Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/987 Fri, 20 Oct 2017 10:47:14 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Now a Lobbyist, Democratic Power Broker Faces Restrictions in New Job http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6702:now-a-lobbyist-democratic-power-broker-faces-restrictions-in-new-job http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6702:now-a-lobbyist-democratic-power-broker-faces-restrictions-in-new-job Keith Wright Governor Cuomo

Keith Wright, left, & Gov. Cuomo photo: (Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


A Democratic power broker from Harlem has been hired by a prominent lobbying firm to join its efforts to influence city and state government. Formerly state Democratic Party chair and a member of the state Assembly, Keith Wright is joining Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, but under state law he must avoid matters before both chambers of the state Legislature for two years after leaving office.

Wright, who has been involved in New York politics for several decades, is currently chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party. He had been rumored as a City Council or state Senate candidate after he lost in a June Congressional primary and subsequently vacated his Assembly seat after declining to seek reelection. Wright’s move to Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP was first reported by Politico New York on Wednesday morning.

The former legislator will “immediately take on a leadership role” in the firm’s lobbying at the state and city levels, according to a press release posted on the DHC website. A partner told Gotham Gazette that Wright's exact role is still being defined.

Under New York State’s Public Officers Law, however, Wright would be barred from lobbying before the state Legislature for two years. Without commenting specifically on Wright’s case, Walter McClure, director of communications for the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, said in an email that restrictions under Section 8(a)(iii) apply to former legislators. That section of the law prohibits a former member of the Senate or Assembly from receiving compensation for “any services on behalf of any person, firm, corporation or association to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the passage of bills or resolutions by either house of the legislature.”

McClure clarified though that a former legislator “could appear before other local, state (such as agencies and/or the Executive Chamber), or federal bodies.”   

Wright has been figuring out his next step since his unsuccessful attempt for retiring Congressional Rep. Charles Rangel’s seat. Wright lost to fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat in that June primary.

“Keith Wright’s only career has been in government and he’s a valuable commodity because of his public service as an elected official,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “He needs to do what he knows and he knows how government functions very well so he is doing what I think anyone would do in his position.”

Dadey said Wright is “an honorable guy” and he should be careful not to come in contact with the state Legislature, but, “everything else is fair game” if he follows the law.

Wright’s move comes as budget negotiations will soon begin in Albany. The former Assembly member and Democratic leader has a close relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- as chair of the state party, Wright strongly advocated for the governor’s reelection in 2014. He’s also held crucial positions in the Assembly majority, chairing key committees like housing, and heads the New York County Democratic Party Committee.

“We’ve known Keith for a lot of years,” said Charles Capetanakis, partner at DHC and member of the firm’s management committee. Capetanakis said Wright would be part of the government relations team but could not specify in what capacity. “His role and involvement is yet to be determined,” he said, noting the prohibitions that Wright will face under state law. Wright was not made available for comment.

In the announcement of his hire, Wright said, “While I will always cherish my time as a New York State Assemblyman, I am ready for a new challenge."

DHC's "team of lobbyists" is "led by Sid Davidoff in New York City and Steve Malito in Albany," according to the firm, and "DHC Government Relations clients have included Fortune 500 companies, major cultural institutions, land developers, government contractors, educational institutions, municipalities, public authorities, community interest groups, labor and professional organizations, non-profit corporations, and charities. We have seen success in local, state, and federal advocacy efforts in all of these areas."

Government watchdogs do warn that Wright must tread carefully in his new role on the other side of the fence. “[Wright] has to be very careful in the ethically charged political environment in Albany,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “My advice to the assemblyman is to follow the spirit, not just the letter of the law in terms of how he deals with government.”

Although Horner acknowledged that Wright’s new employment opportunity is “perfectly allowed” under state law and is “a well-tried path” for many lawmakers, he said his organization would instead like to see a more comprehensive ban on lobbying across the state Legislature and the Executive.

Citizens Union’s Dadey said, “There is a bright line there that can be followed and [Wright] needs to make sure he follows it, between the Executive and the Legislature. He can influence what the Executive branch presents and decides on the budget but he can’t come anywhere near any legislative activity. There are two halves to this budget process and he needs to make sure he stays in only one half.”

[Read: Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Now a Lobbyist, Democratic Power Broker Faces Restrictions in New Job Thu, 05 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo’s Minimum Wage Nonprofit Through the Lens of His New Regulatory Scheme http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6498:cuomo-s-minimum-wage-nonprofit-through-the-lens-of-his-new-regulatory-scheme http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6498:cuomo-s-minimum-wage-nonprofit-through-the-lens-of-his-new-regulatory-scheme mario cuomo campaign for economic justice bus capitol

photos via The Governor's Office on Flickr


Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo successfully advocated for the passage of a $15 minimum wage plan with the help of major labor unions and a nonprofit they created called The Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice. Teaming with 1199-SEIU, the health care workers union, and 32BJ-SEIU, the buildings workers union, Cuomo made campaign stops in an RV paid for by the nonprofit, which was funded largely by unions.

In a complicated confluence of relationships, Cuomo’s government office notified the press about the events and streamed the governor’s appearances at rallies organized by the group; while his reelection campaign spokesperson served in that role for MCCEJ. Cuomo’s office and the MCCEJ at times appeared to be one.

After the state budget agreement reached at the start of April included the $15 wage phase-in, the campaign celebrated success and closed up shop.

Later in the legislative session, in June, Cuomo created and won passage of a package of reforms that define new restrictions on coordination among candidate campaigns, former government employees, and Super PACs; and stricter reporting requirements of donors to Super PACs. Another aspect of the legislation, which Cuomo signed into law on Wednesday, requires more reporting of donors to nonprofit advocacy groups and reporting of some of their previously private communications.

Cuomo calls the bill an historic stand against dark money, the influence of Super PACs, and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened up the floodgates for major, secretive political donations.

“New York is taking aggressive action to restore the people’s faith in government and increase accountability and transparency in the electoral process,” Cuomo said in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. “These actions roll back the disastrous influence of Citizens United and prohibit coordination between candidates and independent expenditure committees. Through enhanced enforcement and increased penalties for political consultants who flout the law, this new legislation will root out bad actors and shine a spotlight on the sordid influence of dark money in politics. With this legislation, New York is raising the bar once again – and now it’s time for the rest of the nation to follow suit.”

On the other hand, many reform advocates believe the bill is both a strange mix of regulations and ones that do very little to address areas where there has been real corruption in New York, namely among state legislators.

Robert Perry, legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says Cuomo has pushed through a confusing bag of proposals and that the way it was presented belies the ways in which the bill will impact small issue-based nonprofits.

“This legislation was touted and marketed as an attempt to address corruption in campaign expenditures - secretly collaborating with candidates in violation of the law - but the bill goes far beyond campaign and coordination,” said Perry. “Context is important. Look at the bill, it is full of broad sweeping provisions and disclosure requirements that have nothing to do with campaign expenditures that include organizations that aren’t even involved in lobbying, but pure issue advocacy. This bill will have a chilling impact on their donors.”

Perry points out that the bill is further confusing because the areas of law regarding political spending by groups like Super PACs and nonprofit advocacy groups are completely separate and yet the bill puts them side by side.

In Cuomo’s not-too-distant past, he aligned himself with a nonprofit formed by business interests to advocate for his agenda, the Committee to Save New York. Like Mayor Bill de Blasio’s more recent Campaign for One New York, Cuomo’s group was shut down amid criticism and controversy. The new regulations would apply to these types of groups in terms of donor disclosure. Cuomo’s group did not disclose its donors; de Blasio’s group did so voluntarily. The Committee to Save New York was not the subject of federal investigation whereas the Campaign for One New York is as authorities probe whether government favors were promised or delivered in exchange for donations to the nonprofit.

Critics have said that the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, like de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York, created a shadow government apparatus, in this case where government employees did work for lobbying groups and consultants were paid for their efforts by the MCCEJ while also representing Cuomo’s campaign.

“Clearly the governor is coordinating with this outside entity, and the governor's political operatives seem to have basically been set up and guiding it,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, told Politico New York in February. “This is setting up a shadow government and it blurs the line between private campaigning and public policy. The goal is an admirable one, but the way it is being done gives us pause.”

Cuomo appeared to criticize de Blasio’s relationship with the Campaign for One New York while unveiling his reform plan in June. “The collusion, the coordination, the subterfuge, the fraud in the current political system is rampant,” Cuomo said, according to The Observer, without naming de Blasio’s group. When speaking with reporters after the event, Gotham Gazette twice asked the governor for examples of the types of groups he was targeting, but Cuomo declined to name any, saying that he did not want to accuse anyone of illegality at that time.

The new restrictions on coordination would have no impact on the MCCEJ or even the Campaign for One New York - both are nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy groups and thus only subject to the additional donor transparency requirements.

Political action committees, or PACs, are tied to candidates, while independent expenditure campaigns, commonly referred to as Super PACs, are not allowed to coordinate with candidate campaigns. Both operate during elections to influence their outcomes - those groups register and report their fundraising to the Board of Elections. New restrictions on coordination and additional reporting requirements will apply to Super PACs.

“The members of 1199SEIU have been proud to be a part of raising the minimum wage to $15 for nearly three million working New Yorkers, and passing the strongest paid family leave law in the nation. We hope that similar efforts are successful throughout the country, so that working people can provide a better future for their families and we can rebuild the middle-class.” said Mark Riley, press secretary for 1199SEIU, in a statement. The union declined to make its president, George Gresham, who served as chair of the MCCEJ, available to discuss how the campaign was coordinated.

Cuomo mario cuomo campaign economic justice speechSources close to the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice told Gotham Gazette that the new rules on nonprofit donor disclosure would have had no impact on the MCCEJ as they lower the thresholds for nonprofits to report donors, but donations to the MCCEJ were already covered by the old lobbying law.

Now, more disclosure is required of smaller donors after nonprofits spend smaller amounts of total money on lobbying. The MCCEJ’s donations appear to mostly have come in large sums. But, it will be impossible to know until the MCCEJ’s final disclosure documents are made public by the state regulatory agency they must report to: JCOPE, the Joint Committee on Public Ethics.

