Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/249 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 05:49:55 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) State Senator Calls for Investigation of Opponent's Campaign Finances http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6792:state-senator-calls-for-investigation-of-opponent-s-campaign-finances http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6792:state-senator-calls-for-investigation-of-opponent-s-campaign-finances Rivera

Senator Gustavo Rivera (photo: Senate Democrats)


A state Senator from the Bronx is calling on the state Board of Elections to investigate a former opponent’s campaign finances for violations.

Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat, alleges that the Senate campaign of Fernando Cabrera, a New York City Council Member, committed multiple violations in the Democratic primary for the District 33 Senate seat last year. In a Feb. 28 letter to the state Board of Elections, Rivera’s campaign attorney, Sarah Steiner, noted the alleged violations and asked for updates on the status of three previous requests the campaign has made to look into earlier alleged violations.

In the letter, which was addressed to state BOE chief enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman and was made available to Gotham Gazette by the campaign, Steiner identified the new alleged violations by Cabrera’s Senate campaign, including a failure to file a 10-day post primary disclosure and a January periodic report with the BOE.

The letter also alleges that Cabrera’s City Council campaign filed necessary disclosures with the New York City Campaign Finance Board but not with the state BOE; and that Cabrera’s Council campaign committee transferred $11,000 to his Senate campaign committee, which Steiner alleges exceeds the $7,000 limit for contributions to a state Senate primary campaign. However, that last allegation seems to be dubious since transfers by a candidate from one authorized political committee to another do not count as contributions, according to state election law.

Steiner also referred to earlier requests made to the BOE to investigate whether Cabrera’s campaign had illegally coordinated independent expenditures with New Yorkers for Independent Action (NYFIA), a political action committee that was involved in four Democratic primary races last year.

“This person has a history of violating campaign finance laws and skirting ethical boundaries left and right,” said Sen. Rivera, in a phone interview, of Council Member Cabrera. Cabrera has unsuccessfully challenged Rivera in two straight election cycles, in 2014 and 2016. Rivera’s move was prompted by the recent news, reported by the Daily News, that the BOE had recommended criminal prosecutions in five cases last year. Although it’s unknown which specific campaigns were involved, Sugarman told the Daily News that they covered “a more wide-ranging group of violations” than the nine prosecution referrals she made in 2015.

BOE’s Sugarman declined to comment for this article.

That Rivera has chosen to publicly call out his opponent is not surprising. The primary race for District 33 turned bitter at times, particularly with NYFIA criticizing Rivera’s record and seeking to link him with the culture of corruption in Albany. Rivera, for his part, criticized Cabrera as a political opportunist and blasted his conservative leanings on issues such as abortion and marriage equality.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Cabrera refuted the allegations in Steiner’s letter. “My campaign meticulously complied with all rules and requirements established by the New York State Board of Elections,” he said, adding that his campaign was notified that they were in full compliance of election law. “I am disappointed that Senator Rivera continues to invest time and energy in negative campaign tactics post-election, rather than devoting his resources to serving his constituents,” he added. “It’s time for Senator Rivera to get to work and start doing his job.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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State Senator Calls for Investigation of Opponent's Campaign Finances Mon, 06 Mar 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Education-Focused Super PAC Spends on Additional Legislative Races http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6505:education-focused-super-pac-spends-on-additional-legislative-races http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6505:education-focused-super-pac-spends-on-additional-legislative-races Cabrera Rivera NY1 screenshot 2

screenshot of CM Cabrera, left, & Sen. Rivera from NY1


A Super PAC backed by the education reform lobby and a number of wealthy out-of-state donors has earned the enmity of establishment Democrats by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into races in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Long Island in an effort to unseat Democrat incumbents. The group, New Yorkers for Independent Action, now appears to be adjusting its strategy by supporting some incumbents.

The PAC is at least partially focused on passing an education tax credit proposal through Albany that would provide tax breaks to those who donate to private and charter schools. It is currently spending, largely in mailings - some of which attack candidates and some that are supportive of candidates - six state Assembly and Senate races. Opposed by the majority in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, the education tax credit proposal has been stuck in Albany despite prior lobbying efforts.

“This group and its funders are sadly mistaken if they think this will do anything to further their issue,” said Michael Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. A number of Heastie’s allies in the Bronx have been targeted by the PAC’s spending.

