive Compensation met on Tuesday to discuss recommendations on increasing salaries for members of the state Senate and Assembly and state agency heads and commissioners. It was the last public meeting of the commission, which was under a November 15 deadline to make its recommendations as mandated under the April 2015 statute that create it.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the six members of the committee who were present could not find common ground and the meeting devolved into significant disagreement about the role of the commission and whether it should even take a vote on the one set of recommendations put forward. A vote was taken on whether pay should be increased by about 2 percent per year since the last increases, in 1999, and resulted in two yays and three abstentions among the five voting-eligible panelists. There was even a dispute over whether commissioners could simply not vote or if they were considered abstaining from the vote by doing so.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the two commissioners appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo who refused to record any vote at all while the chair was not given a vote under the <a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/1%20Legislation%20Chapter%2060%20(Part%20E).pdf">statute</a> establishing the commission. The two appointees by legislative leaders voted in favor of raises, and the representative of the judicial branch abstained.</p> <p dir="ltr">The executive appointees, Fran Reiter and Robert Megna, said they would not approve any raises unless they were accompanied by substantive ethics reform in Albany, particularly a severe limit on the outside income of legislators. (Megna was recently appointed by the governor after another appointee, Gary Johnson, resigned from the commission. The third executive appointee, Mitra Hormozi, was out of the country, the chair said.) Reiter said the commission should not vote on any proposal and stay open in the hopes of lawmakers convening a special session in Albany to vote through such outside income limits.</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioners also took issue with the fact that members of the state Legislature did not appear before the commission to make their case for a raise and to answer the commission’s questions. The legislative appointees, on the other hand, argued that the commission was charged with making an independent decision that should not be unduly politicized, expressing disappointment that the executive appointees were effectively parroting Governor Cuomo’s position to force reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">That the vote would fail was made clear right at the start of the hearing by Reiter, who began by saying that the executive appointees would refuse to vote on any proposal increasing pay for state legislators, while generally agreeing that employees of the executive, such as agency heads, deserved much needed pay raises. She insisted that legislators should first establish a cap on outside income, essentially making their jobs full-time, and follow the lead of other elected bodies that have done so including the United States Congress and the New York City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is unfortunate that the good legislators who work full-time, ably and honestly represent their constituents and most assuredly deserve a raise will suffer because there is refusal to right systemic wrongs,” Reiter said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Roman Hedges, an appointee of State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, refuted Reiters argument with a thinly veiled barb aimed at the governor. “I don’t know exactly where to begin,” he said, “except to say that the reason there is a Legislature is to resist the King and that’s why it was first created, that’s why it exists and that’s what I just think I heard, ‘Do it my way or don’t do it at all.’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Insisting that pay raises for the Legislature -- where the base annual salary has been $79,500 since 1999 -- are necessary to attract “good people” to state government, Hedges instead proposed a 2.154 percent per year cost-of-living increase across the board, even suggesting that it include the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, positions outside the commission’s jurisdiction.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It doesn’t change the relative status of anyone...it doesn’t change the balance of power,” he said. “The balance of power is part of the question and it needs to be incorporated in whatever it is we recommend.” Hedges’ proposal, which would raise salaries for state legislators from $79,500 to roughly $114,500, was later voted on but failed to garner the necessary majority.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reiter and Megna were visibly exasperated as Hedges spoke. Reiter sighed deeply, threw her hands up from time to time and audibly scoffed when Hedges said, “I think it’s awful that the governor wants to be King. I think it’s awful that the governor’s representatives here think that he should be King.” Reiter later hit back at Hedges’ for questioning her independence. “I reject that notion and frankly, I’m insulted by it,” she said, announcing that she had not spoken to the governor since well before being named to the panel.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hedges found support from James Lack, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I think [the percentages are] certainly fair and represent only an inflationary increase brought about of course by the political impossibility of having to vote for an increase yourself,” Lack said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission members also debated whether they could effectively continue their work after Tuesday, without a statutory mandate. Reiter posited that if they were to adjourn without putting any proposal to a vote, it would afford the state Legislature time to pass the reforms she was demanding before the end of the year and the commission could reconvene to move ahead with raises. But judicial appointees Barry Cozier and Chair Sheila Birnbaum both disagreed, as did Lack, saying that the commission would no longer have statutory authority and would have to be reauthorized by the state Legislature. Megna released a statement hours after the panel adjourned, saying that he believes the commission can still act before the end of the year and that he hopes the Legislature will enact outside income limits so that he and the commission will feel justified to vote through significant raises. He also said that he was open to small raises without such reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the 2015 law creating the commission, its recommendations would become law for the new year unless voted down by the Legislature. A commission is set to convene every four years according to the law, which sought to put the Legislature and Governor at some distance from ostensibly giving themselves pay raises.