So far, all of the reported donations to MCCEJ far exceed the new reporting requirements and therefore were covered by the old law. The SEIU Labor Management Initiative donated $637,781 in February and then gave the same amount again in April; Service Employees International gave $212,594 in January; in March, RWDSU Realty Group donated $63,778 in March; The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council gave $85,038; and the SEIU1199 New York State Political Action Fund gave $85,038.

New York’s previous lobbying act requires nonprofits that fit under the 501(C)(4) designation of the IRS tax code to disclose donations of over $5,000 and the personal information of those who make such donations if the group has spent more than $50,000 on lobbying in a calendar year. The new bill sets the total lobbying disclosure threshold at $15,000, while requiring disclosure of donations of more than $2,500, as well as those donors’ personal information. The MCCEJ is expected to have spent around $2 million from January to July.

Sources told Gotham Gazette that MCCEJ disclosed its donors to JCOPE in July but the filing has yet to be made public. Most MCCEJ activity occurred in the early months of 2016 when Cuomo and company traveled the state on the $15 minimum wage campaign. The group’s final filing should be available in September.

The new law also requires 501(C)(4) groups to disclose to the Attorney General any communications, whether written, broadcast or otherwise, having to do with legislation, votes on legislation, pending legislation, government action on rules, regulations or the decisions of any legislative or executive administrative body.

A number of issue-focused nonprofits, some that lobby and some that do not, are opposed to the new rules because, unlike the MCCEJ, they do not enjoy a close relationship with the Cuomo administration or other parts of state government.

The MCCEJ would likely have been subject to and impacted by this communication disclosure rule, but the group existed in that fairly unique position - its communications were already likely privy to the Cuomo administration and its donors were not likely to ever fear political reprisal for their support of the group’s lobbying efforts.

“The problem becomes when the law applies to groups that are not sponsored and created by the chief executive of the state,” said Perry.

The NYCLU urged Cuomo to veto the bill, saying that it violates freedom of speech and will temper donations to small issue-advocacy groups because donors will fear being exposed and possible reprisals. “This will have a chilling effect,” said Perry. “This intrusive, burdensome, regulatory scheme where you have to provide a donor's name and address will intimidate donors and reduce their willingness to engage due to the prospect of retaliation from the government, or someone else who disagrees with them.”

Mike Durant, New York State director of the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that lobbied against the minimum wage hike said he found it quite challenging to go up against the combination of Cuomo and well-funded labor groups. Durant’s organization, a national nonprofit, is still reviewing what, if any, impact the new regulations will have on it.

Durant said he is concerned about the new laws and how they might affect dissent and perhaps earn political retribution. “It’s always been a concern with any governor, but with this governor it’s a bit heightened,” he said. “You can't stifle opposition. Government is supposed to be an argument between various sides about an issue and you see where that argument goes. Stifling dissent is not doing the public any favors.”

Doug Kellogg of Reclaim New York, a group focused on government transparency that has been critical of Cuomo in general and this legislation specifically, said that it's almost impossible to gauge how groups will be impacted because it is still uncertain how JCOPE will administer the law.

Kellogg noted that JCOPE can set exemptions for certain groups. “They get to determine whether a donor has legitimate fear of retaliation, and thus does not have to have their name released,” he said. “It's completely twisted to have a government spinoff that's not fully subject to basic transparency law deciding which citizens that fear retaliation for their speech get to stay private, and which have their names published. Until we see it in practice, we can't be sure how awful the law will truly be, but it’s definitely going to be ugly.”

JCOPE approved a set of regulations having to do with the law earlier this month. Many groups are anxiously waiting to see how the new regulations are actually enforced.

Perry of NYCLU and a host of good government groups including Citizens Union, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and Common Cause New York say that the governor has given no evidence that these new disclosure rules for nonprofits will do anything to impact corruption.

They say unlike the convictions of Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver and the dozens of other legislators who have been removed from their seats, a trend that demonstrates a corruption epidemic in the Legislature, there is no indicator that nonprofits need more regulation.

“As you know, non-profit charities are already tightly regulated by the Internal Revenue Service,” the groups wrote Cuomo in a letter urging him to veto the bill. “These organizations, known as 501(c)(3)s have strict limits on their lobbying involvement – limitations that amount to a small fraction of their budgets. They are forbidden from intervening in political campaigns on penalty of being disqualified as a charity. Yet, with no demonstrated evidence of a problem and no evidence of any meaningful problems in New York State (evidence, which if it existed, you could have brought to light in a public debate) you assert that such a problem exists. As a result, these parts generally harm charitable organizations in the state through their lack of clarity and astoundingly broad reach. Rather than being targeted, the bill would impose onerous requirements on many nonprofits and inhibit contributions to nonprofits seeking to carry out charitable work, and could jeopardize the ability of many nonprofit organizations to operate in New York.”

Asked whether Cuomo had evidence there was corruption or malfeasance among these groups, Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever forwarded a Times Union article titled “Who Funds New York’s Good Government Groups?” The article says that some groups are not always forthright about their donors, but that on the whole most are; while also noting that at times a group has released a report related to a donor with a particular interest.

Lever also provided a comment that the administration has widely circulated in response to criticism of the new legislation, which Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi has also tweeted in response to recent articles on the matter: “Everyone is all for transparency, except when it comes to them. We are just surprised to learn that applies to self-appointed good-government groups, too.”

A lawsuit challenging the bill is expected in the coming months - the suit will likely argue the law is an overreach and violates the First Amendment.

Lever did not respond to a question regarding whether Cuomo is concerned about the blurring of the lines between government and nonprofit lobbying as in the case of the Campaign for One New York and the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice.

Asked about the new ethics laws on Thursday, Cuomo told reporters that it wasn’t everything he was hoping for, but still important. “The ethics bill is a major step forward,” Cuomo said, according to State of Politics. “Is it everything? No. Ethics in many ways is like other activities in life, right? That old line — you can never be too rich, you can never be too thin. Well, you can never be too ethical. So, you get everything done that you can get done. But you stay at it and you work at. More and more disclosure, more trust.”

Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that the law has served as a distraction in a year when Albany has been rocked by the conviction of two former legislative leaders and a federal investigation into Cuomo’s economic development projects. “This is classic Albany misdirection,” said Horner. “Here we are all talking about (C)(4)s and nonprofits and it's distracting us from discussing corruption in the Legislature and Executive. It is absolutely cynical, but it's effective.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization fo Citizens Union.

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Cuomo’s Minimum Wage Nonprofit Through the Lens of His New Regulatory Scheme Mon, 29 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
For Cuomo, Passing Ethics Bill was Urgent, Signing It is Not http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6476:for-cuomo-passing-ethics-bill-was-urgent-signing-it-is-not http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6476:for-cuomo-passing-ethics-bill-was-urgent-signing-it-is-not cuomo state of the state ethics podium

Gov. Cuomo during his 2016 State of the State (via The Governor's Office)


After nearly two months, Governor Andrew Cuomo requested on Friday that the Legislature send him an ethics reform package he personally designed and pushed the Legislature to pass in June with the assistance of a message of necessity he issued to speed the process. The governor now has 10 days to sign it, which he is expected to do.

Announced by Cuomo late in the legislative session, the actual bill was then a mystery for days before being introduced in the wee hours of the morning on the final day of the session. Thanks to the governor’s message, the bill was not required to age the otherwise-mandatory three days and legislators passed it within hours despite mostly not being familiar with it.

The legislation deals with putting more scrutiny and regulations on independent expenditure campaigns and non-profit advocacy groups, known at times as 501(c)(4)s (for their tax classification) and Super PACs, which can support or oppose candidates for office, but not coordinate with them. The legislation requires greater disclosure of donors and donations, and gives stricter guidelines of who can work for the groups and what constitutes coordination between a group and a candidate.

“For the first time, independent expenditure groups and PACs will be required to adhere to unprecedented disclosure requirements, and New York will have the nation’s strongest rules defining and governing coordination and independence,” Cuomo said in a statement announcing an agreement on the legislation in June.

Cuomo has already received hundreds of bills from the Legislature since session ended in June and it has not been clear why he took weeks to request one of his own signature bills. Just before Cuomo asked the Legislature for the bill, spokesperson Dani Lever told Gotham Gazette, “We plan to call the bill down and sign it in the coming weeks.” 

The matter of prioritization for the bill-signing also underscores questions about the bill being necessary in the first place, but also issue that many took with Cuomo’s abandonment of other, more pressing government ethics and campaign finance reform proposals, many of which he had previously claimed to champion.

Many legislators and advocates disagreed with Cuomo’s assessment that the new bill required emergency action, saying that super PACs were not an issue in the major corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and other recently disgraced legislators. It was a distraction, critics say, from the real issues facing Albany like closing the LLC loophole, eliminating current and potential conflicts of interest, and more. Some say the bill seeks to stifle contributions to issue advocacy groups that campaign for changes to environmental, education, criminal justice, government ethics, and other policies.

Discussing the legislation, Robert Perry, legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) said, "This is a complex regulatory scheme that requires nonprofits to report not only the donations they make but that they receive, as well as their communications on issues that are important to the public. This should be of grave concern to the public as it reaches out to groups that do not engage in lobbying or campaigns but work on issues that impact us all. The lobbying law is not a place to insert reporting requirements and restrictions. They are running headlong into constitutionally protected activities."

Cuomo put the bill on the table late in the legislative session after it had become clear that the majority of the ethics reforms he proposed in his State of the State address would not pass in the Legislature, especially the Republican-controlled Senate. Many have questioned Cuomo’s commitment to his reform agenda, which he held no events to promote. When announcing the new bill June 8, Cuomo gave a booming speech about money in politics at Fordham Law School, decrying the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and calling his proposal a national model.

Before Cuomo even called the legislation to his desk, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) passed a series of emergency regulations prompted by the bill that will go into effect 30 days after the governor does sign it. Observers see JCOPE moving at an unprecedented pace.