New Yorkers for Independent Action has been attacked by liberal activist groups and incumbent Democrats as the work of hedge-fund profiteers looking to advance their agenda by involving themselves in local races they have no real investment in or knowledge of. Teachers unions decry the measure as siphoning tax dollars away from public schools to reward wealthy donors, who it is assumed will monopolize the tax breaks by donating large sums to applicable private institutions. The PAC of the state teachers union has upped its spending in response to that of New Yorkers for Independent Action.

The group initially targeted for defeat Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Assemblymember Phil Ramos of Long Island, and Assemblymembers Latrice Walker and Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, all Democrats. Now, it is spending in support of Sen. Roxanne Persaud of Brooklyn and Assemblymember Victor Pichardo of the Bronx, both incumbent Democrats.

Recent filings show that in late June the group allocated $2,000 a piece to support Persaud and Pichardo. Those expenditures pale in comparison, though, to what the PAC has spent on mailers and canvassers in other races. It is unclear exactly what the $2,000 went towards as it is unlikely it could have funded the kinds of district-wide mailers that have popped up in the Rivera, Ramos, Harris, and Walker races.

Future disclosures will show how committed the PAC is to those races, but the spending is meant to influence the outcomes of the quickly-approaching September 13 primaries for all state legislative seats. As of mid-July, New Yorkers for Independent Action reported spending $1,295,672 and raising $2,780,000.

NYFIA’s treasurer, Thomas Carroll, is former president of The Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, did not return requests for comment.

The money spent so far by New Yorkers for Independent Action has mainly gone in large sums to help four candidates, each of whom has seen at least $300,000 spent by the PAC in their race. Council Member Fernando Cabrera is being aided in his rematch with Sen. Gustavo Rivera; Council Member Darlene Mealy is getting support in her challenge to Assemblymember  Latrice Walker; Giovanni Mata is being backed in his second challenge to Assemblymember Phil Ramos and Kate Cucco is being bolstered in her bid to oust Assemblymember Pamela Harris.

While NYFIA spends big money to defeat Rivera, backing his challenger, City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, in a twist, it is now spending to buoy Pichardo, who previously worked as director of community affairs for Rivera and won his Assembly seat with major guidance from Rivera and his allies.

The PAC has already spent over $356,000 to back Cabrera, with flyers attacking Rivera, others boosting Cabrera, and teams of canvassers carrying the literature.

Asked about NYFIA’s support during a debate on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Tuesday night, Cabrera pointed out that Rivera had endorsed Pichardo and Assemblymember Jose Rivera, who both back the EITC, and said that Rivera had a “double standard.”

Cabrera went on to say, “With this PAC we are working to pass the educational tax credit.” He added that he felt it was “fair to provide this tax credit to parents.”

Rivera responded that the PAC is supported by people who are “anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-labor.”

It is illegal for candidates to coordinate with Super PACs.

Pichardo’s office did not return requests for comment; it is unclear if his re-election campaign welcomes the independent spending on his behalf.

Karen Scharff, head of Citizen Action NY, is also part of the anti-hedge-fund group Hedge Clippers, which often criticizes the education reform movement and its wealthy backers. Scharff said that Super PAC spending of this type in primaries is a new development, and she fears it is just a preview of the kind of outside spending that will occur in the general election when control of the State Senate will be contested.

“The problem with this flood of cash from outside billionaires is that it impacts who gets elected in these communities that billionaires have no interest in. It is doubly disempowering the community, because they lose their voice in local matters and then have electeds who are more dedicated and accountable to the billionaires who elected them.”

Most of the candidates targeted by New Yorkers for Independent Action are not going unaided. Fund for Great Public Schools, a Super PAC controlled by Andrew Pollotta, the vice president of the New York State United Teachers union (NYSUT), was recently aided by a $4 million transfer from New Yorkers For a Brighter Future. The group has begun spending on mailers and advertisements to support Ramos, Walker, Rivera, and Harris, and attacking their opponents.  As of the last campaign filing report, on August 26, they appear to have spent a little over $80,000 on the four candidates.

In the 46th Assembly District, Kate Cucco, a former Assembly aide, is challenging Harris. Residents of the Southern Brooklyn district have been bombarded with flyers and polls from both independent groups. The race feels to many to be a proxy war for the education reform and union movements.

