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/george-mcdonald 2017-12-14T18:37:22+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Federal Tax Reform Could Turn City’s Housing Crisis into a Humanitarian Disaster 2017-12-11T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-11T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7364:federal-tax-reform-could-turn-city-s-housing-crisis-into-a-humanitarian-disaster Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/picture_the_homeless_vacant_lots.jpg" alt="picture the homeless vacant lots" width="600px" /></p> <p>protesting unused vacant property (via @pthny)</p> <hr /> <p>In New York City, the demand for affordable housing<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/about/problem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> far exceeds supply</a>.<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/news/publications/Turning_the_Tide_on_Homelessness.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Seventy percent</a> of the city’s homeless shelter residents are families. Families who should be in homes.</p> <p>Now, as the United States House of Representatives and Senate look to the conference committee to reconcile their respective<a href="https://www.novoco.com/comparison-house-and-senate-finance-committee-approved-tax-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> tax reform bills</a>, the housing crisis that began in the 1980s will become a catastrophe unless we, the people, intervene.</p> <p>On paper, both the House and Senate plans retain the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) — which funds<a href="https://www.reis.com/cre-news-and-resources/bisnow-lihtc-program-now-funds-about-90-percent-of-us-affordable-housing-projects" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 90 percent</a> of the nation’s affordable housing developments. However, the House tax bill<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds</a> (PABs) that fund half of all LIHTC projects.</p> <p>Although the<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-tax-reform-bill-would-reduce-affordable-rental-housing-production-nearly-300000-homes" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Senate bill</a> retains PABs, both bills cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, dramatically<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> reducing the value of tax credits</a> that fund the remainder of LIHTC projects.</p> <p>Also included in the Senate bill is an amendment that imposes what amounts to an<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-approves-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-some-changes-committee-passed-version" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> international alternative minimum tax</a> on any corporation with significant foreign operations. As a result, some large corporate investors might be deterred from claiming the LIHTC.</p> <p>No matter how the reconciliation pans out, it is clear that, if passed, federal tax reform will devastate<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/about/problem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> more than a million low-income New Yorkers</a> searching for homes. And this isn’t the first federal policy to squeeze out affordable housing.</p> <p>Under President Reagan, government spending on subsidized housing was slashed from<a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/news/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> $26 billion to $8 billion</a>, contributing to a<a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/reagans-real-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> dramatic spike in homelessness</a>. As a private sector solution, Reagan signed the LIHTC into law in 1986 to counterbalance the cuts to direct federal spending.</p> <p>LIHTC’s market-based answer to affordable housing was<a href="https://ncsha.org/advocacy-issues/housing-credit" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> successful enough</a> that subsequent administrations maintained the program while<a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/news/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> continuing to whittle away at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds</a>. LIHTC became the best — or rather, only — hope for Americans in need. But in cities like New York, LIHTC wasn’t enough to mitigate the surge and suffering of homelessness.</p> <p>Although<a href="http://www.nychdc.com/content/pdf/ProjectAdvertisements/NY%20LIHTC%20and%20Homelessness%20Report%20final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> LIHTC helped develop or preserve approximately 122,000 affordable properties</a> in New York City from 1994 to 2014, the city still endured a<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/news/publications/Turning_the_Tide_on_Homelessness.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> net loss of 150,000</a> rent stabilized apartments, leaving tens of thousands of New Yorkers with nowhere to go but the street or a shelter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to this crisis with a<a href="https://www.amny.com/news/politics/affordable-housing-plan-1.14990989" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> pledge to add 100,000 affordable units</a> by 2020. But experts at Novogradac &amp; Company estimate that, if the House tax bill passes, that number could<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> fall by two thirds</a>.</p> <p>Even if PABs are retained in the reconciled bill, the corporate tax rate reduction alone will result in the loss of around<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-tax-reform-bill-would-reduce-affordable-rental-housing-production-nearly-300000-homes" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 300,000 affordable units</a> nationally.</p> <p>By squeezing the funding pipeline for affordable housing tighter than ever before, both bills crush the supply of affordable housing and the low-income families that rely on it.</p> <p>This cannot happen — not on our watch, not in our city, and not in our country. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a moral one. We have a duty, to our city and our neighbors, to speak out against any provision that would threaten the supply of affordable housing at this most critical time in our country’s history.</p> <p>Although the House and Senate have approved their respective bills, the final version has yet to be agreed upon. Now is the time to urge our representatives to reject any final bill that removes the tax-exempt status of PABs and cuts the corporate tax rate.</p> <p>***<br /> George McDonald is founder and president of The Doe Fund. On Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/georgetmcdonald?lang=en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GeorgeTMcDonald</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/thedoefund?lang=en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@TheDoeFund</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/picture_the_homeless_vacant_lots.jpg" alt="picture the homeless vacant lots" width="600px" /></p> <p>protesting unused vacant property (via @pthny)</p> <hr /> <p>In New York City, the demand for affordable housing<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/about/problem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> far exceeds supply</a>.<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/news/publications/Turning_the_Tide_on_Homelessness.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Seventy percent</a> of the city’s homeless shelter residents are families. Families who should be in homes.</p> <p>Now, as the United States House of Representatives and Senate look to the conference committee to reconcile their respective<a href="https://www.novoco.com/comparison-house-and-senate-finance-committee-approved-tax-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> tax reform bills</a>, the housing crisis that began in the 1980s will become a catastrophe unless we, the people, intervene.</p> <p>On paper, both the House and Senate plans retain the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) — which funds<a href="https://www.reis.com/cre-news-and-resources/bisnow-lihtc-program-now-funds-about-90-percent-of-us-affordable-housing-projects" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 90 percent</a> of the nation’s affordable housing developments. However, the House tax bill<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds</a> (PABs) that fund half of all LIHTC projects.</p> <p>Although the<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-tax-reform-bill-would-reduce-affordable-rental-housing-production-nearly-300000-homes" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Senate bill</a> retains PABs, both bills cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, dramatically<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> reducing the value of tax credits</a> that fund the remainder of LIHTC projects.</p> <p>Also included in the Senate bill is an amendment that imposes what amounts to an<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-approves-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-some-changes-committee-passed-version" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> international alternative minimum tax</a> on any corporation with significant foreign operations. As a result, some large corporate investors might be deterred from claiming the LIHTC.</p> <p>No matter how the reconciliation pans out, it is clear that, if passed, federal tax reform will devastate<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/about/problem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> more than a million low-income New Yorkers</a> searching for homes. And this isn’t the first federal policy to squeeze out affordable housing.</p> <p>Under President Reagan, government spending on subsidized housing was slashed from<a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/news/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> $26 billion to $8 billion</a>, contributing to a<a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/reagans-real-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> dramatic spike in homelessness</a>. As a private sector solution, Reagan signed the LIHTC into law in 1986 to counterbalance the cuts to direct federal spending.