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission’s failure to make any recommendations did not sit well with legislative leaders in Albany. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, said in a joint statement that it was “unfortunate” that the governor’s appointees demanded legislation in exchange for approving pay raises. “This is completely unacceptable,” they said, “and far exceeds the mandate of the Commission, which was to evaluate the need for an increase in compensation based primarily on economic factors.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But Governor Cuomo, who legislators say has been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/11/legislators-angry-at-cuomo-as-pay-commission-meets-107350" target="_blank">interfering</a> in the commission’s work, seemed indifferent to the lack of a decision, telling reporters at an upstate event, “They have till December 31 to see if they come up with any reconciliation but the public of this state is decidedly against any pay raises for the Legislature.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo is in favor of raises, but has argued for months that lawmakers should also cap outside income. Heastie made the argument in October that legislators deserve a pay raise and his chamber has been open to some cap on outside income. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any cap, citing the importance of a part-time Legislature and the ability for legislators to hold other jobs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Good government groups also decried the commission’s decision, or lack thereof, but with a key difference. “No action is not an acceptable resolution,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in a statement. “While we believe that any raise should be accompanied by a limit or ban on outside income, we also believe that the Commission must do its job and make a recommendation, just as the NYC Quadrennial Advisory Commission for the Review of Compensation Levels for Elected Officials did last year. Continued government dysfunction is not functioning for New Yorkers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York City Council recently passed pay increases for its members and citywide elected officials, while banning outside income and declaring the Council member position full-time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union said, however, that the pay raises should have been recommended without any caveats. “Elected official pay decisions should not be subject to a quid-pro-quo negotiation,” he said, while reiterating support for new ethics reforms in Albany. “It appears that political interference played more of a role in this decision than the law provided for...The pay commission should have offered a modest salary increase based on the length of time lawmakers have not received a raise and increased it even more had the Legislature returned later this year to address the issue of outside compensation.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/pay_commission_shot_nov_15_2016.png" alt="pay commission shot nov 15 2016" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>State pay commission panelists at final meeting, Nov. 15, 2016</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The final meeting of the state commission tasked with recommending pay raises for executive branch employees and state legislators was marred by disagreement and accusations, and failed to produce any results on Tuesday. It appears that the panel will be disbanded without taking any substantive action.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a chamber at the New York City Bar Association in midtown, members of the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, &amp; Executive Compensation met on Tuesday to discuss recommendations on increasing salaries for members of the state Senate and Assembly and state agency heads and commissioners. It was the last public meeting of the commission, which was under a November 15 deadline to make its recommendations as mandated under the April 2015 statute that create it.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the six members of the committee who were present could not find common ground and the meeting devolved into significant disagreement about the role of the commission and whether it should even take a vote on the one set of recommendations put forward. A vote was taken on whether pay should be increased by about 2 percent per year since the last increases, in 1999, and resulted in two yays and three abstentions among the five voting-eligible panelists. There was even a dispute over whether commissioners could simply not vote or if they were considered abstaining from the vote by doing so.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the two commissioners appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo who refused to record any vote at all while the chair was not given a vote under the <a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/1%20Legislation%20Chapter%2060%20(Part%20E).pdf">statute</a> establishing the commission. The two appointees by legislative leaders voted in favor of raises, and the representative of the judicial branch abstained.</p> <p dir="ltr">The executive appointees, Fran Reiter and Robert Megna, said they would not approve any raises unless they were accompanied by substantive ethics reform in Albany, particularly a severe limit on the outside income of legislators. (Megna was recently appointed by the governor after another appointee, Gary Johnson, resigned from the commission. The third executive appointee, Mitra Hormozi, was out of the country, the chair said.) Reiter said the commission should not vote on any proposal and stay open in the hopes of lawmakers convening a special session in Albany to vote through such outside income limits.</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioners also took issue with the fact that members of the state Legislature did not appear before the commission to make their case for a raise and to answer the commission’s questions. The legislative appointees, on the other hand, argued that the commission was charged with making an independent decision that should not be unduly politicized, expressing disappointment that the executive appointees were effectively parroting Governor Cuomo’s position to force reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">That the vote would fail was made clear right at the start of the hearing by Reiter, who began by saying that the executive appointees would refuse to vote on any proposal increasing pay for state legislators, while generally agreeing that employees of the executive, such as agency heads, deserved much needed pay raises. She insisted that legislators should first establish a cap on outside income, essentially making their jobs full-time, and follow the lead of other elected bodies that have done so including the United States Congress and the New York City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is unfortunate that the good legislators who work full-time, ably and honestly represent their constituents and most assuredly deserve a raise will suffer because there is refusal to right systemic wrongs,” Reiter said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Roman Hedges, an appointee of State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, refuted Reiters argument with a thinly veiled barb aimed at the governor. “I don’t know exactly where to begin,” he said, “except to say that the reason there is a Legislature is to resist the King and that’s why it was first created, that’s why it exists and that’s what I just think I heard, ‘Do it my way or don’t do it at all.’