Asked whether Cucco supports the involvement of New Yorkers for Independent Action in her race, a spokesperson sent Gotham Gazette a statement:  

"Kate Cucco has long been on record urging for the overturn of Citizen's [sic] United and has been a staunch advocate for major reforms to campaign finance laws. Kate is in favor of public financing of campaigns that put hard limits of the amount of money a candidate can raise/spend, she is in favor of closing the LLC loophole, increasing the disclaimer requirements so voters know exactly who paid for campaign ads, as well as easing barriers to voting such as having one primary in June, allowing mail in voting, same day voter registration, and allowing for party enrollment changes right up until 60 days before an election."

Cucco is a supporter of a version of the Education Investment Tax Credit that NYFIA wants to see passed.

The PAC has used a similar theme for some of its mailers; in both the Rivera and Ramos races the mailer focuses on a New York Times editorial that accuses legislative leaders of failing to act on ethics reform in the wake of major scandals. Neither Ramos nor Rivera were at the center of the negotiations surrounding ethics reforms. There appear to have been about seven or eight mailers sent out in both districts, with varying themes.

In a statement, Assemblymember Ramos decried NYFIA, describing its donors as “millionaires and billionaires from Manhattan’s Upper East Side.”

“Why are they investing so heavily in a Brentwood Central Islip and Bay Shore Assembly race?” the statement says. “Because I stood up for my community and said NO to a million dollar tax break that they are pitching as an education opportunity for poor kids. I will stand up and fight anyone who tries to exploit our community. We deserve better.” Ramos also said that the Super PAC has “no grassroots” and that “Anyone that actually lives here knows we can't be bought. That's why I'm confident this multi-million dollar plan will fail, I trust my neighbors and they trust me."

Some candidates insist that NYFIA is interested only in passing the EITC and has no further political agenda. Scharff scoffs at the idea, pointing out that billionaire non-New Yorkers like Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heir and Arkansas resident, and some donors who have traditionally given to conservative Christian causes have donated heavily to the PAC.

Hedge Clippers has also highlighted that the incumbents targeted by NYFIA were major advocates for a $15 minimum wage and other progressive issues.

“The problem with this kind of money being poured into these districts by billionaires is that it drowns out the voices of voters,” said Scharff. She said she expects a number of progressive issues to be at the center of the next legislative session and that those issues will be in jeopardy if NYFIA gets its candidates in place. “If this spending continues into the general election it really could shift balance of power.”

This is how New Yorkers for Independent Action has allocated its spending on candidates through its July 11 filing:
$302,878.91 to support Giovanni Mata, who is challenging Assemblymember Phil Ramos.
$358,235.33 to support City Council Member Fernando Cabrera in his second attempt to defeat Sen. Gustavo Rivera.
$309,404.25 on Kate Cucco, who is challenging Assemblymember Pamela Harris.
$321,153.54 on City Council Member Darlene Mealy, who is challenging Assemblymember Latrice Walker.
$2,000 on Sen. Roxanne Persaud, who is facing a challenge from Mercedes Narcisse.
$2,000 on Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, who is engaged in a rematch with Hector Ramirez.

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

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Note: this article has been corrected to accurately reflect Thomas Carroll's former position as past president of The Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, not president of The Center for Education Reform as was stated.

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Education-Focused Super PAC Spends on Additional Legislative Races Wed, 31 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Super PAC Begins Flyering Bronx Senate Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6450:super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6450:super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race  riveraflyer2 1


A super PAC has started to blanket the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx with mailers attacking incumbent Democratic state Senator Gustavo Rivera and praising his challenger, Democratic City Council Member Fernando Cabrera. A flyer sent to voters last week praises Cabrera for standing up for family values and for knowing that “single women, mothers and our wives need protection.”

Flyers sent this week accuse Rivera of “Playing Us For Fools” and excerpts heavily from the June 21 New York Times editorial, “The Old Albany Hustle,” which criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders for failing to enact any meaningful ethics reforms this year.

Rivera has advocated for the very ethics reforms the editorial accuses the governor and majority leaders of avoiding and Rivera is part of the Democratic minority in the Senate that has no power at the negotiating table. Cabrera and Rivera will face off for the second consecutive cycle during the September 13 primary.

riveraflyer1“I think it's ridiculous and laughable on its face,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “But it is a deceiving piece. The New York Times article does not have my name in it, but it is an editorial I agree with 100 percent. We should have done more on ethics. Ethics reform is the reason I came to the Senate, it is the reason I ran against a corrupt senator. I’ve been fighting for reform since the second I got to Albany.”