</p> <p>LIHTC’s market-based answer to affordable housing was<a href="https://ncsha.org/advocacy-issues/housing-credit" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> successful enough</a> that subsequent administrations maintained the program while<a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/news/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> continuing to whittle away at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds</a>. LIHTC became the best — or rather, only — hope for Americans in need. But in cities like New York, LIHTC wasn’t enough to mitigate the surge and suffering of homelessness.</p> <p>Although<a href="http://www.nychdc.com/content/pdf/ProjectAdvertisements/NY%20LIHTC%20and%20Homelessness%20Report%20final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> LIHTC helped develop or preserve approximately 122,000 affordable properties</a> in New York City from 1994 to 2014, the city still endured a<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/news/publications/Turning_the_Tide_on_Homelessness.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> net loss of 150,000</a> rent stabilized apartments, leaving tens of thousands of New Yorkers with nowhere to go but the street or a shelter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to this crisis with a<a href="https://www.amny.com/news/politics/affordable-housing-plan-1.14990989" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> pledge to add 100,000 affordable units</a> by 2020. But experts at Novogradac &amp; Company estimate that, if the House tax bill passes, that number could<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> fall by two thirds</a>.</p> <p>Even if PABs are retained in the reconciled bill, the corporate tax rate reduction alone will result in the loss of around<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-tax-reform-bill-would-reduce-affordable-rental-housing-production-nearly-300000-homes" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 300,000 affordable units</a> nationally.</p> <p>By squeezing the funding pipeline for affordable housing tighter than ever before, both bills crush the supply of affordable housing and the low-income families that rely on it.</p> <p>This cannot happen — not on our watch, not in our city, and not in our country. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a moral one. We have a duty, to our city and our neighbors, to speak out against any provision that would threaten the supply of affordable housing at this most critical time in our country’s history.</p> <p>Although the House and Senate have approved their respective bills, the final version has yet to be agreed upon. Now is the time to urge our representatives to reject any final bill that removes the tax-exempt status of PABs and cuts the corporate tax rate.</p> <p>***<br /> George McDonald is founder and president of The Doe Fund. On Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/georgetmcdonald?lang=en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GeorgeTMcDonald</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/thedoefund?lang=en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@TheDoeFund</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
The New York City Campaign Finance Board and Its Scofflaws 2016-10-06T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6561:the-new-york-city-campaign-finance-board-and-its-scofflaws Ben Max <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/cfb-website-grab.jpg" alt="cfb website grab" width="600" height="317" />&nbsp;</p> <p>the NYC CFB <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/" target="_blank">website</a></p> <hr /> <p>On September 15, the city's Campaign Finance Board announced the latest round of fines coming out of the city election cycle that wrapped up nearly three years ago. The board <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/press-releases/2016-09-15-000000/cfb-votes-enforcement-matters-six-campaigns-holds-hearing" target="_blank">penalized</a> candidates from six unsuccessful campaigns -- for City Council, Public Advocate and the Mayor&rsquo;s Office.</p> <p dir="ltr">The board found that Joel Bauza, a candidate for City Council in District 15, owed $350 for failing to file disclosure statements, late filing of disclosures, and for failing to document an in-kind contribution. Sean Henry, who ran for the District 42 City Council seat, was slapped with a $850 fine and also told to repay $23,993 in public matching funds received from the CFB. The board fined Catherine Guerriero, who ran for Public Advocate, $5,539 for seven violations, with the largest penalties for accepting contributions over the legal limit. And former mayoral candidate George McDonald was ordered to pay a whopping $34,350 for accepting over-the-limit contributions.</p> <p dir="ltr">If the past is a guide, most of these former candidates will cut the Campaign Finance Board a check and close the book on the campaign. A handful, however, may carry an IOU for years.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to CFB records, as of August 23, some 77 people owe a combined $2.16 million in fines or required repayment of public financing. Repayment of public funds accounted for $1.59 million of that amount. Given the hundreds of candidates who have participated in the city's pioneering and complex campaign finance system &mdash; which requires broad disclosure, offers generous public matching funds and restricts fundraising and campaign spending &mdash; and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been raised and spent since that apparatus was launched in 1989, the overdue list is fairly small.</p> <p dir="ltr">The list includes long-shot candidates who haven't been heard from since their bid for public office ended. But Assembly Member David Weprin, State Senator Jesse Hamilton, City Council Member Andrew King, and Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna are on the roster as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">McDonald looks set to join that list. Head of the prominent nonprofit The Doe Fund, he claims his violations were the result of following state campaign finance law, which has more permissible limits for campaign contributions. He screamed at the CFB during its public hearing on his campaign fundraising, claiming he&rsquo;d never pay the amount assessed.</p> <p dir="ltr">That list of 77 CFB debtors includes candidates who owe fines from as far back as the 2001 election cycle, suggesting that the board's enforcement tools could be sharper. At the same time, the presence of prominent names on the roster suggests that, for better or worse, CFB fines and repayments incurred through races gone by may shape future elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">* &nbsp;&nbsp;* &nbsp;&nbsp;* &nbsp;&nbsp;*</p> <p dir="ltr">Crafted in response to municipal corruption scandals during the Koch administration and drastic disparities in candidate spending election cycle after cycle, the city's campaign finance law limits the sizes of campaign donations and requires detailed disclosure of where candidates' money comes from and where it goes. It also offers candidates a chance at public financing: If a campaign collects a threshold amount of money from a minimum number of donors, and agrees to a cap on total campaign spending, the board will match with taxpayer money some portion of the contributions the campaign collects from New York City residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with the introduction of term limits in 2001, the public campaign finance system is credited with permitting dozens of political newcomers to mount credible campaigns for elected office in New York City. In the 2013 cycle, the board sent a combined $38.2 million in public funds to 149 campaigns; private donations to city campaigns in that cycle totaled $95 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">The campaign-finance system's twin missions of preventing corruption and using public financing to foster a more equal playing field lend themselves to strict rules about which entities can donate, how much can be accepted by campaigns, how campaign money can be spent, and the manner in which all of it is recorded and submitted to the board. To ensure compliance with those rules, the board regularly monitors campaign accounts, particularly for candidates who choose to participate in the public matching funds program. In September, a candidate from a 2015 City Council special election in Queens was <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/09/06/queens-woman-arrested-for-forging-campaign-donations/?utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=fea6e825ba-CY2016_Press_Statement_Indictment_20160907&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-fea6e825ba-290603253" target="_blank">indicted</a> for reporting fake donations in order to receive public matching funds. She was charged following a routine compliance visit by CFB personnel.</p> <p dir="ltr">"This is an example of how the CFB's rigorous audits help protect the public matching funds that ensure New Yorkers get elections focused on their interests, and not those of deep-pocketed special interests,&rdquo; said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a public statement after the indictment. &ldquo;City taxpayers should be aware that the CFB discovered the alleged fraud and that no public funds were ever paid to this candidate.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The board also conducts extensive audits of every campaign once the election is over &mdash; a process that can take CFB staff years to complete. After an audit is complete, the board holds a public hearing where candidates may appear with legal representation to explain the circumstances of any possible violations or to dispute a finding by CFB attorneys. After hearing the case, the board votes on how to address the missteps identified during the review.</p> <p dir="ltr">The most common violations it finds are accepting corporate contributions, accepting over-the-limit contributions, making improper post-election expenditures, or filing disclosure statements late.</p> <p dir="ltr">For violations of the rules, the CFB can impose fines ranging from $100 to several thousand dollars per violation. Candidates and treasurers can also be held personally liable for those penalties. In the 2009 campaign, for instance, 89 of 232 campaigns were told to pay penalties. The median penalty amount for that cycle was $3,786.</p> <p dir="ltr">The board can also order a campaign to return public financing that the board deems the campaign did not qualify to use. Of the 140 campaigns that received public funds in 2013, 87 were ordered to repay more than $1.5 million of the $38 million that was dispensed.