JCOPE regulations would change the donor disclosure limits that currently require groups spending more than $50,000 in a year on an issue or on behalf of a candidate for office disclose their donors of more than $5,000. Under the new law, groups that spend more than $15,000 would have to disclose donors of more than $2,500.

Even more irksome to many lobbyists and nonprofits is the fact that the regulations are set to be retroactive for five months before the bill was actually introduced, going back to the beginning of the year.

“I am mystified at how an agency can push through regulations that are retroactive for a bill that hasn't even become law,” said Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group. “I’m not sure why it matters so much right now as [Albany] lobbyists won’t be at work until January and the Legislature is not in session right now.”

Seth Agata, executive director of JCOPE, responded to concerns raised by Horner and others in a statement:

“The timetable in the emergency regulations the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has begun promulgating was set by the Governor and Legislature in the bill that was passed near-unanimously. The regulations only become effective 30 days after the Governor signs the legislation which is when the law becomes effective – there is no retroactive application. By acting now, JCOPE has released these emergency regulations for extended public comment before they become effective, and indeed, before they even become permanent. The Legislature and Governor have clearly spoken and enacted a law that expands the disclosure of sources of funding, and imposes those new disclosure requirements as soon as the law becomes effective, regardless of when contributions were made. JCOPE must effectuate that mandate. ”

Issues of speed and timing are at play for other portions of the bill. As Politico NY reported on Thursday, 11 sections of the bill go into effect 30 days after it is signed. One of those includes language detailing what kind of interaction is forbidden between a candidate campaign and a Super PAC. Since the bill was not signed by Sunday, the rules will not be in effect for the September primaries, when all 213 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot. Some Super PACS have been spending in city races already.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan embraced Cuomo’s push, introducing the bill himself in the Senate. Both Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, appeared behind Cuomo’s use of a message of necessity to rush the bill through. Such messages are supposed to only be used in the case of emergency as the three-day aging period is designed to give the public and legislators a chance to review a measure before it comes to a vote.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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For Cuomo, Passing Ethics Bill was Urgent, Signing It is Not Thu, 11 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
5 Things State Lawmakers Can Do To Prevent Another Silver http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6318:5-things-state-lawmakers-can-do-to-prevent-another-silver http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6318:5-things-state-lawmakers-can-do-to-prevent-another-silver cuomo silver et al 2013

Silver, Cuomo, and others (photo via The Governor's Office, 2013)


Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was perceived by many to be an institution of state government. Having served at the head of the Democrat-controlled Assembly for over a decade, Silver’s rule was iron-fisted and opaque - he could end a political career on a whim, kill a major policy initiative with a quiet grumble, and maneuver millions of dollars in state cash to recipients of his choice.

That all ended last year when Silver was indicted by the U.S. Attorney on multiple corruption charges and voted out of leadership. For a few weeks he sat at a desk like a rank-and-file member of the chamber he once dominated. Even then some legislators thought there was a chance Silver would survive the scandal, but that was until he was convicted on all counts in late November. On Tuesday, Judge Valerie Caproni reminded Silver of the finality of his conviction, sentencing him to 12 years in prison, ordering him to pay back more than $5 million in ill-gotten riches, and fining him $1.75 million.

“I hope the sentence I impose on you will make other politicians think twice, until their better angels take over,” Judge Caproni told Silver. “Or, if there are no better angels, perhaps the fear of living out one’s golden years in an orange jumpsuit will keep them on the straight and narrow.”

As tough as Silver’s sentence might seem, there are a number of reformers that fear it is just another in a parade of sentences handed out to state legislators who violate the public trust and that without real reform politicians will be able to continue using their power to earn outside income that is tied to policy decisions, that they’ll be able to steer state funding to those they do business with.

Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) told reporters at a press conference a little more than an hour before Silver’s sentencing that he feared Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators will be content to act on only one reform measure this year: the first vote of two that is required to change the constitution so that lawmakers convicted of a felony are stripped of their state pensions. Both Silver and former Senate President Dean Skelos, also convicted late last year of public corruption, are set to receive hefty pensions.

“If that’s all they did they might as well not do anything,” said Horner. “You would think that going to prison would be a far more scary prospect than a loss of pension,” Horner said, noting that prison terms have not yet proven to be a real deterrent. Silver is joining a long list of former New York legislators to serve prison time.

NYPIRG and other government reform groups including Common Cause NY, Citizens Union, League of Women Voters NYS, and Reinvent Albany held simultaneous news conferences in Albany and New York City on Tuesday to call on lawmakers to act to prevent corruption in state government. They released a list of five reforms they want to see enacted immediately.

Good government leaders and reform-minded legislators say that the Legislature needs to take action to focus on preventing crimes instead of worrying about how to punish legislators once they have already been committed.

“What we want today are preventive measures,” said Laura Ladd Bierman of League of Women Voters. Reformers are calling, she said, not for more punishments, but for “things that prevent [corruption] in the first place.”

On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Todd Kaminsky was sworn in after winning the special election to replace Skelos. Asked by reporters if he thought there would be any consequences to the recent ethics scandals, Kaminsky said he thought his election was one direct consequence.

“I think my election is one of those results of what happens when you don't get reforms. I took a seat that was held by the same party since I was in first grade,” said Kaminsky, himself a former federal prosecutor of public corruption who helped put crooked New York lawmakers behind bars. “Things don't change lightly, they change when there are big seismic changes and I think thats whats happening.”

Silver’s replacement, current Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, struck a somber tone with reporters, but said that it was time for life to go on and that most state legislators are good, hard-working people, though there are always a few bad apples in every industry.

Later on Tuesday, Kaminsky issued a statement on Silver’s sentencing, saying “justice was served.”

“But the fight to clean up our government is far from over,” Kaminsky said. “Silver's sentencing should serve as a reminder that serious changes still need to be made in Albany. Our elected officials must act swiftly and strongly before the legislative session is over to put an end to the parade of corrupt politicians who have cut taxpayers out in our state for too long.”

Largely similar to the list put forth by reformers on Tuesday, here are five things lawmakers can do over the next few weeks to help limit corruption in New York:

1. Ban or Limit Outside Income
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 budget proposal included a bill that would restrict lawmakers outside income to 15 percent of their legislative salaries, which are currently $79,500 per year, mirroring the Congressional model. Silver was convicted of receiving payments from a law firm for which the only service he provided was referring sufferers of a deadly form of cancer.

Silver steered state funding to a doctor who in turn provided Silver’s law firm with the name of Mesothelioma patients. The arrangement earned Silver over $3 million in referral fees.

A number of other legislators work or have worked as counsel to law firms that may have business pending before the state, others have worked as lobbyists or consultants. Backers of Cuomo’s plan and ones like it say that legislators’ first loyalty should be to the people of New York and not to an outside employer.

However, legislators complain that their annual salary is not adequate. A pay commission is currently considering raises for the Legislature and the executive branch.

The Assembly has advanced its own bill to limit legislators’ outside income to almost $70,000 annually, a number that represents about 90 percent of current legislative salaries.

Senate Republicans have balked at the idea of limiting outside income. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who left his outside practice when he replaced Skelos last year, has said he opposes a ban or strict limits. Republican Senator John DeFrancisco has argued that a ban would dissuade well-qualified people from public service. “I think you’re eliminating a lot of good people in government,” DeFrancisco told State of Politics in January. “If anyone really thinks creating a professional politician is going to root out corruption, where that politician is required every two years to win an election, I don’t think that’s a road to any less corruption.”

Kaminsky disagrees. On Tuesday after his swearing in, he said, “To have both leaders of both houses convicted and not having moved on outside income is unconscionable. We’ve got 21 session days starting in about ten minutes, so let's get to it.”

2. Create Stronger Budget Oversight and Transparency
In a new report, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli criticizes this year’s budget for relying on lump sum appropriations. Silver was able to tap into hundreds of thousands of dollars of those sums to provide support for the doctor who provided him with referrals. The funds are not subject to public scrutiny.

Good government groups want such lump sums either banned or included in a newly created database to track exactly who requests the cash, who ends up spending it, and how it is spent. A Citizens Union report recently revealed that the 2016-2017 budget contains $2.4 billion in lump-sum spending.

3. Confront Pay-to-Play
Entities with business before the state are also some of the biggest campaign contributors. Good government groups say it creates at the very least an appearance of an inherent conflict of interest wherein those who give the most end up with favorable legislation, state contracts, and business subsidies. New York City currently places very strict limits on campaign donations from anyone with business before the city as part of its public-matching program, which the state does not have.

In another part of his scheme, Silver encouraged real estate groups with business before the state to use a law firm he was connected to in exchange for kickbacks from the firm. Real estate interests are some of the biggest donors in the state and have been allowed to negotiate policy by Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature.

4. Close the LLC Loophole
Real estate and other groups have been able to game the state’s already lax campaign finance limits by using a loophole that allows the creation of mysterious limited liability corporations with the express purpose of donating to favored politicians. “We have the highest limits in the country of any state that has any and even those limits get circumvented,” said Horner.

Leonard Litwin - who had previously been the largest campaign donor in the state - described to prosecutors how he and his corporation, Glenwood Management Inc., used the system to get around contribution limits.

Richard Runes, a lobbyist overseeing Glenwood’s government relations, detailed the process during Silver’s trial, saying: “I would take the checks, and I would attach my business card to the check with a paper clip, put it in a 1200 Union Turnpike envelope, and deliver it to whichever campaign committee it was going to,” referring to Glenwood’s address.

5. Ethics Watchdog Independence
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), tasked with policing lobbying and ethics in the state, is renowned for its opaqueness and lack of major action. The body is made up of legislative and gubernatorial appointees, and the three chairs it has had in its short existence have all served as aides to Gov. Cuomo (one of them even returned to Cuomo’s direct employment after leaving the body).

The commission has routinely been crippled by infighting, with legislative appointees calling for less influence from the governor’s office, and JCOPE largely conducts its business in secret. The appointees of both Silver and Skelos have lingered on after their bosses were convicted of public corruption.