New Yorkers For Independent Action, the PAC paying for the mailers, is advocating for the education tax credit that would see the state give tax rebates to individuals and companies who donate to private, religious, and charter schools. Teachers unions say the measure basically acts as a backdoor to vouchers and will be taken advantage of by companies and the wealthy; while proponents say it boosts educational choice.

Cabrera lost his primary challenge to Rivera two years ago by 20 points and according to a number of sources he promised members of the Bronx Democratic Committee not to run again and to work with Rivera. However, many Democrats see the financial backing of NYIA as the impetus for the repeat challenge.

The PAC has reported taking in $2.7 million since its creation and has spent over $1 million on polls and research on different races. The New York Daily News reported earlier this month that the PAC is targeting Rivera as well as Assembly Democratic incumbents Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, Phil Ramos of Suffolk County, and Latrice Harris of Brooklyn.

Major donors include Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who gave $450,000, and Peter Grauer of Bloomberg L.P., who gave $75,000. The PAC also has major support from Catholic activists.

cabreraflyer2Cabrera has proven a controversial figure in the City Council for his support of Ugandan anti-gay laws and his association with anti-gay group The Family Research Council. Cabrera’s run is not insignificant in a year when Senate Democrats are banking on the presidential election to help them seize the majority from Senate Republicans. Rivera, who would have otherwise spent the summer campaigning for other Democrats, is now forced into a costly primary.

Cabrera reported raising $72,015 in his July filing with the state campaign finance board and spending $47,549 -- he now has $24,315 to spend. Many of his donations came from the real estate industry. Rivera reported raising $139,486, while spending $79,299; he has $114,012 to spend. Rivera took a significant number of contributions from beer distributors.

Rivera said he expects to see mailers every week from the PAC until the September primary. “He wouldn’t have been able to afford this kind of campaign on his own,” Rivera said of Cabrera, questioning whether Cabrera knew of the PAC’s involvement in advance. Cabrera's office did not return requests for comment for this story.

“Knowing you are going to have this kind of money behind you gives you a pretty good reason to run,” Rivera said.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Super PAC Begins Flyering Bronx Senate Race Fri, 22 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Bronx Council Member Preparing to Again Challenge Incumbent State Senator http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6386:bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6386:bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator 16005101264 d25557eee7 z

City Council Member Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste)


City Council Member Fernando Cabrera is preparing for a rematch with incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx, according to sources familiar with Cabrera’s intentions.

Cabrera did not have an easy go of things when he first challenged Rivera in the 2014 Democratic primary. Reports by various publications highlighted Cabrera’s connections to extreme anti-gay groups like The Family Research Council, his praise of Ugandan anti-gay laws, and his conservative voting record.

Cabrera lost the 2014 primary by 20 points. He told The Observer that he believed his loss was due to “the liberal media.” 

“He had the mayor, he had the borough president, he had county, he had all the unions, he had liberal media, he had the LGBT community–what was left?” Cabrera said, according to The Observer. “It was absolutely unfair. I think [the media] was very biased. It was clear, every time we tried to put our message out, it was not being put forth correctly or misrepresented.”

According to five sources familiar with his intentions, Cabrera plans to again challenge Rivera this year - a move that is causing tension with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, whose leaders were hoping to maintain peace between their elected Council member and senator.

Cabrera and his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He is in the midst of his second four-year term as a Council member and can run for one more in 2017. State Senators serve two-year terms and have no term limits.

“Whatever decision [Cabrera] makes the results from the last election are what they are, and I’m not sure they could be any different,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx County Democratic Committee.

Asked whether he shares concerns voiced by other insiders that the time and resources of both elected officials, Cabrera and Rivera, would be better spent representing their shared constituents rather than battling each other, Crespo replied; “I would agree with that statement.”

Rivera said that while he welcomed all challengers he is taken aback by Cabrera’s candidacy because he thinks Cabrera’s beliefs fly in the face of those of Senate Democrats.

“Since I defeated Pedro Espada in 2010 I’ve been working consistently to return the Democrats to the Senate Majority, I’ve been fighting for my constituents, for tenants rights, for equality. We saw before how the Democratic majority was undone by a backroom deal,” Rivera said. “My opponent is someone who changed registration from Republican to Democrat, is anti-choice, anti-women, has dangerous views on the LGBT community, and has taken major donations from landlords while the rent laws are up [for reauthorization] next year.”