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaigns that have money left over can use it to pay fines, but sometimes &mdash; particularly when large repayments of public funds are ordered &mdash; there is nothing left. The availability of public financing means city campaigns are now attracting true political novices &mdash; a healthy thing for democracy, but a complicating factor when it comes to collecting major fines. Some candidates simply don't have the savings or income needed to pay their debts. Others might just decide not to pay, even though they could.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its penalty letter to a candidate, the board typically gives 30 days for fines to be paid. If a candidate fails to pay fines or repay public funds, their name and the unpaid amount are posted to the CFB website. A candidate can choose to negotiate a payment plan with the board, in which case his or her name is not posted.</p> <p dir="ltr">A candidate may also choose to challenge the board&rsquo;s decision in New York State Supreme Court within four months through what is called an Article 78 proceeding. These appeals, which are usually resolved within a year, largely go in favor of the CFB.</p> <p dir="ltr">Conversely, if violators do not pay fines, the board can sue them in civil court and obtain a judgement. In those cases, the board can put a lien on a candidate&rsquo;s property and can garnish their wages. Court records indicate that since 1992 the CFB has sought court judgements against more than two dozen candidates, and often succeeded.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under a 2005 court decision, however, the board has less latitude when it comes to getting public funds repaid. While candidates are liable for fines, campaign committees are responsible for repaying public funds -- and committees often disband or run out of money before those funds can be paid back. The City Council later codified the thrust of the 2005 decision into law, tying the CFB&rsquo;s hands. Pending repayments, not fines, count for a majority of the funds due to the CFB.</p> <p dir="ltr">The board does still have some leverage, however, against candidates who may want to run in a future election: individuals are unable to receive public funds if they have any pending fines or repayments left.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Candidates who owe penalties or public funds to the CFB are ineligible to receive future payments, which provides an effective incentive for candidates to fulfill their obligations,&rdquo; Loprest said in a statement to Gotham Gazette and City Limits. &ldquo;Information about candidates&rsquo; outstanding obligations is publicly available on our website, so voters can hold candidates accountable for the conduct of their campaigns. Beyond that, the CFB makes every effort to collect the penalties and public funds repayments that candidates owe.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">And to make it known that those IOUs areout there. The overdue amounts are public knowledge. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t write things off or forgive liabilities,&rdquo; said a CFB spokesperson. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s part of the accountability of the program.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">* &nbsp;&nbsp;* &nbsp;&nbsp;* &nbsp;&nbsp;*</p> <p dir="ltr">Sixty-three former candidates currently owe penalties to the board; the largest overdue amount belongs to Felipe Luciano, an East Harlem community activist and journalist who racked up more than $54,000 in violations when he ran for City Council District 8 in 2005. Luciano was also a participant in the public matching funds program and was told to repay nearly $17,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">Also prominent on the list: Miguel Martinez, the one-time Upper Manhattan Council member who went to federal prison over a scandal dealing with stolen city money.</p> <p dir="ltr">When it comes to public funds repayment, Asembly Member Weprin's tab dwarfs all others: $319,700. The next highest is Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Reyna, who owes a repayment of $139,000. Martinez also owes the board substantial public funds repayments. Those three, along with 2001 City Council candidate Garth Marchant, represent the four largest debts to the CFB &mdash; comprising 36 percent of what the board is owed.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">MORE: <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/10/07/who-owes-money-to-the-citys-campaign-finance-board/" target="_blank">Who Owes Money to the City Campaign Finance Board</a></p> <p dir="ltr">Weprin was assessed a substantial penalty for the conduct of his 2009 campaign for city comptroller. An investment banker by trade who chaired the City Council's Finance Committee during his tenure there, Weprin was assessed $28,000 in penalties for violations like accepting money from unregistered PACs or taking over-the-limit contributions. He paid those penalties. &ldquo;The Assemblyman is committed to a fair election process and the responsible use of CFB funds,&rdquo; wrote a spokesperson for Weprin, Sumeet Sharma, in response to questions.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the public funds repayment of $319,700 is still due. That stems from Weprin&rsquo;s campaign opening a so-called segregated account, which is supposed to be used for expenses that public funds can&rsquo;t be used on, like to make donations to other candidates or to pay debt from a previous election. The CFB concluded that Weprin&rsquo;s 2009 campaign had deposited into that segregated account donations that were matched with public funds. It ordered the campaign to repay the matching funds associated with those donations. But by then, all the campaign&rsquo;s money had been spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about the board&rsquo;s findings, Weprin spokesperson Sharm told City Limits: &ldquo;In 2010, after the Committee ceased to exist, the CFB made technical revisions to funds that were originally declared as valid contributions, deeming valid contributions as invalid. These repayments were requested one year after the end of the campaign and after the Committee was disbanded,&rdquo; addding that &ldquo;the Assemblyman does not agree with all of the determinations of the CFB as these funds were spent on campaign related expenses.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The amount owed by the 2009 campaign represents an undeniable obstacle to Weprin seeking municipal office again. In 2015, when David Weprin&rsquo;s brother Mark gave up his City Council seat to take a state post, David Weprin notably did not vy to replace him--perhaps because he would have had to pay off his CFB debt if he wished to tap into public financing for such a campaign.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The CFB determined that these funds would have to be repaid by the Committee if David Weprin was to seek City Office,&rdquo; Sharma wrote. &ldquo;And althoughAssemblyman Weprin is committed to the overall mission of the CFB and will address any repayments if he does seek an office for the City of New York in the future.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">* &nbsp;* &nbsp;* &nbsp;*</p> <p dir="ltr">The fines don&rsquo;t seem to discourage people from seeking public funds to run campaigns. In the 2013 election, 92 percent of candidates on the primary ballot participated in the program, according to CFB data.</p> <p dir="ltr">But some candidates do complain that the CFB&rsquo;s disclosure and documentation requirements are severe and that the auditing process is long and drawn out. As is evident from the latest hearing, even though the CFB has about 50 employees, nearly half the agency, working full-time to audit campaigns, the process can take years.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I&rsquo;m a little bothered at the fact that three years later I&rsquo;m still being called in,&rdquo; Joel Bauza told Gotham Gazette after making his case to the CFB, &ldquo;the treasurer is still being called in&hellip;to answer questions on stuff that we submitted on time and we gave to them the reasons. I don&rsquo;t see the difference on what was written and what was said today.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Bauza also chose not to participate in the public matching funds program because of its &ldquo;tedious&rdquo; documentation requirements, a decision he said was made at the advice of State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. Bauza did praise the CFB for being informative and helpful during the entire process but insisted that there is room to improve. &ldquo;I think there&rsquo;s a lot of little tedious things, a lot of things that they need to look at again,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;What they&rsquo;re going to be questioning...Items that are noticeable where large amounts of contributions are made. Talk about those things, but little things...You&rsquo;re going into the little things that don&rsquo;t really make sense.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">To its credit, the CFB carefully examines systemic issues after each election, proposes reforms to be enacted through legislation, and does routine updates to its rules. In September, the board proposed a number of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6531-campaign-finance-board-considers-rules-changes-including-controversial-coordination-proposal" target="_blank">rules changes</a> that would, in part, make it easier for candidates to run their campaigns. The board invited feedback that was heard at the September 15 meeting and will now consider that before approving the changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sean Henry, who ran in 2013 and did avail of the public financing program, shared some of Bauza&rsquo;s views on the CFB. &ldquo;I think sometimes the compliance requirements are little bit too onerous,&rdquo; he told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Campaigns are small. Especially when you start, you don&rsquo;t have a lot of people. I think some of the documentation is not necessary. I think there are easier ways that things can be done.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He did say, though, that the CFB was &ldquo;efficient&rdquo; and &ldquo;fair&rdquo; to his campaign and in helping his people navigate the public funds program, and that he wasn&rsquo;t entirely deterred from participating again. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a good way for candidates to get involved in the process,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">NUMBERS: <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/10/07/who-owes-money-to-the-citys-campaign-finance-board/" target="_blank">Who Owes Money to the City Campaign Finance Board</a>, at City Limits</p> <p>***<br />by Samar Khurshid of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this story has been corrected to accurately reflect why Miguel Martinez went to jail, it was not related to CFB funds.</p>