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Insisting that pay raises for the Legislature -- where the base annual salary has been $79,500 since 1999 -- are necessary to attract “good people” to state government, Hedges instead proposed a 2.154 percent per year cost-of-living increase across the board, even suggesting that it include the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, positions outside the commission’s jurisdiction.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It doesn’t change the relative status of anyone...it doesn’t change the balance of power,” he said. “The balance of power is part of the question and it needs to be incorporated in whatever it is we recommend.” Hedges’ proposal, which would raise salaries for state legislators from $79,500 to roughly $114,500, was later voted on but failed to garner the necessary majority.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reiter and Megna were visibly exasperated as Hedges spoke. Reiter sighed deeply, threw her hands up from time to time and audibly scoffed when Hedges said, “I think it’s awful that the governor wants to be King. I think it’s awful that the governor’s representatives here think that he should be King.” Reiter later hit back at Hedges’ for questioning her independence. “I reject that notion and frankly, I’m insulted by it,” she said, announcing that she had not spoken to the governor since well before being named to the panel.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hedges found support from James Lack, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I think [the percentages are] certainly fair and represent only an inflationary increase brought about of course by the political impossibility of having to vote for an increase yourself,” Lack said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission members also debated whether they could effectively continue their work after Tuesday, without a statutory mandate. Reiter posited that if they were to adjourn without putting any proposal to a vote, it would afford the state Legislature time to pass the reforms she was demanding before the end of the year and the commission could reconvene to move ahead with raises. But judicial appointees Barry Cozier and Chair Sheila Birnbaum both disagreed, as did Lack, saying that the commission would no longer have statutory authority and would have to be reauthorized by the state Legislature. Megna released a statement hours after the panel adjourned, saying that he believes the commission can still act before the end of the year and that he hopes the Legislature will enact outside income limits so that he and the commission will feel justified to vote through significant raises. He also said that he was open to small raises without such reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the 2015 law creating the commission, its recommendations would become law for the new year unless voted down by the Legislature. A commission is set to convene every four years according to the law, which sought to put the Legislature and Governor at some distance from ostensibly giving themselves pay raises.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission’s failure to make any recommendations did not sit well with legislative leaders in Albany. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, said in a joint statement that it was “unfortunate” that the governor’s appointees demanded legislation in exchange for approving pay raises. “This is completely unacceptable,” they said, “and far exceeds the mandate of the Commission, which was to evaluate the need for an increase in compensation based primarily on economic factors.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But Governor Cuomo, who legislators say has been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/11/legislators-angry-at-cuomo-as-pay-commission-meets-107350" target="_blank">interfering</a> in the commission’s work, seemed indifferent to the lack of a decision, telling reporters at an upstate event, “They have till December 31 to see if they come up with any reconciliation but the public of this state is decidedly against any pay raises for the Legislature.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo is in favor of raises, but has argued for months that lawmakers should also cap outside income. Heastie made the argument in October that legislators deserve a pay raise and his chamber has been open to some cap on outside income. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any cap, citing the importance of a part-time Legislature and the ability for legislators to hold other jobs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Good government groups also decried the commission’s decision, or lack thereof, but with a key difference. “No action is not an acceptable resolution,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in a statement. “While we believe that any raise should be accompanied by a limit or ban on outside income, we also believe that the Commission must do its job and make a recommendation, just as the NYC Quadrennial Advisory Commission for the Review of Compensation Levels for Elected Officials did last year. Continued government dysfunction is not functioning for New Yorkers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York City Council recently passed pay increases for its members and citywide elected officials, while banning outside income and declaring the Council member position full-time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union said, however, that the pay raises should have been recommended without any caveats. “Elected official pay decisions should not be subject to a quid-pro-quo negotiation,” he said, while reiterating support for new ethics reforms in Albany. “It appears that political interference played more of a role in this decision than the law provided for...The pay commission should have offered a modest salary increase based on the length of time lawmakers have not received a raise and increased it even more had the Legislature returned later this year to address the issue of outside compensation.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</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>