“We need to have a much better enforcement mechanism,” said Horner. “The fact that JCOPE has been relegated to the sidelines shows the need for better enforcement. We shouldn't have to rely on the federal government to police the state. We don't want a group that is solely a creature of the Governor and Legislature.”

“JCOPE needs to be an open entity,” Horner added. “It’s a public ethics watchdog, we should know as much we can know about it within reason.”

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

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to reflect the two Tuesday news conferences and that a list of reforms was put forth.

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

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5 Things State Lawmakers Can Do To Prevent Another Silver Tue, 03 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Conflict of Interest, Leaked Memo Cloud De Blasio Accusations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6307:conflict-of-interest-leaked-memo-cloud-de-blasio-accusations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6307:conflict-of-interest-leaked-memo-cloud-de-blasio-accusations de blasio podium

De Blasio (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)


The revelation that it was Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s chosen enforcement counsel at the Board of Elections who sparked an investigation into Mayor BIll de Blasio’s fundraising activities, in the mayor’s 2014 effort to flip control of the state Senate, has raised a number of questions about motivation and independence.

De Blasio has asserted his innocence, saying that he and his associates followed the letter of the law. He and his lawyer have used Risa Sugarman, the BOE enforcement counsel who used to work for Cuomo, and the leak of her referral to investigators to discredit allegations that the fundraising he spearheaded broke election laws. Analysts say these arguments, in which de Blasio has repeatedly questioned Sugarman’s “motivations,” are at least somewhat effective because the governor has a long history of stacking state watchdog organizations, boards, and agencies with his friends, long-time employees, and political donors.

“There is pervasive conflict of interest under Governor Cuomo, including in the areas of ethics enforcement he has a hand in,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany. “Risa Sugarman should not be the enforcement counsel at BOE, just as Seth Agata should not be executive director of JCOPE. They are seen by many as Cuomo loyalists, not independent actors. Their relationship to Cuomo colors everything they do, including investigating the governor's political foes.”

Headlines featuring Cuomo and de Blasio’s ongoing political feud have dominated newspapers for nearly two years now. Cuomo has come to routinely undermine de Blasio through the many levers he controls as the head of state government. He has stymied de Blasio at many turns, holding back funding for affordable housing, homelessness prevention, the MTA, and more, while holding hostage issues of rent regulations, the 421-a tax abatement, and extension of mayoral control of schools.

If there is one thing Cuomo is famous for in Albany, beside his precise and prodigious understanding of the mechanics of governing, it is his taste for political vengeance and Machiavellian political vendettas. De Blasio’s very public pointing out of the latter in June took their feud to another level.

By many accounts Sugarman’s report on de Blasio’s fundraising highlights major and valid questions about the state’s campaign finance system and the legality of de Blasio’s methods. Jennifer Rodgers, former assistant U.S. Attorney and current executive director of the Center For The Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia University, told Gotham Gazette that after reviewing the state statutes and Sugarman’s report, she thinks there is good reason to believe the law was violated, but admitted there is enough discretion that a district attorney may decide there is not enough hard proof of intent.

On Wednesday evening, de Blasio’s administration said that “City Hall” had been subpoenaed by the offices of District Attorney Cy Vance - who the BOE referral went to three months ago - and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “The Mayor has not been personally served,” the statement from de Blasio counsel Maya Wiley reads.

There are multiple investigations of de Blasio and his associations occurring at once - another has to do with donations to a non-profit established by the mayor’s allies and whether city action was offered or given in return. The Wall Street Journal has reported that mayoral aides and consultants have been subpoenaed.

The questions raised by Sugarman’s connections to Cuomo and the leak of her referral to Vance have been key to de Blasio’s defense of himself, along with saying that he broke no laws and that others have used similar tactics that he and his team used in moving money to state Senate candidates.

Asked about the BOE-referred investigation on Monday, de Blasio relied on a letter from Laurence Laufer, a lawyer who represents the mayor and a number of de Blasio’s fundraisers. Laufer raised questions about Sugarman’s “motivations” and said that the fact that the memo was leaked to the press increases the impression the investigation was politically motivated. De Blasio said similarly.

"I am quite certain that all of you will get to the truth about that,” de Blasio said to reporters of the leak on Monday. “I am quite certain that you will be able to uncover whatever motivations may have existed. But we can say this: a government officer is supposed to honor their responsibilities, and first of all that should never have been put into the public domain, and second of all, when you look at how inconsistent it is with state law, it begs the question 'what was the underlying motivation,' but I have confidence that all of you will get to the bottom of it."

De Blasio has said that he believes his fundraising tactics were legal and that all of his plans were “vetted” by lawyers. The leak and Sugarman’s connections to Cuomo have offered him a public defense to what many say is a fairly damning report.

Sugarman detailed how de Blasio and his allies planned and executed a program to subvert campaign finance limits by funneling major donations through county political committees and having the cash sent directly to candidates in heated races. The donation limits to county committees are far higher than to candidate committees and there are no limits on donations from the former to the latter.

The referral spurred by Sugarman, and voted onward by the four-member Board of Elections, is now in the hands of District Attorney Vance, a Democrat like Cuomo and de Blasio.

Other concerns about Sugarman’s actions include that her report appears to ignore not only the past use of similar tactics by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and both major political parties, but also the fact that members of the governor’s office were kept informed of the de Blasio-led plan to flip the Senate, including the ways in which money was being moved, if not involved in it outright.

These question marks add to the skepticism of some observers who think that Sugarman was acting in Cuomo’s interest. Cuomo administration officials stress that Sugarman was nominated by Cuomo, but had to be approved by the Legislature and acts independently.

The Daily News and the New York Times reported that Sugarman took up her investigation after complaints were filed by Republican voters in Senate districts targeted by de Blasio’s efforts. Sugarman then carried out an investigation, presented her findings to the four Board of Elections commissioners, two of whom are Republicans and two of whom are Democrats. They approved her referral to the Manhattan DA.

Cuomo’s office has denied it was aware of Sugarman’s investigation.

The impression that Albany’s ethics watchdogs are not actually independent has been festering for years as Cuomo has seen to it that three of his former longtime employees have headed the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Cuomo nominated Sugarman to the BOE after the position was created in a 2014 deal with the Legislature that killed the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, another entity with many questions around independence from the governor. Cuomo has said conflicting things about whether Moreland was his commission or independent.

Sugarman came to the BOE counsel position from the Department of Taxation of Finance, where she was a deputy commissioner. Before that she worked as a deputy commissioner of The Division of Criminal Justice Services and for four years at the Attorney General’s office under Cuomo.

Members of the Board of Elections, who are political appointees, have complained since Sugarman took charge that they are kept in the dark about enforcement actions and are concerned Sugarman is free to act out of political expediency. Doug Kellner, a Democratic BOE commissioner since 2005, said that any attempt to ascertain Sugarman’s method of enforcement has been rebuffed. “She has made it clear she won't answer those questions because she feels she is independent,” Kellner told Gotham Gazette.

Kellner agreed with concerns raised by Laurence Laufer, a lawyer who represents some of the fundraisers involved in the case, including de Blasio, that the leaking of the memo could be politically motivated. "In any event, the leak is certainly a highly prejudicial and perhaps politically-motivated act, which is contrary to both your non-partisan, independent function and to the bi-partisan charge of the agency by which you are employed – that is, if you or your office was responsible, directly or indirectly," Laufer wrote to Sugarman in a letter made public.

Republican BOE commissioner Gregory Peterson told Gotham Gazette that he was concerned about “selective enforcement” and thought that it was possible that it occurred with this referral. “This case may have been selective enforcement, but I think she was right on,” Peterson said.

Rodgers said that “independence” is key for any oversight board. “It is concerning that she has this history, it's also concerning that she isn’t being transparent with her commissioners. If you are doing everything by the facts, independently and following the law then you should have no problem explaining how you pursue enforcement.”

She noted that there are checks on Sugarman - she has to present her referral to the commissioners for approval, which they provided in the de Blasio case, though she can break a tie, and then the District Attorney has decide whether to investigate and whether criminal charges are warranted. Sugarman is also bound to investigate complaints but cannot investigate when none is made.

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, who has repeatedly criticized what he sees as a lack of independence for JCOPE, said that Sugarman’s BOE work will inevitably be judged by her connections to the governor, whether those connections motivate her or not. “The fact that she is connected to the governor is trouble for her even if she’s on the up-and-up.”

Cuomo has addressed the importance of rooting out the appearance of bias and conflict of interest when speaking on the topic of criminal justice reform. In 2015, during his State of the State address, Cuomo spoke about a crisis in faith in the criminal justice system. “And that’s not just New York, it’s a problem all across the country and it’s a problem in reality and it’s a problem in perception and if it’s a problem only in perception, it is still a real problem because people have to trust the justice system and the trust has to go both ways,” Cuomo said, speaking about police and community, but also referring to the oft-cited conflict of interest around police and prosecutors who regularly work together but can then be at odds when an officer is suspected of a crime.

Sugarman did not return requests for comment, but she did defend her independence in an interview with the New York Times this week. “The work that I do here has nothing to do with where I came from,” Sugarman said, adding, “It just makes me chuckle when people say those kinds of things.” She refused to answer any questions about her investigation into de Blasio’s fundraising, which includes several de Blasio aides and groups that either donated large sums or helped run the operation.

JCOPE, another Albany ethics agency created by Cuomo and the Legislature, has been headed by someone from the Cuomo camp since its inception. Seth Agata, a former Cuomo counsel, was recently named JCOPE executive director, to criticism for his ties to the governor. The commission met with Agata as its chair for the first time this week. Less than ten minutes of the proceedings took place in public. JCOPE is not subject to public meeting laws and most of what it does is done in secret - a necessity, some say, due to its sensitive business. It’s members have complained in the past that Cuomo has too much influence over the agency and pushed for a national search for its leadership. That search resulted in Agata’s hiring.