Rivera said he feels that Cabrera is the kind of politician who could jeopardize a Democratic majority, which the party is hoping for through this fall’s elections.

“We want to make sure when we get to the majority we can can do the right thing, and this endangers that,” Rivera said of Cabrera’s challenge.

Rivera is seen by many as an outsider to the Bronx County Democrats. He has openly clashed with Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., who holds conservative views similar to Cabrera’s, and has warred with Independent Democratic Conference leader Sen. Jeff Klein over Klein’s decision to split from mainline Democrats and essentially give Republicans rule over the chamber (even after Democrats won a numerical majority).

Rivera was further seen to have rankled the county machine when he supported his chief of staff, Katrina Asante, in the race to replace Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who was recently hired by the Cuomo administration, creating an open seat. County Democrats have rallied behind District Leader Jamaal Bailey, who is seen as a protege of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has endorsed him. Asante officially dropped her bid on Wednesday.

Norwood News reported in April that some involved in Bronx politics see Hassell-Thompson’s hiring and Heastie’s endorsement of Bailey as an undemocratic conspiracy parallel to the backroom maneuvering that allowed Bronx County Democrats to replace former Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson on the ballot with Darcel Clark, a Heastie ally.

Crespo refuted the idea, telling Norwood News, “The notion that the only way Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson could get something is by somebody asking, that’s nonsense. People either have too much fun believing somehow running strings everywhere."

While some insiders say Asante faced trouble raising funds due to Heastie’s support of Bailey, most insiders Gotham Gazette spoke to said they see Cabrera’s planned challenge to Rivera as unrelated.

During his last run for Senate, Cabrera voiced interest in joining Klein in the IDC and appeared to benefit from many of Klein’s donors. This year, with control of the Senate extremely tenuous, it appears unlikely the IDC will get involved in the race.

Gary Axelbank, a political observer and host of BronxTalk, said that he sees Cabrera’s run against Rivera as a boon for constituents. “When two elected officials from one district oppose each other, it's very healthy for constituents to have that sort of high-level choice. It speaks to the best of our participatory democracy.”

However, Axelbank noted that Cabrera turned down his invitation to a televised debate with Rivera in 2014. “We invited Councilman Cabrera to participate in a debate the last time these two ran against each other, but he declined to participate, which we found to be very disappointing. We plan to invite both the candidates to debate again this summer and we hope and expect that Councilman Cabrera will join us so that the voters have the best chance to make their choice."

Meanwhile, Rivera is not hiding the fact that he takes Cabrera’s challenge as an affront to not only his work but the work done by all elected Senate Democrats to win back the majority from Senate Republicans.

“It's more than a little offensive that this person is more interested in his political future than serving our constituents,” Rivera said.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Bronx Council Member Preparing to Again Challenge Incumbent State Senator Thu, 09 Jun 2016 00:00:00 +0000
Breaking Down the City Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5799:breaking-down-the-city-budget-de-blasio-nyc-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5799:breaking-down-the-city-budget-de-blasio-nyc-council de blasio mark-viverito budget

Mayor & Speaker at budget announcement (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


Wednesday, July 1, marked the beginning of the new fiscal year under a $78.6 billion budget agreed upon by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council.

When he unveiled his preliminary budget outline in February, de Blasio hailed the plan as “scrupulously fiscally responsible.” The 2016 budget continues a trend of increased spending: from 2010 to 2014, the budget increased at an average of around 4 percent per year. The first budget of the de Blasio administration increased spending by 6.3 percent. Now, the second de Blasio budget has grown 5.2 percent from 2015.

“[Fiscal 2015] was his first year and he was able to implement a lot of his new initiatives,” explained Rachel Bardin of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan and nonprofit civic organization. The increased spending went toward funding programs like universal pre-K, issuing municipal IDs, and homelessness prevention. Spending also increased as the mayor settled contracts with labor unions - de Blasio inherited a situation where all of the city’s municipal unions were working under expired contracts.

This year, the budget has grown again, raising several eyebrows. Part of this growth is due to an increase in personnel, including the hiring of an additional 1,297 police officers. An increased city headcount is expensive not only due to annual salaries, but also because of health care and pension costs. While de Blasio has expanded spending, he has also grown the savings funds the city keeps, able to do both because of the flush times the city is enjoying.