<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/cfb-website-grab.jpg" alt="cfb website grab" width="600" height="317" />&nbsp;</p> <p>the NYC CFB <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/" target="_blank">website</a></p> <hr /> <p>On September 15, the city's Campaign Finance Board announced the latest round of fines coming out of the city election cycle that wrapped up nearly three years ago. The board <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/press-releases/2016-09-15-000000/cfb-votes-enforcement-matters-six-campaigns-holds-hearing" target="_blank">penalized</a> candidates from six unsuccessful campaigns -- for City Council, Public Advocate and the Mayor&rsquo;s Office.</p> <p dir="ltr">The board found that Joel Bauza, a candidate for City Council in District 15, owed $350 for failing to file disclosure statements, late filing of disclosures, and for failing to document an in-kind contribution. Sean Henry, who ran for the District 42 City Council seat, was slapped with a $850 fine and also told to repay $23,993 in public matching funds received from the CFB. The board fined Catherine Guerriero, who ran for Public Advocate, $5,539 for seven violations, with the largest penalties for accepting contributions over the legal limit. And former mayoral candidate George McDonald was ordered to pay a whopping $34,350 for accepting over-the-limit contributions.</p> <p dir="ltr">If the past is a guide, most of these former candidates will cut the Campaign Finance Board a check and close the book on the campaign. A handful, however, may carry an IOU for years.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to CFB records, as of August 23, some 77 people owe a combined $2.16 million in fines or required repayment of public financing. Repayment of public funds accounted for $1.59 million of that amount. Given the hundreds of candidates who have participated in the city's pioneering and complex campaign finance system &mdash; which requires broad disclosure, offers generous public matching funds and restricts fundraising and campaign spending &mdash; and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been raised and spent since that apparatus was launched in 1989, the overdue list is fairly small.</p> <p dir="ltr">The list includes long-shot candidates who haven't been heard from since their bid for public office ended. But Assembly Member David Weprin, State Senator Jesse Hamilton, City Council Member Andrew King, and Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna are on the roster as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">McDonald looks set to join that list. Head of the prominent nonprofit The Doe Fund, he claims his violations were the result of following state campaign finance law, which has more permissible limits for campaign contributions. He screamed at the CFB during its public hearing on his campaign fundraising, claiming he&rsquo;d never pay the amount assessed.</p> <p dir="ltr">That list of 77 CFB debtors includes candidates who owe fines from as far back as the 2001 election cycle, suggesting that the board's enforcement tools could be sharper. At the same time, the presence of prominent names on the roster suggests that, for better or worse, CFB fines and repayments incurred through races gone by may shape future elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">* &nbsp;&nbsp;* &nbsp;&nbsp;* &nbsp;&nbsp;*</p> <p dir="ltr">Crafted in response to municipal corruption scandals during the Koch administration and drastic disparities in candidate spending election cycle after cycle, the city's campaign finance law limits the sizes of campaign donations and requires detailed disclosure of where candidates' money comes from and where it goes. It also offers candidates a chance at public financing: If a campaign collects a threshold amount of money from a minimum number of donors, and agrees to a cap on total campaign spending, the board will match with taxpayer money some portion of the contributions the campaign collects from New York City residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with the introduction of term limits in 2001, the public campaign finance system is credited with permitting dozens of political newcomers to mount credible campaigns for elected office in New York City. In the 2013 cycle, the board sent a combined $38.2 million in public funds to 149 campaigns; private donations to city campaigns in that cycle totaled $95 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">The campaign-finance system's twin missions of preventing corruption and using public financing to foster a more equal playing field lend themselves to strict rules about which entities can donate, how much can be accepted by campaigns, how campaign money can be spent, and the manner in which all of it is recorded and submitted to the board. To ensure compliance with those rules, the board regularly monitors campaign accounts, particularly for candidates who choose to participate in the public matching funds program. In September, a candidate from a 2015 City Council special election in Queens was <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/09/06/queens-woman-arrested-for-forging-campaign-donations/?utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=fea6e825ba-CY2016_Press_Statement_Indictment_20160907&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-fea6e825ba-290603253" target="_blank">indicted</a> for reporting fake donations in order to receive public matching funds. She was charged following a routine compliance visit by CFB personnel.</p> <p dir="ltr">"This is an example of how the CFB's rigorous audits help protect the public matching funds that ensure New Yorkers get elections focused on their interests, and not those of deep-pocketed special interests,&rdquo; said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a public statement after the indictment. &ldquo;City taxpayers should be aware that the CFB discovered the alleged fraud and that no public funds were ever paid to this candidate.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The board also conducts extensive audits of every campaign once the election is over &mdash; a process that can take CFB staff years to complete. After an audit is complete, the board holds a public hearing where candidates may appear with legal representation to explain the circumstances of any possible violations or to dispute a finding by CFB attorneys. After hearing the case, the board votes on how to address the missteps identified during the review.</p> <p dir="ltr">The most common violations it finds are accepting corporate contributions, accepting over-the-limit contributions, making improper post-election expenditures, or filing disclosure statements late.</p> <p dir="ltr">For violations of the rules, the CFB can impose fines ranging from $100 to several thousand dollars per violation. Candidates and treasurers can also be held personally liable for those penalties. In the 2009 campaign, for instance, 89 of 232 campaigns were told to pay penalties. The median penalty amount for that cycle was $3,786.</p> <p dir="ltr">The board can also order a campaign to return public financing that the board deems the campaign did not qualify to use. Of the 140 campaigns that received public funds in 2013, 87 were ordered to repay more than $1.5 million of the $38 million that was dispensed.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaigns that have money left over can use it to pay fines, but sometimes &mdash; particularly when large repayments of public funds are ordered &mdash; there is nothing left. The availability of public financing means city campaigns are now attracting true political novices &mdash; a healthy thing for democracy, but a complicating factor when it comes to collecting major fines. Some candidates simply don't have the savings or income needed to pay their debts. Others might just decide not to pay, even though they could.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its penalty letter to a candidate, the board typically gives 30 days for fines to be paid. If a candidate fails to pay fines or repay public funds, their name and the unpaid amount are posted to the CFB website. A candidate can choose to negotiate a payment plan with the board, in which case his or her name is not posted.</p> <p dir="ltr">A candidate may also choose to challenge the board&rsquo;s decision in New York State Supreme Court within four months through what is called an Article 78 proceeding. These appeals, which are usually resolved within a year, largely go in favor of the CFB.</p> <p dir="ltr">Conversely, if violators do not pay fines, the board can sue them in civil court and obtain a judgement. In those cases, the board can put a lien on a candidate&rsquo;s property and can garnish their wages. Court records indicate that since 1992 the CFB has sought court judgements against more than two dozen candidates, and often succeeded.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under a 2005 court decision, however, the board has less latitude when it comes to getting public funds repaid. While candidates are liable for fines, campaign committees are responsible for repaying public funds -- and committees often disband or run out of money before those funds can be paid back. The City Council later codified the thrust of the 2005 decision into law, tying the CFB&rsquo;s hands. Pending repayments, not fines, count for a majority of the funds due to the CFB.</p> <p dir="ltr">The board does still have some leverage, however, against candidates who may want to run in a future election: individuals are unable to receive public funds if they have any pending fines or repayments left.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Candidates who owe penalties or public funds to the CFB are ineligible to receive future payments, which provides an effective incentive for candidates to fulfill their obligations,&rdquo; Loprest said in a statement to Gotham Gazette and City Limits. &ldquo;Information about candidates&rsquo; outstanding obligations is publicly available on our website, so voters can hold candidates accountable for the conduct of their campaigns. Beyond that, the CFB makes every effort to collect the penalties and public funds repayments that candidates owe.