Previous JCOPE heads include Letizia Tagliafierro, who worked for Cuomo during his time as attorney general and later as his director of governmental operations. She left JCOPE and took a position as deputy commissioner of the state's Department of Taxation and Finance in 2015. Her appointment in 2013 drew the ire of legislative members of JCOPE, including one who quit in protest.

Tagliafierro replaced Ellen Biben, who worked as the governor's inspector general and in the attorney general's office when Cuomo held that position. Biben now is now a Court of Claims Judge - she was nominated for the position by Cuomo.

“Notwithstanding the unique and extensive qualifications of these nominees, all three were approved by a bipartisan group of commissioners and to suggest otherwise ignores not only the facts but the process,” said Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever.

“It’s a real closed game with Andrew,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College. “It’s striking that he talks reform but he plays this real insider game with friends and immediate associates.”

Sugarman’s statements haven’t been reassuring for watchdogs, who say they’ve seen little real independent action from JCOPE or Sugarman; they find it worrying that the first major criminal referral to come out of Sugarman’s office targets an individual, de Blasio, that Cuomo has been warring with.

“Mayor de Blasio's team has raised legitimate questions about Sugarman being biased and whether her criminal complaint amounts to selective, politically-motivated enforcement,” said Kaehny. “By appointing these loyalists, the governor has badly undermined whatever credibility JCOPE and the state BOE have as fair and impartial ethics enforcers. Maybe that is his goal, or maybe he is so immersed in conflict of interest that he can't see what the problem is. Either way, it's another setback for clean government.”

Whether de Blasio’s coordinated fundraising warrants criminal prosecution is now up to Vance. A number of observers say they think it would be hard not to take into account who appointed Sugarman, the fact that coordinated fundraising through party committees has been commonplace for years, and that the leak may have tainted public perception.

“The leak raises some pretty serious concerns,” said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School. “No serious law enforcement agency should be leaking findings. It can lead to a trial by the public. I don’t know if the leak was illegal, but it sure should be.”

Rodgers says she doubts the leak will be a major influence on Vance, but notes that it could taint his view of it as being politically motivated.

Kaehny said it would be concerning if de Blasio were suddenly to be held to different standards after this particular fundraising technique has gone unchecked for decades.

“It sure seems wrong and unfair, but it may be legally valid,” said Kaehny of Sugarman's referral. “Prosecutors have lots of discretion, and it will be up to them to weigh this. I do not have the expertise to judge the legal case, but as a prosecutor, I would probably not indict if I learned this was a customary practice of the previous mayor. If I was enforcement counsel, I would have sent a letter to the mayor and written a public advisory notice that said, going forward, we are interpreting the law like this. The idea is to change overall behavior, not selectively persecute.”

Others see the tactics used by de Blasio’s team as a more egregious coordinated effort than has been used before - with an understanding of specific amounts on specific dates that candidates’ committees were expecting to see moved through county committees.

Rodgers said she will be extremely interested to see how Vance decides to proceed. “He may look at this and say ‘We are going to pursue this case but we don’t want to be selective, we don’t want to get involved in a political hit, so we are going to open up investigations into everybody who uses this technique.’ This isn’t a matter of public safety, if he looks at it and decides this is a political hit job and an example of selective prosecution, he could just drop it.”

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

Read more by this writer.

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Conflict of Interest, Leaked Memo Cloud De Blasio Accusations Wed, 27 Apr 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Oft-Criticized Ethics Watchdog Names Cuomo Aide as Executive Director http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6238:oft-criticized-ethics-watchdog-names-cuomo-aide-as-executive-director http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6238:oft-criticized-ethics-watchdog-names-cuomo-aide-as-executive-director cuomo nyu ethics speech

Gov. Cuomo gives an ethics reform speech in 2015 (Governor's Office via flickr)


The state's independent ethics commission took the first official ethics-related action in Albany since the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Tuesday when it appointed a man with ties to both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders as its new executive director.

Seth Agata, who JCOPE - the Joint Commission on Public Ethics - says it hired after a nine-month, nationwide search, currently serves as the head of the state's Public Employment Relations Board. He is seen by many as an ultimate Albany insider, and to some that bolsters his prospects for the job, while to others it should have been a disqualifying trait. Agata becomes the third former Cuomo aide of three people to hold the position over a five-year period.

The 14-member board includes appointees by the Governor (six), the two legislative leaders (three each), and the minority leaders of each house (one each). The JCOPE chairperson is selected by the Governor, the Executive Director is chosen by board members themselves.

"A better choice [for executive director] is someone who is clearly independent from both the Governor and the Legislature," John Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, told Gotham Gazette. "In the entire United States there must be at least one, well-qualified person, who didn't used to work for the governor."

Agata has also worked in Cuomo's counsel's office, as a counsel for program and policy for the Assembly Majority, and as counsel in the investigations office of the State Comptroller.

The body, which has been maligned as rudderless and ruled by infighting, is charged with ethics monitoring, "ensuring transparency," and "providing accountability through enforcement actions to address ethical misconduct." Critics also say JCOPE, which was created through a 2011 law, is designed so that slight dissension can block investigations into public officials and candidates.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, praised Agata, calling him a good choice, but also expressed reservations about his connections to Cuomo and the Legislature. "Seth Agata has the kind of trained eye we need to suss out what is really going on in Albany," said Dadey. "I wouldn't say it about anyone else [with such ties to the governor], but Seth has the kind of character we need to lead JCOPE in an independent fashion toward the reforms it so badly needs."

However, Dadey added: "It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Albany when the only action the Legislature and governor take on ethics following the conviction of both legislative leaders is the appointment of a JCOPE chair who has ties to both the governor and Legislature."

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group was also torn about the appointment. He called on JCOPE to make the details of its search for a new director public. Horner described Agata as "thoughtful" and "straightforward," but said the big question comes down to "the hiring process."

"The public deserves to hear from JCOPE about the process that led them to pick Agata," said Horner. "Independence is clearly a major factor in running an ethics commission, we need to hear from JCOPE why they thought he was the right choice."

The press release announcing Agata's hiring said it followed a search that included advertisements in "top legal publications and newspapers" and resulted in 200 resume submissions.

"Seth Agata is a tremendous choice for Executive Director of the Commission," Commission Chair Daniel Horwitz said in a statement announcing Agata's hiring. "He brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and integrity to the position."

Previous JCOPE heads include Letizia Tagliafierro, who worked for Cuomo during his time as attorney general and later as his director of governmental operations. She left JCOPE and took a position as deputy commissioner of the state's Department of Taxation and Finance in 2015. Her appointment in 2013 drew the ire of legislative members of JCOPE, including one who quit in protest.

Tagliafierro replaced Ellen Biben, who worked as the governor's inspector general and in the attorney general's office when Cuomo held that position. Biben now is now a Court of Claims Judge - she was nominated for the position by Cuomo.

Agata's appointment comes as Cuomo has admitted that talk of ethics reforms have been jettisoned from budget discussions and legislative leaders, especially Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, appear loathe to take any major action. Good government groups have pushed Cuomo to lead on reform in the wake of the Silver and Skelos convictions but the Governor has remained quiet on the issue since January.

Horner and other members of the good government community say JCOPE is designed in such a way that does not foster transparency or faith that its process is not political. JCOPE has 45 days from receiving a complaint to decide whether to investigate an ethics violation but it has no obligation to reveal its investigations.

An investigation can be stopped by three votes out of the 14 commissioners and most of their business is conducted behind closed doors. If a violation is found against a sitting member of the Legislature, JCOPE then has to refer the case to the Legislative Ethics Committee, which is controlled by the legislative leaders. JCOPE can disperse punishment to regular government employees.

The body is charged with maintaining income disclosures from the legislature, lobbyist registrations, and fielding complaints about ethics violations across state government. Legislators' outside income has been the source of much discussion as Cuomo and others have proposed strict limits, while Republicans (and some Democrats) in both legislative houses have balked. Silver's non-government income was at the source of his federal corruption conviction.

JCOPE's most recent actions mostly focus on enforcing compliance with financial disclosure statements, lobbyist registration, and smaller violations of the public officers law by state employees. The commission has only revealed investigations of two lawmakers over the last few years, both sexual harassment cases. They involved former Assembly Members Vito Lopez and Dennis Gabryszak.

The commission announced the launch of two new investigations from its meeting on Tuesday. It is suspected that at least one of those investigations relates to Sen. Marc Panepinto, who announced last week he will not seek reelection. Rumors have swirled about misbehavior in his office.

"I am very disappointed when a person who runs for office and holds themselves out to be trusted by their community winds up involved in a sordid affair," Cuomo told reporters this week when asked about Panepinto. "So, I don't know the details. I don't want to know the details. But let somebody else run who will respect the position."

When asked about the phrasing "sordid affair" by The Buffalo News, a Cuomo spokesperson said the governor was referring to things he had read in the press.

JCOPE members appointed by legislative leaders have openly complained of interference from the executive branch and pushed for JCOPE to look for an executive director without ties to the administration.

Critics say JCOPE has picked around the edges while federal investigators have tackled serious investigations that get to the root of corruption in state government. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, good government leaders, and others have called on Albany to strengthen both preventative measures and enforcement mechanisms.

Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said that he feels Agata's resume should have immediately disqualified him from the job. "Even if Seth Agata is as wise as Solomon and pure as the driven snow, he used to be one of Governor Cuomo's top people, and there are inherent questions about whether he can be impartial and completely non-political, rather than a potential political weapon for the governor."

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

Read more by this writer.

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Oft-Criticized Ethics Watchdog Names Cuomo Aide as Executive Director Wed, 23 Mar 2016 17:40:27 +0000
Heastie Outlines Assembly Ethics Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6219:heastie-outlines-assembly-ethics-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6219:heastie-outlines-assembly-ethics-plan heastie inauguration

Carl Heastie (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)


In a major departure from his predecessor, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie publicly laid out his conference's proposals for government ethics reform during a wide-ranging speech and interview Friday morning. At a breakfast event hosted by Crain's New York Business, Heastie explained the proposals for preventing government corruption that will be contained in the Assembly's one-house budget, the release of which is key to intensifying negotiations with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

The announcement comes after many weeks of silence from the Legislature and Gov. Cuomo on ethics reform despite the fact that the leaders of both legislative houses were indicted and convicted on multiple federal counts of corruption last year. The proposals largely align with what Cuomo, a Democrat, outlined during his January State of the State address, while two of the policies are likely to face major push back from the Republican Senate majority. Heastie leads the Democratic Assembly majority.