The trend of growth in spending has prompted a cautious attitude in some, including city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who called on the de Blasio administration to find steeper agency savings and allocate more money toward budgetary reserves. Bardin, of CBC, warns of the implications of the uptick in spending if there is an economic downturn— the likelihood of which is “inevitable,” according to a CBC statement. De Blasio and his budget team agree. The mayor struck a very serious tone during his May executive budget presentation, warning that the economy will certainly not continue to grow as it has been.

“We have additional spending built into the budget and our revenues in the downturn wouldn’t be able to support that,” Bardin told Gotham Gazette. With insufficient funds to support the increased spending, a situation could occur in which the city must consider raising taxes, laying off employees, and ending or reducing programs.

But Doug Turetsky, Chief of Staff for the Independent Budget Office, pushed back against the idea of an inevitable economic downturn and cited the unprecedented $1 billion the administration just put into the city’s general reserve fund. During the previous administration, the fund typically contained $300 million, Capital New York reported.

“Neither we nor the administration has forecasted a downturn,” Turetsky said. “We both forecast slower job growth than we’ve seen in the last couple of years but we still see a growing economy. It’s a risk because there hasn’t been this long of an expansion in forever. But there’s always risks in any forecast.”

At a CBC event in May, New York City Budget Director Dean Fuleihan said that the city has set aside funds in three different reserves. “We have been extremely cautious and realistic in our projections,” he said. “Even though we are in a growing economy, we will continue to come back and do more and more on savings.”

Meanwhile, the City Council has been trying to further increase transparency by calling for more units of appropriation within the budget, that is more line items with specifics of which programs are being funded. Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who chairs the Council’s finance committee and helps lead budget negotiations with the mayor’s administration, has had several public exchanges with Fuleihan where she has insisted on greater transparency via units of appropriation. In announcing the final budget, Ferreras trumpeted increased specificity, but said there is more work to be done.

While Bardin feels that the spending plan is largely transparent, she added, “There are certain items that are difficult to track within the budget.”

In an effort at greater transparency, we break down the budget below. First, it is important to note that the “city budget” most refer to and that we have discussed thus far is the expense budget, for operational, programmatic, and personnel expenses, which for fiscal 2016 is $78.6 billion. This includes money to be spent by the City Council and by City Council members in their districts. There is also the city’s capital budget, money dedicated for construction and infrastructure spending. In this big bucket there is also spending by the Council and individual members.

Expense Budget— $78.6B
The expense budget funds city government services. All city agencies, the City Council, and the borough presidents get their operational funding from the expense budget, as do the Comptroller and the Public Advocate; including funding for salaries and pensions of city employees and other operational costs of government offices such as rent, utilities, and office supplies.

The budget includes $21.9 billion for the Department of Education, $5.1 billion for the NYPD, and $9.7 billion to the Department of Social Services. It includes $61 million for the City Council, $94 million for the Comptroller’s Office; and $3.4 million for the Public Advocate’s Office.

This year’s expense budget includes $25 million for the Borough Presidents’ offices, appropriating $5.8 million to the Brooklyn borough president, $5.65 million to the Bronx borough president, $5.15 million to Queens, $4.7 million to Manhattan and allocated $4.3 million for the Staten Island borough president.

meta-chart.jpeg

The expense budget also funds the city’s debt service— money required to cover the repayment of interest and principal on a debt. The city’s 2015-2016 expense budget allocates $2.93 billion for debt service.

Schedule C- $52.6 million
City Council discretionary funds make up a relatively small portion of the expense budget, but are traditionally among the most scrutinized pieces of the budget, and released in a document called “Schedule C.” Council members are allocated discretionary funds to give to nonprofit organizations that benefit their district and constituents.

In May 2014, reforms were made in an attempt to make the distribution of these funds more equal and transparent— the allocation was previously controlled at the whims of the Speaker, who could use the discretionary funds to reward allies and punish enemies. Reforms ushered in under new Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other members brought a uniform system, with each Council member now receiving a base of $400,000, and an additional $25,000, $50,000, $75,000, or $100,000 based on the poverty level of their district. Council members receiving the maximum amount of $500,000 include Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Fernando Cabrera, Vanessa Gibson, and Ritchie Torres— all from the Bronx— as well as Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and part of the Bronx.

As Speaker, Mark-Viverito also has access to an additional $16 million, for allocating what is known as the ‘Speaker’s List,’ money to go to organizations and initiatives at the Speaker’s discretion and at the request of Council members.