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">And to make it known that those IOUs areout there. The overdue amounts are public knowledge. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t write things off or forgive liabilities,&rdquo; said a CFB spokesperson. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s part of the accountability of the program.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">* &nbsp;&nbsp;* &nbsp;&nbsp;* &nbsp;&nbsp;*</p> <p dir="ltr">Sixty-three former candidates currently owe penalties to the board; the largest overdue amount belongs to Felipe Luciano, an East Harlem community activist and journalist who racked up more than $54,000 in violations when he ran for City Council District 8 in 2005. Luciano was also a participant in the public matching funds program and was told to repay nearly $17,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">Also prominent on the list: Miguel Martinez, the one-time Upper Manhattan Council member who went to federal prison over a scandal dealing with stolen city money.</p> <p dir="ltr">When it comes to public funds repayment, Asembly Member Weprin's tab dwarfs all others: $319,700. The next highest is Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Reyna, who owes a repayment of $139,000. Martinez also owes the board substantial public funds repayments. Those three, along with 2001 City Council candidate Garth Marchant, represent the four largest debts to the CFB &mdash; comprising 36 percent of what the board is owed.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">MORE: <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/10/07/who-owes-money-to-the-citys-campaign-finance-board/" target="_blank">Who Owes Money to the City Campaign Finance Board</a></p> <p dir="ltr">Weprin was assessed a substantial penalty for the conduct of his 2009 campaign for city comptroller. An investment banker by trade who chaired the City Council's Finance Committee during his tenure there, Weprin was assessed $28,000 in penalties for violations like accepting money from unregistered PACs or taking over-the-limit contributions. He paid those penalties. &ldquo;The Assemblyman is committed to a fair election process and the responsible use of CFB funds,&rdquo; wrote a spokesperson for Weprin, Sumeet Sharma, in response to questions.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the public funds repayment of $319,700 is still due. That stems from Weprin&rsquo;s campaign opening a so-called segregated account, which is supposed to be used for expenses that public funds can&rsquo;t be used on, like to make donations to other candidates or to pay debt from a previous election. The CFB concluded that Weprin&rsquo;s 2009 campaign had deposited into that segregated account donations that were matched with public funds. It ordered the campaign to repay the matching funds associated with those donations. But by then, all the campaign&rsquo;s money had been spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about the board&rsquo;s findings, Weprin spokesperson Sharm told City Limits: &ldquo;In 2010, after the Committee ceased to exist, the CFB made technical revisions to funds that were originally declared as valid contributions, deeming valid contributions as invalid. These repayments were requested one year after the end of the campaign and after the Committee was disbanded,&rdquo; addding that &ldquo;the Assemblyman does not agree with all of the determinations of the CFB as these funds were spent on campaign related expenses.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The amount owed by the 2009 campaign represents an undeniable obstacle to Weprin seeking municipal office again. In 2015, when David Weprin&rsquo;s brother Mark gave up his City Council seat to take a state post, David Weprin notably did not vy to replace him--perhaps because he would have had to pay off his CFB debt if he wished to tap into public financing for such a campaign.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The CFB determined that these funds would have to be repaid by the Committee if David Weprin was to seek City Office,&rdquo; Sharma wrote. &ldquo;And althoughAssemblyman Weprin is committed to the overall mission of the CFB and will address any repayments if he does seek an office for the City of New York in the future.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">* &nbsp;* &nbsp;* &nbsp;*</p> <p dir="ltr">The fines don&rsquo;t seem to discourage people from seeking public funds to run campaigns. In the 2013 election, 92 percent of candidates on the primary ballot participated in the program, according to CFB data.</p> <p dir="ltr">But some candidates do complain that the CFB&rsquo;s disclosure and documentation requirements are severe and that the auditing process is long and drawn out. As is evident from the latest hearing, even though the CFB has about 50 employees, nearly half the agency, working full-time to audit campaigns, the process can take years.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I&rsquo;m a little bothered at the fact that three years later I&rsquo;m still being called in,&rdquo; Joel Bauza told Gotham Gazette after making his case to the CFB, &ldquo;the treasurer is still being called in&hellip;to answer questions on stuff that we submitted on time and we gave to them the reasons. I don&rsquo;t see the difference on what was written and what was said today.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Bauza also chose not to participate in the public matching funds program because of its &ldquo;tedious&rdquo; documentation requirements, a decision he said was made at the advice of State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. Bauza did praise the CFB for being informative and helpful during the entire process but insisted that there is room to improve. &ldquo;I think there&rsquo;s a lot of little tedious things, a lot of things that they need to look at again,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;What they&rsquo;re going to be questioning...Items that are noticeable where large amounts of contributions are made. Talk about those things, but little things...You&rsquo;re going into the little things that don&rsquo;t really make sense.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">To its credit, the CFB carefully examines systemic issues after each election, proposes reforms to be enacted through legislation, and does routine updates to its rules. In September, the board proposed a number of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6531-campaign-finance-board-considers-rules-changes-including-controversial-coordination-proposal" target="_blank">rules changes</a> that would, in part, make it easier for candidates to run their campaigns. The board invited feedback that was heard at the September 15 meeting and will now consider that before approving the changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sean Henry, who ran in 2013 and did avail of the public financing program, shared some of Bauza&rsquo;s views on the CFB. &ldquo;I think sometimes the compliance requirements are little bit too onerous,&rdquo; he told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Campaigns are small. Especially when you start, you don&rsquo;t have a lot of people. I think some of the documentation is not necessary. I think there are easier ways that things can be done.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He did say, though, that the CFB was &ldquo;efficient&rdquo; and &ldquo;fair&rdquo; to his campaign and in helping his people navigate the public funds program, and that he wasn&rsquo;t entirely deterred from participating again. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a good way for candidates to get involved in the process,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">NUMBERS: <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/10/07/who-owes-money-to-the-citys-campaign-finance-board/" target="_blank">Who Owes Money to the City Campaign Finance Board</a>, at City Limits</p> <p>***<br />by Samar Khurshid of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this story has been corrected to accurately reflect why Miguel Martinez went to jail, it was not related to CFB funds.</p>
Key to Vision of Closing Rikers, City Council Bail Fund Moves Through State Process 2016-03-03T21:28:32+00:00 2016-03-03T21:28:32+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6206:key-to-vision-of-closing-rikers-city-council-bail-fund-moves-through-state-process kfan <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/24339210493_21fa58928c_z.jpg" alt="MMV SOTC bail fund story" height="393" width="600" /></p> <p>Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Last year, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito unveiled <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">her plan</a> for a fund that would cover bail for poor individuals charged with low-level criminal offenses who would otherwise be forced to wait in a city jail for their court date. The Council dedicated $1.4 million of budget funds to back the project, which is nearing launch.</p> <p>The program, if successful, could not only keep hundreds of individuals from staying in jail because they can't afford bail, but also lead to the expansion of state law that oversees and licenses bail funds, allowing for more criminal charges to be covered and higher bails paid.</p> <p>The Council bail fund is going through a fairly lengthy process to get up and running, with no clear start date more than a year after the initiative was announced. Mark-Viverito recently said she expects it to be functional in the coming months, but that the bureaucratic process of getting licensed by state overseers takes time. The fund has just been approved as a not-for-profit charity by the state attorney general's office, the second in four key steps. A heightened sense of urgency around the bail plan has emerged after Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6164-mark-viverito-doubles-down-on-criminal-justice-reform-in-state-of-the-city" target="_blank">announced this year</a> that she hopes it will be a key element of actualizing "the dream" of closing Rikers Island jails.