Two Assembly proposals likely to face opposition from the Senate deal with outside income legislators are allowed to earn. One takes direct aim at an issue that fell Heastie's predecessor, Sheldon Silver: The Assembly would limit attorneys to only making money for casework they perform, rather than from being "of counsel" and simply lending their name to a law firm. The second would prevent legislators from earning more in outside income than they receive in legislative salary. Legislators currently make $79,500 per year, though a compensation commission has recently begun examining the issue and is likely to recommend significant raises for lawmakers, who have not seen a raise in 16 years.

Other measures Heastie outlined include closing the LLC Loophole that allows wealthy donors to subvert the state's campaign contribution limits, tightening rules around the use of campaign funds and party "housekeeping" accounts, which are also used to get around state campaign finance laws.

Unlike anything Silver ever did, Heastie described the Assembly's one-house budget and then took questions from two reporters for 45 minutes in front of a crowd of more than 200 in a Manhattan club ballroom. Heastie followed that Q&A by taking questions from other journalists in attendance for about 10 minutes.

A significant portion of the dialogue centered around government ethics and corruption, with Heastie both outlining new reform plans and defending himself and his colleagues as good public servants. After Heastie made his opening remarks, Crain's editor Erik Engquist and Politico New York reporter Laura Nahmias asked the speaker a wide variety of questions, including several that pushed Heastie for his take on what actually plays into corruption in Albany.

Confronted with a recent poll that found 90 percent of voters think Albany has a corruption problem, Heastie defended his members. "I don't want to ignore fact that there's been issues amongst elected officials, but I do believe the majority of elected officials go there for the right reasons," said Heastie, adding that "in any industry you are going to have bad apples."

Heastie also continually referred to things that "tripped up" his fellow legislators - apparent references to the rash of high-profile corruption cases Albany has seen over the last decade.

He challenged the media to cover "the good things" the Legislature does and also praised prosecutors for doing their jobs. Heastie pushed back against the assertion that campaign contributions can lead to corruption and half-joked that the only way for politicians to win is to only accept donations from groups they don't support because the press points out donations to politicians when they coincide with legislation that is favorable to a donor.

"Leveraging your name is something that got my predecessor in trouble," Heastie said, pointing to the "of counsel" measure contained in the Assembly budget. Asked later how the bill would actually be enforced Heastie replied that the conference hadn't actually gotten that far, but said the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) is a possibility.

"We have a significant number of lawyers in the conference and people are comfortable with what we've put forward," said Heastie.

Gov. Cuomo's budget contains a number of ethics proposals, including one that would limit legislators' outside income to 15 percent of their government salary. The budget also includes an end to the LLC loophole, pension forfeiture for legislators convicted of abusing their office, and increased transparency measures. Cuomo, however, has been focused on stumping for his $15 minimum wage plan, only discussing ethics reforms when questioned by the press.

Asked if ethics reforms were likely to stay in the budget late last month Cuomo responded: "Well, we're going to see. I would like to get it done in the budget, I made it as part of the budget. And I think that everyone understands that you need reforms in Albany. I proposed very drastic reforms — primarily for the Legislature, which is where we've seen a lot of corruption recently. Limiting outside income, passing pension forfeiture, more disclosure, more transparency, closing the LLC loophole. I stated it very clearly in my State of the State. It's part of the budget. And as we get closer and actually have budget conversations, it's going to be at the top of the list."

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment on the Assembly Democrats' ethics plans.

When Gotham Gazette asked Heastie if he had any sense of what Senate Majority Leader Flanagan might think of the proposals, he said to ask Flanagan. Flanagan's office did not respond to a Gotham Gazette request for reaction to Heastie's announcement of the Assembly's budget-based ethics reforms.

Heastie told Gotham Gazette that no "detailed" budget discussions have taken place yet because neither house has fully issued its one-house budget proposals. "There hasn't been any real discussion except overall of what we think we need to see happen through the budget," said Heastie. A budget deal is due by April 1, when the next fiscal year begins. If ethics reforms are not accomplished in a budget package, they could be hashed out in the legislative session to follow, though there is reason to be skeptical that significant reform would be agreed upon between April and the end of session in June.

Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats have faced major criticism from the Republican minority for a drawn out rules reform process whereby the chamber will change its practices in an effort to become more democratic. Last year, after replacing Silver, Heastie put together a commission to look at altering the rules of the chamber to increase transparency and participation. That group has had almost a year to work on the issue and has held no public hearings. The group's two chairs have given Gotham Gazette and other media outlets conflicting timelines for the release of what they said is a 49-point reform plan. On Friday, Heastie told Gotham Gazette, as the chairs have in the past, that the reforms should be released soon.

"They're being brought out in three different forms," Heastie told Gotham Gazette. "Some we can draft up in rules, some I can do administratively, and then there's some technology things. We'll probably put things out in the next week or so."

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

Read more by this writer.

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Heastie Outlines Assembly Ethics Plan Fri, 11 Mar 2016 19:40:10 +0000
Will Silver Conviction Be Tipping Point for 'Real' Reform? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6014:will-silver-conviction-be-tipping-point-for-real-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6014:will-silver-conviction-be-tipping-point-for-real-reform sheldon silver conviction

Sheldon Silver in 2012 (photo via the Governor's Office)


Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, thought to be the most powerful man in New York state government for decades, was found guilty Monday on seven counts of corruption in multiple schemes to monetize the power of his office. During the trial Silver's own defense attorney insisted that Albany itself was on trial and claimed that Silver's behavior was business as usual in Albany, and that even if it felt unseemly, it was in fact legal.

The jury did not agree. And though Silver left the courthouse saying he plans to continue his legal fight, the big question now is whether this startling development will be the impetus for major reform of the rules of the game for Albany lawmakers. With his conviction, Silver is removed from office and becomes the 32nd state lawmaker forced from office due to criminal or ethical issues since 2000.

Silver never took the stand on his own behalf and the defense called no witnesses. Instead, Silver's defense attorney, Steven Molo, argued that the federal government was trying to make Albany's long tradition of backroom dealing illegal. "It makes some people uncomfortable, but that is the system New York state has chosen, and it is not a crime," Molo said on Nov. 3 during opening statements. "The prosecutors are trying to make it a crime, but it's not."

Some advocates and legislators have railed against Silver's influence for years, decrying the concentration of power of the 'three men in a room,' of which Silver was one until he was indicted and resigned his leadership post. Some thought that with Silver all but gone Albany would somehow be redeemed. That redemption has been elusive.

As Silver faces decades of prison sentencing, Albany is still left to write its own rules. The men in charge, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who replaced Silver, have indicated there is currently no appetite for more reform and have rejected calls for special session on ethics.

"We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct," Heastie said in a statement responding to Silver's conviction, adding that "accountability and transparency" are of utmost importance to the Assembly Majority. Heastie went on to list previously enacted reforms as evidence of his commitment as well as reform efforts that have been repeatedly stalled in the legislature by Senate Republicans.

"In addition to the enacted measures, the Assembly Majority has independently passed a number of ethics-related bills that were not taken up by the State Senate," reads the statement from Heastie, a Democrat like Silver and Cuomo. "Among these measures is a bill to close the LLC loophole and campaign finance reform measures to limit the influence of big money in politics, including the clarification of housekeeping accounts and independent expenditures, as well as the establishment of a meaningful public financing system."

Advocates hope public reaction to the conviction and the ongoing trial against Silver's former Senate counterpart, Sen. Dean Skelos - which is creating sensational soundbites thanks to wiretaps - will force more systemic change. Charges against Silver and Skelos were brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office.

"A political earthquake has hit Albany," said Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group. "This is a stinging rebuke to the 'Albany business as usual' defense and a clarion call to clean up state ethics. Hopefully this will be the tipping point at which New York's political leadership will gets its heads out of the sand. Governor Cuomo must now call a special session devoted to ethics reform."

Good government group Citizens Union, which tracks lawmakers who've left office due to criminal or ethical issues, quickly issued a statement calling for a special session after Silver's conviction. "Citizens Union calls upon the legislature to meet in special session and deal once and for all with the problem of public corruption in state government," the statement reads. "Legislators need to address the problem of using their public posts for private gain."

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been calling for a move away from incremental reform and laid out a legislative package to move the needle and prevent conflicts of interest and corruption.

Good government groups including NYPIRG and Citizens Union recently reiterated calls for sweeping reform, including:

  • Increased legislative compensation, but add greater limits on outside income.
  • "Limit the influence of dark money campaign contributions and end government spending that takes place in the shadows' through measures such as closing the infamous LLC loophole."
  • "Reform ethics oversight and enforcement" by making changes to JCOPE's structure, scope, and voting procedures to increase transparency and independence.
  • "Strengthen financial reporting disclosure requirements for public officers to allow the public to more easily spot conflicts of interest."
  • "Streamline and standardize disclosure of lobbying activity for better analysis and easier evaluation by the public."

Earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo pointed to prior reforms he oversaw that required disclosure of outside income that enabled the case against Silver. "We've passed disclosure laws that, frankly, would have been unthinkable ten years ago," Cuomo said, adding, "For the first time ever, they have to disclose their clients. That's one of the reasons this case is this case, right?"

But the Reform Albany Act that contained the disclosure requirements also created the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a board that has yet to take any major actions and remains paralyzed by infighting between members appointed by legislative leaders (including Skelos and Silver) and Cuomo.

In response to the Silver verdict Monday, Cuomo issued a statement that read, "Today, justice was served. Corruption was discovered, investigated, and prosecuted, and the jury has spoken. With the allegations proven, it is time for the Legislature to take seriously the need for reform. There will be zero tolerance for the violation of the public trust in New York."