This year, the Speaker’s List heavily funds projects in Brooklyn, including allocating $340,000 to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; $255,000 to Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation; and $250,000 to El Puente Williamsburg, a community human rights organization. Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President, was also the only borough president who received additional funding— $100,000— from the Council for employee compensation. Adams’ office also received $100,000 last year for “personal services enhancement,” along with that of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Though some have said Brooklyn has long been underfunded despite being the most populous borough, others point to political favors or special needs as the borough booms.

Two organizations that see the most funding by the Council are Catholic Charities Community Services, which is set to receive $666,000 ($130,000 from the Speaker herself, using both funds allocated to her as a council member and the Speaker’s List) and the Hispanic Federation ($166,000 funded by the Speaker).

Capital Budget: $13.9B
The capital budget is distinct from the expense budget, and used to finance large physical infrastructure projects. The infrastructure funded through the capital budget can be either for government use, such as government offices or for public use, such as roads, schools, and parks. For any project to be funded from the capital budget, it should cost at least $35,000 and be useable for at least five years, according to the IBO. Almost all capital funding goes through city agencies. The capital budget also includes discretionary funds for Council members and borough presidents.

Last year, 24 Council Members chose to implement the 2014-2015 cycle of participatory budgeting, a process in which district constituents are allowed to propose projects and vote on how a portion of the capital funds their council member has control over should be used ($1-2 million per district).

Additionally, the five borough presidents are given the power by the City Charter to allot portions (this year 5 percent) of the city’s capital budget to fund construction projects or improvements to infrastructure. Those portions are then allocated to city agencies or nonprofit organizations. In late June, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced her office would allocate $30 million in capital grants to projects including playground and athletic field restorations at public parks and tech improvements at CUNY and SUNY campuses.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced that she would allocate $200,000 of her capital funds to purchase and install real-time bus countdown clocks at the borough’s busiest bus stops.

“Capital grants give us the opportunity to both fix nagging problems and invest in our neighborhoods’ future,” Brewer said in a statement sent to press. “Whether we’re fixing the roof at a branch library, renovating a playground, or building out a new computer lab at a local school, these capital grants are going to strengthen our communities and improve people’s lives.”

***
by Catie Edmondson and Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette
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Breaking Down the City Budget Wed, 08 Jul 2015 22:11:22 +0000
New York's Unique Campaign Finance Ecosystem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5647:new-yorks-unique-campaign-finance-ecosystem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5647:new-yorks-unique-campaign-finance-ecosystem mmv speech

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: Joyce Choi Li)


New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has been the subject of much speculation of late. She is the most powerful member of the Council and influential in politics beyond the city. As a woman of Puerto Rican descent she represents a voting bloc that is woefully underrepresented in New York elected offices. She also maintains a busy travel schedule and ties to a wide swath of progressive causes, and she has more than a few dollars in the bank. But on December 31, 2017, she will be term-limited out of a job and risks having her political momentum stalled.

Mark-Viverito will be forced to look for a new position in the city or venture, as many of her colleagues have, to the state or national political sphere. The current mayor, comptroller, and public advocate are all Democrats who plan to run for re-election, leaving her, likely, without a city-wide office to run for in 2017. And yet Viverito has raised $152,000 in campaign cash, which sits in her city account, and clearly plans to raise more.

Asked about her political future in a recent WNYC interview Mark-Viverito responded: "The door is open. I don't know what options will present themselves. But you can never be over-ready, and I'm trying to be as ready as I can in terms of figuring out what paths open up for me after I leave the City Council."

What Mark-Viverito can do with the money she accumulates in her city campaign account is limited due to complex campaign finance rules that govern separate city, state, and federal systems. Unlike some states where municipal and state systems are more aligned, New York is home to three distinct sets of city, state, and federal campaign finance rules.

"There aren't three more different systems out there," said Blair Horner, legislative director of The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

In some sense, good government groups and reformers like Horner see New York City's - which allows candidates to opt in to a taxpayer-funded system that provides matching funds and requires candidates to raise small amounts of cash from a diverse number of donors - as a model for other locales to follow. The city's Campaign Finance Board (CFB) regularly conducts audits of campaign accounts, enforces donation and expenditure limits, and caps the amount of public funds each candidate is eligible for based on office sought.

In comparison, the state system is the wild west. It is well-known that the city system comes with a great deal of rules and reporting, while the state system is far less regulated - the latter continues to be the focus of reformers who want to see a public matching system and other changes in place.