&nbsp;</p> <p>About 10,000 people are currently held in Rikers Island and other city jails, most awaiting a court appearance after being arrested for a low-level, non-violent offense. Some have been in jail for weeks or months because they can't afford bail and the criminal justice system moves at a snail's pace. It is a situation that many, including Mark-Viverito, have decried with increasing intensity over the past two years.</p> <p>"We need to take a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform that ensures a fairer system, improves police community relations, and addresses the fact that far too many of our young people – mostly low-income black and Latino males – are locked up at Rikers," Mark-Viverito said during her 2015 State of the City address.</p> <p>She continued: "For instance, if you are accused of jumping a turnstile or committing other minor offenses in New York City, you may be locked up. And if you can't afford bail you will spend on average 15 days in jail. The results are predictable: people lose their jobs, or their housing, and cannot take care of their children while they are in custody. These are people who are accused of minor offenses and are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law. This is not justice."</p> <p>During this year's State of the City address, on Feb. 11, the speaker said that she wants to see "the population of Rikers to be so small that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality." She announced a new criminal justice commission, led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, that will make recommendations for how to improve the criminal justice system.</p> <p>Last week while discussing her belief that Rikers Island should eventually be closed, Mark-Viverito cited her bail fund as something that will reduce the population over time. Asked when she expected the bail fund to start, Mark-Viverito said she is waiting to be licensed by the state.</p> <p>"We're waiting for the state, unfortunately, there's some state authorizations you need...some sort of licensure is needed," Mark-Viverito told reporters. "We needed, initially, a federal authorization, we've received that, we're waiting for the state, once that's done, we're ready to roll out. It's just we can't...without that authorization. So hopefully within the next months. It's just a normal process, obviously we are on top of it, but it's a normal process, it's bureaucratic."</p> <p>In follow-up conversation with Gotham Gazette, representatives of Mark-Viverito's office stressed the process is going well, is not an undue burden, and that the hope is to launch the program in a few months. The office said the process to incorporate the program began officially in July 2015. The first step involved registering as a non-profit on the federal level; the second, attorney general approval as a charity. With that second step complete, the application will go to the state Department of Financial Services, which licenses charitable bail funds.</p> <p>As approved by the AG, the fund shows "Initial directors" George McDonald, of The Doe Fund and David Howard, and Alphonso Wyatt, who were previously associated with the the fund. According to its bylaws, "The sole member of the Corporation shall be The Doe&nbsp;Fund, Inc., a New York not-for-profit corporation." McDonald is the founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.doe.org/" target="_blank">The Doe Fund</a>, which has worked for decades to employ, house, and train homeless New Yorkers to help them stabilize their lives.</p> <p>According to the filing, "the purpose" of the new organization will be "to assist indigent defendents charged with low-level crimes avoid the experience, complications and related hardships of pretrial detention caused by their inability to afford bail." Once it becomes a bail fund, it will "provide bail assistance" and "research, analyze and document the effectiveness and social impact of" its activities.</p> <p>Before 2012 Mark-Viverito's bail fund wouldn't have needed state approval because charitable bail funds operated in a legal gray area. That year, Bronx state Senator Gustavo Rivera successfully advocated for a state law to oversee bail funds after a judge ordered an organization in his district to stop covering bail.</p> <p>Now, as bail funds grow in popularity, Rivera said he is working with the state Department of Financial Services to smooth the application process and guide smaller groups that are interested in opening funds. Rivera said that as the evidence of the efficacy of such programs grows he hopes to expand the law that now only covers misdemeanor offenses and has a cap of $2,000 bail.</p> <p>Rivera was approached by the Bronx Defenders (a nonprofit legal defense group) in 2010 shortly after he defeated disgraced then-Sen. Pedro Espada for his seat. When the bill passed in 2012, the Bronx Freedom Fund became the state's first licensed charitable bail fund.</p> <p>Since then the group has shown promising results, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">which Mark-Viverito and others have noticed</a>. It released a study last year showing that 97 percent of its clients returned to all their court appearances - some to more than 15 dates in a row. The group says that 27 times its bail money was returned even before the conclusion of a case. Out of 188 cases, 62 percent ended in a dismissal of all charges, 22 percent in a violation that carries no record, and 12 percent with a misdemeanor plea and no jail time.</p> <p>The fund has $100,000 to pay bail and it is periodically replenished when their clients fulfill their court obligations. Individuals are interviewed by the fund to determine their eligibility. Alyssa Work, former director of the Freedom Fund, told Gotham Gazette last year that the application process involved a defendant filling out a form, and her checking to see if they have family and community ties or steady employment. She also would evaluate their criminal record.</p> <p>Rivera has held a two roundtables on bail funds and has heard some concerns from interested groups. "We've been tweaking the paperwork you have to go through to get people licensed as bondsmen," said Rivera. "We've been discussing having the application fee waived for certain smaller organizations that aren't flush with cash, some folks have found it difficult to find someone at [Department of Financial Services] to answer questions. But the most important thing is that we've been working with DFS on this all along and they've been very helpful."</p> <p>Organizations wishing to start a bail fund have to complete four major steps: register as a non-profit under federal tax laws; register as a charity under New York State law through the AG's office; obtain a charitable bail license from the state DFS; and, finally, obtain an individual bail bond license from DFS.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito's office is now on to the third step.</p> <p>Obtaining a charitable bail organization license from DFS requires a detailed <a href="http://www.dfs.ny.gov/insurance/licensing/applications/cb_org.pdf" target="_blank">application</a>, a fee of $1,000, and the fingerprinting of all officers, directors, trustees, and executive personnel.</p> <p>Rivera said that while he intends to keep working with DFS on the application process, he does "hope to eventually introduce legislation that expands the legal parameters of bail funds." Rivera continued, "Right now the cap on bail is $2,000, we might want to move that. There is a small list of offenses currently covered and we may want to expand that list. We know we are helping people whose only crime is being poor, who can't afford bail, allowing them to be able to fight for their freedom, when they otherwise might be sitting in Rikers or somewhere else."</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito said, "New York City is proud to lead the way in reforming a broken bail system that unjustly subjected our young people of color to senseless violence and abuse. By approaching this issue thoughtfully and deliberatively, we hope that our proposal for a citywide bail fund can serve as a model for other cities and municipalities seeking to change the way poverty and the criminal justice system intersect."</p> <p>Like Mark-Viverito, Sen. Rivera supports closing Rikers. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the idea&nbsp;"noble," but has said he doubts it is achievable. "My job is to level with the people of New York City," de Blasio recently told reporters. "This would cost billions and billions of dollars, be logistically very difficult, and we don't have the space right now."</p> <p>De Blasio has, however, also focused on bail reform, calling the current system unfair, with a burden that keeps the poor in jail for crimes they haven't been tried for, much less convicted of.</p> <p>De Blasio has a supervised release program scheduled to begin March 1. Funded by asset forfeiture funds from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the City Tax Levy, the program will provide judges with the option of sending those charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies to supervised release programs overseen by agencies run in each of the five boroughs, rather than setting bail. The plan is expected to eventually serve 3,000 defendants.</p> <p>"There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial," de Blasio said <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/471-15/mayor-de-blasio-17-8-million-reduce-unnecessary-jail-time-people-waiting-trial" target="_blank">in a July statement</a> announcing the program. "Money bail is a problem because – as the system currently operates in New York – some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose. This is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay."</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/24339210493_21fa58928c_z.jpg" alt="MMV SOTC bail fund story" height="393" width="600" /></p> <p>Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Last year, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito unveiled <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">her plan</a> for a fund that would cover bail for poor individuals charged with low-level criminal offenses who would otherwise be forced to wait in a city jail for their court date. The Council dedicated $1.4 million of budget funds to back the project, which is nearing launch.</p> <p>The program, if successful, could not only keep hundreds of individuals from staying in jail because they can't afford bail, but also lead to the expansion of state law that oversees and licenses bail funds, allowing for more criminal charges to be covered and higher bails paid.