There is some indication rank-and-file legislators are looking for larger reforms. Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell issued a statement calling for a full-time legislature to limit the influence of outside income and to raise legislative salaries in conjunction.

"We need to change the way things work in Albany. As today's verdict demonstrates, the ability to earn outside income creates too much potential for impropriety," wrote O'Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat. "To restore respect for the hard work that the New York State Legislature does, we need to make it more like the federal system."

Schneiderman, a Democrat, has called for the creation of a full-time legislature and a few members of the Senate also support the idea.

Several other members of the Assembly and Senate have called for major changes to campaign finance and other laws.

Paul Newell, a Manhattan Democratic district leader who challenged Silver in 2008 and is raising money to run for Silver's seat, called on voters to take action to reform state government.

"This is a sad day for Lower Manhattan and a sad day for New York," Newell said in a statement. "Today's verdict proves it is up to us to reclaim our government. No court will end Albany's culture of corruption and cronyism. If we, as voters and citizens, continue to accept a government that favors those who buy power and influence, then that will be the government we get. But, if we want a government that is fair, transparent, and works for all of us, we must reclaim it ourselves. We can and must do better. The time for us to act is now."

[Read: Top Ten Corruption Quotes from Silver, Skelos Trials]

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

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

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Will Silver Conviction Be Tipping Point for 'Real' Reform? Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:09:23 +0000
Good Government Groups Point to New Evidence of Need for Major Ethics Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5983:good-government-groups-point-to-new-evidence-of-need-for-major-ethics-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5983:good-government-groups-point-to-new-evidence-of-need-for-major-ethics-reform cuomo silver skelos 2011

L-R: Silver, Cuomo & Skelos in 2011 (photo via the governor's office) 


New York's leading good government groups gathered at Manhattan's Foley Square Wednesday to call on the New York State legislature and the governor to take immediate action to reform public ethics laws. The press conference, held in the shadows of a federal courthouse where one of New York’s most powerful politicians is being tried on corruption charges, came as other recent developments also shine a bright light on the state's insufficient handling of ethics and corruption.

Not only has the trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver begun, but the trial of former Majority Leader Dean Skelos is set to begin next week; and, there was the recent release of a report by a state ethics review commission calling for changes as well as a national study assessing state government accountability and transparency giving New York a "D-" grade.

So on Wednesday, Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause NY, the League of Women Voters of New York State, and the New York Public Interest Research Group sent a letter to Governor Cuomo and the two new legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, urging them to come together to enact comprehensive and significant reforms in five ethics categories. To bring further attention to their calls for reform, the groups held a press conference.

“This news conference is the first of many actions our groups are going to be taking in the months to come to really push this front and center, because we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union. “We want to urge immediate action and if possible even a special session.”

“New Yorkers are so disgusted, they’ve just come to accept that this is part and parcel of how state government operates, and it should not be,” Dadey said. “With the convergence of all these events, there is no better time than now to enact these reforms.”

The reforms the groups are calling to be enacted either in a special end-of-year session or in early 2016 include:

  • Change legislative compensation through upcoming recommendations by a recently appointed pay commission, considering increased salaries and greater limits on outside income.
  • "Limit the influence of dark money campaign contributions and end government spending that takes place in the shadows' through measures such as closing the infamous LLC loophole.
  • "Reform ethics oversight and enforcement" by making changes to JCOPE’s structure, scope, and voting procedures to increase transparency and independence.
  • "Strengthen financial reporting disclosure requirements for public officers to allow the public to more easily spot conflicts of interest."
  • "Streamline and standardize disclosure of lobbying activity for better analysis and easier evaluation by the public."

While the Silver and Skelos trials come just two months after the Senate's second-highest-ranking Republican, Tom Libous, was convicted of lying under oath to FBI agents during an investigation into his son's hiring at a politically connected law firm. New York City just elected two new state legislators to fill vacant seats vacated due to corruption charges.

Silver, charged with five federal counts of theft of honest services, mail fraud, wire fraud, and extortion for improperly using his public position to obtain nearly $4 million in illicit payments, and Skelos, charged with six federal counts of conspiracy, extortion, wire fraud, and soliciting bribes in connection with exploiting his public position in order to secure a lucrative no-show job for his son, have both declared their innocence, with Silver’s legal team attempting to paint its client’s dealing as par for the course in Albany.

It is the pervasive culture of corruption - both legal and illegal - in state government that has undermined public trust and yet failed to spur truly meaningful reform, good government advocates and many legislators and other stakeholders say.

“For far too long, state legislators in particular have used their public posts for private gain, and have lined their pockets,” Dadey said Wednesday. “Much of what is happening here in the Silver trial and in the Skelos trial shows how one hand washes another, and we want to see that practice end.”

Decrying a system that is akin to “a perfect storm that would encourage corruption by state lawmakers,” Dadey said “Citizens Union believes we should raise the pay significantly, limit outside income, eliminate stipends, and overhaul the way in which [legislators’] daily expense reimbursements are handled.”

In the past decade, 27 legislators have left office due to criminal or ethical issues. “So far, there is no sign that the arrests of the legislative leaders has changed how Albany does business,” John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said in a statement. At the press conference, Kaehny added, “One big step toward changing that is to see where the money is going. No more secret spending. No more spending in the shadows. Let’s see transparency for state spending, and let’s end the pay-to-play and legal bribery that are on trial here.”

On the same day that Silver's trial began, the New York Ethics Review Commission released an evaluation the current ethics oversight system and recommended reforms to improve the functioning of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC).

The recommendations include eliminating the veto power JCOPE commissioners have over investigations, among several others.

Citizens Union has advocated for all of the aforementioned reforms, and while the changes recommended by the Ethics Review Commission are certainly seen as a welcome first step by good government groups, the recommendations failed to include other reforms advocates have called for, such as making commissioners more independent.

“We want to ramp up the capability and the independence of ethics oversight,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY said at Wednesday’s press conference. “Reform JCOPE, give it more independence, give it more teeth, give it the ability to investigate, and reform the actual number of commissioners so that they don’t deadlock and are not beholden to the people who appoint them.”

Saying that he believes JCOPE can be essential in improving public ethics and integrity, Dadey added, “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver were two of the three architects that created JCOPE. And they created some of the protections that JCOPE is hindered by right now in terms of the voting procedures. With the two of them on trial, and both of them having been authors of this Public Integrity Reform Act that created JCOPE, we have an opportunity to strengthen JCOPE in the coming months.”

dick dadey good govt groups nov 11 presser(Dick Dadey, center; photo by Zack Fink of NY1)

On Monday, the Center for Public Integrity and open-governance group Global Integrity released the 2015 State Integrity Investigation, a comprehensive, data-driven assessment of the systems in place to deter corruption in state government, and gave New York a D- grade, a drop from the previous 2012 State Integrity Investigation, when New York received a D.

Ranking 30th among 49 states, New York failed miserably in several categories, receiving an F on public access to information, electoral oversight, judicial accountability, state budget processes, procurement, and ethics enforcement agencies.

The reforms proposed by good government groups would go a long way in preventing a repeat of New York’s dismal performance on those measures.

“We need absolutely clarity in terms of who [legislators] are getting paid by and what they are getting paid for,” Lerner said Wednesday. “So that someone can’t say ‘I’m a lawyer, I represent ordinary people,’ and then it turns out that his law partners say he doesn’t do any legal work and is solely gaining money from referrals” (as was the case with Silver and is the case with other lawyer-legislators who are “of counsel” at law firms).

“There is something wrong with our disclosure system if that kind of misstatement can exist for years and years and years and it takes a criminal trial to really show what the true situation is,” Lerner added.

New York’s failing grade on state budget processes - for which New York ranked dead last in the nation - comes as no surprise, given New York’s reputation for“three men in a room” (the governor, Assembly Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader) deciding on the details of the state’s $142 billion budget behind closed doors.

“The governor can’t reform the legislature by himself,” Kaehny said, “but the governor can lead by example. And right now, we have billions of dollars in spending that are secret, that the public cannot see.”

“Is it corrupt?” Kaehny asked. “We don’t know. But we should know. So can the governor do something about that by taking a lead? Absolutely, yes. The governor could have complete transparency on budget matters - he proposes the budget, he can reveal the budget, that’s up to him.”

The recent release of these two reports and the ongoing corruption trials of two legislative leaders have put the spotlight on New York's dire need for state action on ethics reform, yet as Bob Hardt wrote in a recent NY1 column on the issue, “Never aggressively pushing campaign finance reform or transparency, Governor Cuomo seems content to play the master of Albany's current political game rather than rewriting its rules. A government of one is naturally threatened by an open door.”

When pressed as to whether Cuomo has done enough to fix Albany’s corruption problems, Dadey said, “The governor has been a leader on many of these ethics reforms,” but added, “I wish that he was a more vocal leader on some of these issues that are still left on the table, like legislative compensation, like restructuring JCOPE so that it has a greater authority and stronger voting structures to pursue corruption.”

In 2013, Governor Cuomo established the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption to combat the systemic corruption in Albany. Yet less than a year later, in a deal involving Silver and Skelos, Cuomo disbanded the commission - reportedly just as the commission was preparing to issue subpoenas to several state Senate campaign committees.

Governor Cuomo could, as good government groups have suggested, compel the legislature to return for a special session to overhaul ethics laws, though the governor has made it clear in the past that he has no intention of doing so. “A special session to do what? I mean, we've proposed every ethics law imaginable," Cuomo said in an interview on The Capitol Pressroom in July.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, meanwhile, has previously advocated for a convening a special session on ethics reform, in addition to pushing his “End New York Corruption Now Act,” a sweeping ethics reform package which seeks to drastically reform how business is done in Albany.

“One of the requests that Citizens Union has made for a long time is to give the Attorney General the power to pursue corruption,” Dadey said of one of the elements in Schneiderman’s plan. “He can only pursue corruption right now if the governor consents to granting him that authority.”

“It’s a strange thing that when the current governor was Attorney General, he asked for that same authority when Governor Spitzer was in office, and when he became governor, he was not willing to give that authority to Attorney General Schneiderman,” Dadey pointed out.