As state lawmakers negotiate possible ethics reforms including several related to campaign financing and expenditures, there may be several politicians, like Mark-Viverito, especially interested in the new rules - or who even need to bone up on the current ones. It is not uncommon for state lawmakers to seek seats at the city-level and vice versa; there is also plenty of precedent whereby state-level officials seek congressional seats.

Candidates can move cash from the city system to the state system, but they can't take any matching funds provided by the CFB with them. "After we account for all public funds they received through our audit process they are free to transfer what they have left," said Matt Sollars of the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

Sollars notes that former Council Speaker Christine Quinn had a $5 million war chest left over from her failed 2013 mayoral bid. Quinn returned $3.5 in matching funds to the CFB and has $1.5 million in a city account that could theoretically be transferred to a state account without a hitch. Candidates can also use these funds to give to other campaigns.

Bronx Council Member Fernando Cabrera went about things the wrong way during his 2014 state Senate primary challenge against Sen. Gustavo Rivera. Cabrera transferred around $33,000 from his city account to his state account ignoring the fact that he owed the City $23,000 in matching funds.

"Public funds left over from the 2013 council election are owed to the City and may not be used in a 2014 state election," Sollars told reporters at the time. "The law places clear restrictions on post-election spending and does not allow candidates to use public matching funds to build a war chest for future elections. The CFB will be notifying this campaign that these leftover funds must be returned."

Cabrera's campaign later issued a statement that the transfer was a "result of not fully understanding our City's Campaign Finance guidelines"; and it returned the funds.

"I imagine moving from city to state must feel liberating," said Horner, referring to the State's lax limits and nearly non-existent enforcement. The New York State system has donation limits far higher than most other states and last year the State Board of Elections said that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision had rendered its $150,000 annual limit for campaign contributors "unenforceable."

Even with those lax limits state law includes a loophole that allows unlimited contributions through limited liability corporations, or LLCs. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been the greatest beneficiary of the situation. Donors can contribute the $60,800 maximum for gubernatorial candidates as many times they want through different LLCs. In fact the New York Times has reported that the Cuomo administration has encouraged the practice to ensure yearly multi-million dollar commitments from individual companies.

While speculation about Mark-Viverito's future persists - in part because she continues to raise money - it is unlikely she will seek a state-level office. There continue to be rumors about Mark-Viverito's ally, Mayor Bill de Blasio, having gubernatorial ambitions - he or any other city official who does try for a state-level run will need to know the rules. Others potentially in this category include Manhattan Council Member Dan Garodnick, who is also term-limited out of the Council at the end of 2017 and has continued to raise money - which could be used for a run for borough or city-wide office, or a state-level run. There are several other council members who are in their final terms and may be looking for new employment in the capital, of course.

"Moving from state to city where there are rules that they actually enforce must feel like a cold slap in the face," said Horner of the flip side of the equation. In 2013, several sitting members of the state Assembly ran for and won city council seats. Eric Adams went from the state Senate to Brooklyn Borough President.

Horner posits that the city system forces candidates to become better fundraisers and better representatives.

"In the city system you have to have the skills or political infrastructure to raise from a large amount of small donors in these relatively large districts. At the state level you just need to call the right few rich donors and if you know what you are doing you can get unlimited donations through the LLC loophole," said Horner.

A number of other candidates, including Domenic Recchia and Vincent Gentile, have made the move to the federal election system. Gentile, a former state senator who is a sitting city council member currently running for Congress, has now used all three systems. There are rumors that Mark-Viverito might make the move from the city to the federal system herself in attempting to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel come 2016. The federal system does not allow candidates to transfer funds from their city accounts, and according to Horner, the federal system has tighter restrictions than the state.

"The federal system is a mix of the other two," said Horner. "There is a move for deregulation, but there are substantive limits that are much tighter than the state system where you can basically get unlimited donations."

Some candidates have tried refunding donations from their city accounts in conjunction with asking supporters to donate the same amount to their federal accounts.

If rumors that Mark-Viverito is planning a 2016 run for Rangel's seat are true (she has denied any interest, saying she intends to stay her entire final term on the Council), Horner says anything she has stored in her city account won't help her, but that the experience she has in raising from a litany of small donors across her large district that covers parts of Manhattan and the Bronx will. "I can't imagine the experience of running in the city system will do anything but help," said Horner.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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New York's Unique Campaign Finance Ecosystem Mon, 23 Mar 2015 20:06:26 +0000