</p> <p>The Council bail fund is going through a fairly lengthy process to get up and running, with no clear start date more than a year after the initiative was announced. Mark-Viverito recently said she expects it to be functional in the coming months, but that the bureaucratic process of getting licensed by state overseers takes time. The fund has just been approved as a not-for-profit charity by the state attorney general's office, the second in four key steps. A heightened sense of urgency around the bail plan has emerged after Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6164-mark-viverito-doubles-down-on-criminal-justice-reform-in-state-of-the-city" target="_blank">announced this year</a> that she hopes it will be a key element of actualizing "the dream" of closing Rikers Island jails.&nbsp;</p> <p>About 10,000 people are currently held in Rikers Island and other city jails, most awaiting a court appearance after being arrested for a low-level, non-violent offense. Some have been in jail for weeks or months because they can't afford bail and the criminal justice system moves at a snail's pace. It is a situation that many, including Mark-Viverito, have decried with increasing intensity over the past two years.</p> <p>"We need to take a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform that ensures a fairer system, improves police community relations, and addresses the fact that far too many of our young people – mostly low-income black and Latino males – are locked up at Rikers," Mark-Viverito said during her 2015 State of the City address.</p> <p>She continued: "For instance, if you are accused of jumping a turnstile or committing other minor offenses in New York City, you may be locked up. And if you can't afford bail you will spend on average 15 days in jail. The results are predictable: people lose their jobs, or their housing, and cannot take care of their children while they are in custody. These are people who are accused of minor offenses and are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law. This is not justice."</p> <p>During this year's State of the City address, on Feb. 11, the speaker said that she wants to see "the population of Rikers to be so small that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality." She announced a new criminal justice commission, led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, that will make recommendations for how to improve the criminal justice system.</p> <p>Last week while discussing her belief that Rikers Island should eventually be closed, Mark-Viverito cited her bail fund as something that will reduce the population over time. Asked when she expected the bail fund to start, Mark-Viverito said she is waiting to be licensed by the state.</p> <p>"We're waiting for the state, unfortunately, there's some state authorizations you need...some sort of licensure is needed," Mark-Viverito told reporters. "We needed, initially, a federal authorization, we've received that, we're waiting for the state, once that's done, we're ready to roll out. It's just we can't...without that authorization. So hopefully within the next months. It's just a normal process, obviously we are on top of it, but it's a normal process, it's bureaucratic."</p> <p>In follow-up conversation with Gotham Gazette, representatives of Mark-Viverito's office stressed the process is going well, is not an undue burden, and that the hope is to launch the program in a few months. The office said the process to incorporate the program began officially in July 2015. The first step involved registering as a non-profit on the federal level; the second, attorney general approval as a charity. With that second step complete, the application will go to the state Department of Financial Services, which licenses charitable bail funds.</p> <p>As approved by the AG, the fund shows "Initial directors" George McDonald, of The Doe Fund and David Howard, and Alphonso Wyatt, who were previously associated with the the fund. According to its bylaws, "The sole member of the Corporation shall be The Doe&nbsp;Fund, Inc., a New York not-for-profit corporation." McDonald is the founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.doe.org/" target="_blank">The Doe Fund</a>, which has worked for decades to employ, house, and train homeless New Yorkers to help them stabilize their lives.</p> <p>According to the filing, "the purpose" of the new organization will be "to assist indigent defendents charged with low-level crimes avoid the experience, complications and related hardships of pretrial detention caused by their inability to afford bail." Once it becomes a bail fund, it will "provide bail assistance" and "research, analyze and document the effectiveness and social impact of" its activities.</p> <p>Before 2012 Mark-Viverito's bail fund wouldn't have needed state approval because charitable bail funds operated in a legal gray area. That year, Bronx state Senator Gustavo Rivera successfully advocated for a state law to oversee bail funds after a judge ordered an organization in his district to stop covering bail.</p> <p>Now, as bail funds grow in popularity, Rivera said he is working with the state Department of Financial Services to smooth the application process and guide smaller groups that are interested in opening funds. Rivera said that as the evidence of the efficacy of such programs grows he hopes to expand the law that now only covers misdemeanor offenses and has a cap of $2,000 bail.</p> <p>Rivera was approached by the Bronx Defenders (a nonprofit legal defense group) in 2010 shortly after he defeated disgraced then-Sen. Pedro Espada for his seat. When the bill passed in 2012, the Bronx Freedom Fund became the state's first licensed charitable bail fund.</p> <p>Since then the group has shown promising results, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">which Mark-Viverito and others have noticed</a>. It released a study last year showing that 97 percent of its clients returned to all their court appearances - some to more than 15 dates in a row. The group says that 27 times its bail money was returned even before the conclusion of a case. Out of 188 cases, 62 percent ended in a dismissal of all charges, 22 percent in a violation that carries no record, and 12 percent with a misdemeanor plea and no jail time.</p> <p>The fund has $100,000 to pay bail and it is periodically replenished when their clients fulfill their court obligations. Individuals are interviewed by the fund to determine their eligibility. Alyssa Work, former director of the Freedom Fund, told Gotham Gazette last year that the application process involved a defendant filling out a form, and her checking to see if they have family and community ties or steady employment. She also would evaluate their criminal record.</p> <p>Rivera has held a two roundtables on bail funds and has heard some concerns from interested groups. "We've been tweaking the paperwork you have to go through to get people licensed as bondsmen," said Rivera. "We've been discussing having the application fee waived for certain smaller organizations that aren't flush with cash, some folks have found it difficult to find someone at [Department of Financial Services] to answer questions. But the most important thing is that we've been working with DFS on this all along and they've been very helpful."</p> <p>Organizations wishing to start a bail fund have to complete four major steps: register as a non-profit under federal tax laws; register as a charity under New York State law through the AG's office; obtain a charitable bail license from the state DFS; and, finally, obtain an individual bail bond license from DFS.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito's office is now on to the third step.</p> <p>Obtaining a charitable bail organization license from DFS requires a detailed <a href="http://www.dfs.ny.gov/insurance/licensing/applications/cb_org.pdf" target="_blank">application</a>, a fee of $1,000, and the fingerprinting of all officers, directors, trustees, and executive personnel.</p> <p>Rivera said that while he intends to keep working with DFS on the application process, he does "hope to eventually introduce legislation that expands the legal parameters of bail funds." Rivera continued, "Right now the cap on bail is $2,000, we might want to move that. There is a small list of offenses currently covered and we may want to expand that list. We know we are helping people whose only crime is being poor, who can't afford bail, allowing them to be able to fight for their freedom, when they otherwise might be sitting in Rikers or somewhere else."</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito said, "New York City is proud to lead the way in reforming a broken bail system that unjustly subjected our young people of color to senseless violence and abuse. By approaching this issue thoughtfully and deliberatively, we hope that our proposal for a citywide bail fund can serve as a model for other cities and municipalities seeking to change the way poverty and the criminal justice system intersect."</p> <p>Like Mark-Viverito, Sen. Rivera supports closing Rikers. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the idea&nbsp;"noble," but has said he doubts it is achievable. "My job is to level with the people of New York City," de Blasio recently told reporters. "This would cost billions and billions of dollars, be logistically very difficult, and we don't have the space right now."</p> <p>De Blasio has, however, also focused on bail reform, calling the current system unfair, with a burden that keeps the poor in jail for crimes they haven't been tried for, much less convicted of.</p> <p>De Blasio has a supervised release program scheduled to begin March 1. Funded by asset forfeiture funds from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the City Tax Levy, the program will provide judges with the option of sending those charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies to supervised release programs overseen by agencies run in each of the five boroughs, rather than setting bail. The plan is expected to eventually serve 3,000 defendants.</p> <p>"There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial," de Blasio said <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/471-15/mayor-de-blasio-17-8-million-reduce-unnecessary-jail-time-people-waiting-trial" target="_blank">in a July statement</a> announcing the program. "Money bail is a problem because – as the system currently operates in New York – some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose. This is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay."</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Housing Groups Defend Homelessness Report After Pushback from Cuomo Administration 2016-03-01T17:43:33+00:00 2016-03-01T17:43:33+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6201:housing-groups-defend-homelessness-report-after-pushback-from-cuomo-administration kfan <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/vocal_homelessness_protest_-_matt_curtis_vocal_ny.jpg" alt="vocal homelessness protest - matt curtis vocal ny" width="600" height="337" /></p> <p>A Vocal-NY protest (Matt Curtis/Vocal-NY)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Housing groups are coming to the defense of a report issued this week that critiques Gov. Andrew Cuomo's homelessness policies and questions his attempts to place the blame for a rising homeless population on Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>Kristi Berner, spokesperson for the State's Office of Temporary and Disability insurance, slammed <a href="http://www.vocal-ny.org/publications/amid-homelessness-crisis-major-advocacy-labor-groups-release-report-demanding-action-from-new-york-state/" target="_blank">the report</a> in a statement <a href="http://m.nydailynews.com/new-york/gov-cuomo-bashed-nyc-homeless-advocacy-groups-article-1.2546821" target="_blank">to the Daily News</a> on Monday, calling it "an obvious political tactic to distract from the city's incompetence in managing the homeless problem."</p> <p>Now, The Alliance for Tenant Power Coalition and the Met Council on Housing are countering, saying that the Cuomo administration is politicizing legitimate policy issues to distract from the governor's own accountability. They say that the groups and the report are not tools of the mayor and point out that they have been critical of some of de Blasio's housing policies as well.</p> <p>"We have been, and will continue to be, critical of Mayor de Blasio's housing plan for what it will do to our communities. But he is not the only elected official who is responsible for our city's affordable housing and homeless crisis," reads the statement signed by The Alliance for Tenant Power and Met Council on Housing, which was sent to Gotham Gazette. "Governor Cuomo's actions, his refusal to fight for stronger rent laws, and his handling of the homeless crisis are all worsening a situation that is at a breaking point," the groups say.</p> <p>"We are fully supportive of the report entitled New York Needs a 21st Century Homeless and refute the claim by Cuomo's spokesperson that it is "trying to give cover to de Blasio." The only "political spin," is Cuomo's attempt to shirk his own responsibilities for exacerbating the affordable housing and homeless crisis," concludes the statement.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration declined to comment for this story. Doe Fund President George McDonald told <a href="http://m.nydailynews.com/new-york/gov-cuomo-bashed-nyc-homeless-advocacy-groups-article-1.2546821" target="_blank">the Daily News</a> in a statement that the report "seems to be most critical of people who have demonstrated the longest and most intensive commitment to serving the homeless, like Governor Cuomo, and least critical of newcomers to the crisis."</p> <p>The introduction of <a href="http://www.vocal-ny.org/publications/amid-homelessness-crisis-major-advocacy-labor-groups-release-report-demanding-action-from-new-york-state/" target="_blank">the report</a> in question, authored by DC 37, VOCAL-NY and the Community Service Society, acknowledges that the state and city face a major homelessness crisis but posits, "As bad as the current crisis is, it can be reversed – but only if Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature adopt a genuinely progressive vision and abandon the failed policies of the Pataki era."</p> <p>It continues: "Indeed, even though Cuomo has been governor for five years, his administration has done little to change the broken policies and deeply inadequate funding levels of the Pataki years. Starting now, Albany must work with the City to expand funding for permanent housing assistance and to enhance prevention efforts. Equally important, State officials need to work collaboratively with the City to make improvements to the shelter system engaging in accusations and counter-productive media skirmishes."</p> <p>Last November advocates and legislators <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5996-pressure-shifts-to-cuomo-as-de-blasio-announces-supportive-housing-plan" target="_blank">joined with de Blasio</a> in pressuring Cuomo to match the city's commitment to fund thousands of units of supportive housing. Cuomo avoided the issue until his State of the State address when he announced a $10 billion plan to create 6,000 units of supportive housing and new emergency shelter beds. Cuomo linked these investments and others to renewed state oversight of shelters around New York, especially in New York City and Buffalo.</p> <p>Since then, the Cuomo and de Blasio administrations have exchanged a host of letters over the city's handling of homeless shelters, partly in response to a series of violent incidents at shelters. The New York Times reported last month that the de Blasio administration was particularly outraged when the state issued a letter concerning a gang rape at a homeless shelter that appears to have never taken place without any investigation. City officials called the letter, which was leaked to the Post, "a media hit."</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/vocal_homelessness_protest_-_matt_curtis_vocal_ny.jpg" alt="vocal homelessness protest - matt curtis vocal ny" width="600" height="337" /></p> <p>A Vocal-NY protest (Matt Curtis/Vocal-NY)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Housing groups are coming to the defense of a report issued this week that critiques Gov. Andrew Cuomo's homelessness policies and questions his attempts to place the blame for a rising homeless population on Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>Kristi Berner, spokesperson for the State's Office of Temporary and Disability insurance, slammed <a href="http://www.vocal-ny.org/publications/amid-homelessness-crisis-major-advocacy-labor-groups-release-report-demanding-action-from-new-york-state/" target="_blank">the report</a> in a statement <a href="http://m.nydailynews.com/new-york/gov-cuomo-bashed-nyc-homeless-advocacy-groups-article-1.2546821" target="_blank">to the Daily News</a> on Monday, calling it "an obvious political tactic to distract from the city's incompetence in managing the homeless problem."</p> <p>Now, The Alliance for Tenant Power Coalition and the Met Council on Housing are countering, saying that the Cuomo administration is politicizing legitimate policy issues to distract from the governor's own accountability. They say that the groups and the report are not tools of the mayor and point out that they have been critical of some of de Blasio's housing policies as well.</p> <p>"We have been, and will continue to be, critical of Mayor de Blasio's housing plan for what it will do to our communities. But he is not the only elected official who is responsible for our city's affordable housing and homeless crisis," reads the statement signed by The Alliance for Tenant Power and Met Council on Housing, which was sent to Gotham Gazette. "Governor Cuomo's actions, his refusal to fight for stronger rent laws, and his handling of the homeless crisis are all worsening a situation that is at a breaking point," the groups say.</p> <p>"We are fully supportive of the report entitled New York Needs a 21st Century Homeless and refute the claim by Cuomo's spokesperson that it is "trying to give cover to de Blasio." The only "political spin," is Cuomo's attempt to shirk his own responsibilities for exacerbating the affordable housing and homeless crisis," concludes the statement.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration declined to comment for this story. Doe Fund President George McDonald told <a href="http://m.nydailynews.com/new-york/gov-cuomo-bashed-nyc-homeless-advocacy-groups-article-1.2546821" target="_blank">the Daily News</a> in a statement that the report "seems to be most critical of people who have demonstrated the longest and most intensive commitment to serving the homeless, like Governor Cuomo, and least critical of newcomers to the crisis."</p> <p>The introduction of <a href="http://www.vocal-ny.org/publications/amid-homelessness-crisis-major-advocacy-labor-groups-release-report-demanding-action-from-new-york-state/" target="_blank">the report</a> in question, authored by DC 37, VOCAL-NY and the Community Service Society, acknowledges that the state and city face a major homelessness crisis but posits, "As bad as the current crisis is, it can be reversed – but only if Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature adopt a genuinely progressive vision and abandon the failed policies of the Pataki era."</p> <p>It continues: "Indeed, even though Cuomo has been governor for five years, his administration has done little to change the broken policies and deeply inadequate funding levels of the Pataki years. Starting now, Albany must work with the City to expand funding for permanent housing assistance and to enhance prevention efforts. Equally important, State officials need to work collaboratively with the City to make improvements to the shelter system engaging in accusations and counter-productive media skirmishes."</p> <p>Last November advocates and legislators <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5996-pressure-shifts-to-cuomo-as-de-blasio-announces-supportive-housing-plan" target="_blank">joined with de Blasio</a> in pressuring Cuomo to match the city's commitment to fund thousands of units of supportive housing. Cuomo avoided the issue until his State of the State address when he announced a $10 billion plan to create 6,000 units of supportive housing and new emergency shelter beds. Cuomo linked these investments and others to renewed state oversight of shelters around New York, especially in New York City and Buffalo.</p> <p>Since then, the Cuomo and de Blasio administrations have exchanged a host of letters over the city's handling of homeless shelters, partly in response to a series of violent incidents at shelters. The New York Times reported last month that the de Blasio administration was particularly outraged when the state issued a letter concerning a gang rape at a homeless shelter that appears to have never taken place without any investigation. City officials called the letter, which was leaked to the Post, "a media hit."</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>