A July 15 poll by the Siena Research Institute found 90 percent of New York voters felt state government corruption is a serious problem. An October 26 Siena poll found 74 percent of those surveyed believed Governor Cuomo was doing a poor to fair job reducing corruption in state government.

“New Yorkers have lost faith in state government to make decisions without using the interest and influence of those who do business with the state,” the good government groups said in a statement. “In light of this storm of two trials and two reports, the groups call for immediate action on these widely-supported reforms, and in a special session if possible.”

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
@MegOConnor13
@GothamGazette

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

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Good Government Groups Point to New Evidence of Need for Major Ethics Reform Thu, 12 Nov 2015 04:12:57 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 26 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5949:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october-26-2015 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5949:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october-26-2015 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will be dominated by the World Series, we know that. The New York Mets begin their quest for the title against the Royals in Kansas City on Tuesday night, followed by another game in KC on Wednesday and then games in Queens on Friday, Saturday, and, if necessary, Sunday. If the series continues, games six and seven would be the following Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 3 and 4) back in Kansas City. On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced a wager over the series, with the loser having to wear the jersey of the winning team to work for a day. There are other aspects of the bet, too, with significant home-state items to be sent from loser to winner.

Now, on to politics sans sport.

It was a quiet political weekend. Mayor de Blasio, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, and others touted the new Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village sales deal to the complex's tenant association on Saturday afternoon. [Read CM Garodnick's thoughts on the sale in this Gotham Gazette op-ed]

On Monday, de Blasio has no public events scheduled. Governor Cuomo is in New York City Monday, though, to make an announcement at 1:30 p.m. at Chelsea Piers.

There is a lot happening Monday and beyond. Services will occur this week to honor Police Officer Randolph Holder, who was killed on October 20. As has been the case since Holder was shot and killed, criminal justice reform and policing are sure to be sources of significant attention this week.

Thursday is the three-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting New York; there are sure to be both rememberances of the people and property lost, as well as assessments of progress made in recovering from Sandy and preparing for the next big storm.

See our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet to discuss a bill that would ban the sale of personal care products or over the counter drugs that contain microbeads, as well as pass a resolution on the Microbeads-free Waters Acts.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet to discuss bills related to the use of biodiesel.

On Monday morning, current and former elected officials and others will honor recently-retired former Assemblymember Joan Millman. Comptroller Scott Stringer is among those who will speak.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit the High School of Fashion Industries to kick off College Application Week and make an announcement.

On Monday at 1 p.m. at City Hall, Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez will announce new legislation aimed at reducing the number of guns in New York and nationwide. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries; Public Advocate Letitia James; Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams; Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson; Leah Gunn Barrett, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence; and NYC families impacted by gun violence will also participate.

At 3 p.m. Monday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Hometown Rally to cheer on the Mets as they start Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night in Kansas City. Other elected officials, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Letitia James are set to participate.

Later, Mark-Viverito will speak at the 2015 Roy & Lila Ash Innovations Award for Public Engagement in Government, where she and the City Council are receiving an award for their Participatory Budgeting program. [Read more about the award and the participatory budgeting program in our new in-depth report: Participatory Budgeting Grows in NYC - Why Isn't Every Council Member Doing It?]

Then, Mark-Viverito "speaks at 2015 Shine Event for LGBT Immigration Equality."

At 7 p.m. Monday the Bronx Young Democrats will discuss the achievements and current initiatives of young female Bronx leaders. The event will feature Darcel Clark, Democratic candidate for Bronx District Attorney; City Council Member Vanessa Gibson; State Assemblymember Latoya Joyner; and Marsha Michael, Attorney & Law Clerk.

At 7:15 p.m. the Immigration Equality event “SHINE”, celebrating women’s leadership in in the LGBT community, will honor City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and  Denise Chambers, Immigration Equality client and asylum winner from Trinidad.

On Monday evening, several uptown Manhattan Democratic clubs are hosting Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for a discussion of relevant issues. City Council Member Mark Levine will also participate in the dialogue.

Monday evening is the Riders Alliance gala. Public Advocate Letitia James is among those set to attend.

Monday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting event: CM Mark Treyger (District 47, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.

Tuesday
On Tuesday, at 8:30 a.m., Stroock, the public affairs law firm, will host a Government Leadership forum  “What is the Future of Organized Labor?” Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council; Gregory Floyd, President of Local 237 Teamsters; Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers; and Harry Nespoli, President of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association will be on the panel. Robert Abrams, former New York State Attorney General and Chair of Stroock's Government Relations Practice Group, and Alan M. Klinger, Co-Managing Partner and Co-Chair of Stroock's Litigation Practice Group, will moderate.

On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is in Westchester County meeting with elected officials and touring different areas.

At 10:30 a.m. the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) will meet on a number of matters including its ongoing search for a new Executive Director.

At 11 a.m. Vocal-NY, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and others will hold the Fair Chance Rally. The purpose of the rally is to raise awareness about the Fair Chance Act, which makes it illegal for New York City employers to ask about one’s criminal record until after a job offer is made, and is going into effect.

At the New York State Legislature on Tuesday: the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation and Assembly Climate Change Work Group will have a roundtable discussion on Climate Change.

At the City Council on Tuesday: at 11 a.m. the Committee on Women’s Issues; the Committee on Health; and the Committee on Education will meet for a joint oversight hearing on sex education in NYC schools. They will discuss three bills that would: require the Department of Education to provide a report on student health services to the Council; require the DOE to report annually on information about health education and HIV/AIDS education for students in grades six through twelve; require the DOE to submit an annual report on the sexual health education received by instructors in public middle and high schools.

Prior to that City Council hearing, at 10 a.m., there will be a "press conference to call for comprehensive sex education in NYC schools" led by Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Chair of the Committee on Women's Issues; Daniel Dromm, Chair of the Committee on Education; and Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health; as well as representatives from Planned Parenthood of New York City; NARAL Pro-Choice New York; New York Civil Liberties Union; and Reproductive Healthcare Advocates.

On Tuesday at 2 p.m. at 250 Broadway, "State Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester), together with Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Member Annabel Palma and Make the Road New York, will release a bombshell investigative report "The American Scheme: Herbalife's Pyramid 'Shake'down.""

At 4 p.m. Safe Passage Project will hold an event composed of two parts. The first will be discussing the unmet needs of recent migrant children and young parent from Central America. City Council Member Rory Lancman will make opening remarks. There will be multiple related panel discussions thereafter.

Tuesday evening, Governor Cuomo is set to deliver remarks at the Business Council of Westchester’s Annual Dinner.

At 6 p.m. the city Panel for Educational Policy will have a public meeting in Manhattan. At the event the Chancellor will give an update on current policies and the panel will discuss a number of important topics including: Race and Diversity in School Admission, Aggregation of Community District Budgets Together with a Proposed Budget for Administrative Expenditures of the City Board and the Chancellor, and more; while also taking public comment.

At 6:30 p.m. during The Hispanic Leadership Awards, City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will lead a celebration honoring several people for their outstanding leadership in the Latino community, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who will receive a Distinguished Public Service Award.  

At 7 p.m. City Council Members Donovan Richards and I. Daneek Miller will hold a Southeast Queens Transportation Town Hall. Representatives from DOT, MTA, TLC, and NYPD will attend.

Tuesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 7 p.m.

Wednesday
At the New York State Legislature on Wednesday: The Assembly Standing Committee on Aging along with the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities, the Assembly Subcommittee on Community Integration, and the Assembly Subcommittee on Outreach and Oversight of Senior Citizen Programs, will hold a joint public hearing regarding the “New York State Office for the Aging’s study on the benefits of creating an office of community living”

At 6:30 p.m. several groups host “Why She Ran: A Conversation With Women in Politics” discussing the challenges women face in New York politics and encouraging women to run for office. Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Julissa Ferreras, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal will speak at the event. Sponsors of the event include the Working Families Party, Eleanor's Legacy, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Higher Heights for America, Ladies of Labor, Shirley Chisholm Institute, NOW-NYS, Women's Organizing Network, and WIN NYC.

Also at 6:30 p.m., school district 3 will host a Town Hall meeting with Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Wednesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • CM Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 p.m.
  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 6 p.m.
  • CM Ritchie Torres (District 15, Bronx) time TBA
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 8 p.m.
  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 7 p.m.
  • CM Jumaane D. Williams (District 45, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.

Thursday
On Thursday beginning at 8:30 a.m. the Urban Land Institute will hold a conference about the best new practices to help fund public transportation infrastructure in the New York metro area in the face of withering public funding, including solutions through partnerships with the private sector.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10:30 a.m. the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet to hear communication from Orlando Marin of the City Planning Commission
  • At 1:30 p.m. will be a City Council Stated Meeting; prefaced, as always, by the Speaker’s pre-stated press conference at 12:30 p.m.

At 5:30 p.m. United States Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates will discuss the administration’s top goals and priorities at the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School; following the speech will be a Q&A session.

At 5:30 p.m. The Hopkins-Hunter Forum for Education Policy, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and The Hunter College Gifted and Talented Program will host “The Excellence Gap: The State of Gifted and Talented Education,” an event that will discuss the income based education gap among students, and talk about suggestions on how to address the issue in the future.

At 6 p.m. Mayor Bill de Blasio will be hosting a fundraiser for his 2017 campaign, as reported by Politico New York.

Thursday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 4:30 p.m.
  • CM Donovan Richards (District 31, Queens) time TBA
  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 7 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
On Saturday and Sunday, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will hold two Spooky Parties at Gracie Mansion, inviting families with children 5-10 years old to come tour their haunted house. Families must have tickets through the ticket giveaway being held prior to the event.

On Sunday at 2 p.m. a large group of Democratic political clubs and progressive organizations will hold a Democratic Party Presidential Candidate Forum. Representatives from the Clinton, Sanders, O’Malley and Lessing campaigns will participate.. The forum will be moderated by Ronnie Eldridge.

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Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 26 Sun, 25 Oct 2015 05:00:00 +0000