Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1906 Tue, 19 Mar 2019 06:23:20 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Lobby Laws Should Empower the Grassroots, Not Big Money http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8309-lobby-laws-should-empower-the-grassroots-not-big-money http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8309-lobby-laws-should-empower-the-grassroots-not-big-money alb gov cuomo

(photo: Governor's Office)


Imagine two New Yorkers heading to Albany for a day of advocacy.

One is a lobbyist with multiple clients, traveling to the Capitol in Amtrak business class for the third time that week. She’s spent a career working behind the scenes with elected officials trying to influence legislation and get favorable treatment for her clients. The other is an entry-level employee at a homeless shelter, sitting in a coach bus filled with clients and nonprofit service providers. It will be his first-ever meeting with an elected official.

The average New Yorker understands that these two New Yorkers— a lobbyist and a nonprofit employee—have very different roles in our political system. Why is Governor Cuomo trying to treat them as the same?

Currently, professional lobbyists must report who is paying them, which government officials they speak with, and which laws or regulations they are trying to influence. This ensures government officials know who they are talking to and taxpayers know who is spending large amounts of money to influence the government.

To follow these regulations, most lobbyists have compliance staff who attend mandatory trainings, read and follow the 92-page lobbyist regulations, track everyone’s lobbying time and expenses, file at least 6 reports a year, and administer “reportable business questionnaires” to the lobbying firm’s partners and managers. Other firms pay upwards of $500 per month to outside compliance experts who perform these services.

But the governor's budget plan would impose a stringent regulatory regime on any organization spending $500 or more to reach out to lawmakers. The likely result: grassroots organizations will be unable to meet with lawmakers, leaving the legislative corridors clear for big spending lobbyists to wield their influence and set the agenda.

Nonprofits often rely on their own staff or volunteers to communicate with elected officials. Current regulations require nonprofits to file the same reports as lobbyists if they spend $5,000 or more in a single year. At the $5,000 threshold, this reporting requirement for nonprofits is already a bit over the top: because no money changes hands, there is less chance of influence peddling. And mandatory disclosure for nonprofits seems duplicative, as a legislator already knows the employee of a local social services organization speaks on behalf of that organization. Already, this $5,000 threshold covers more than 99% of all lobbying expenses—this part of the system works.

The governor’s proposal would reduce this registration trigger to a mere $500 per year. A nonprofit that pays $1,000 to rent a bus to take volunteers from New York City to Albany for one lobby day would be treated like a professional lobbyist. So would a nonprofit whose executive director has a few meetings with her local City Council members to advocate for criminal justice reform that would affect local teens.

Why does it matter when nonprofits are being treated like lobbyists? It’s because the cost of compliance is too high. Thinly staffed grassroots organizations do not have compliance staff. If they file a single report late, they can be fined $2,000. Faced with the steep cost of compliance, many will go silent. They will not take community members to Albany, or explain to elected officials how proposed laws will play out in the real world.

If Governor Cuomo gets his way, pretty soon we won’t be able to imagine two different types of advocates heading to the State Capitol. His regulations would ensure that only well-off special interests have access to their legislators for years to come. This proposal should not pass.

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Laura Abel is Senior Policy Counsel at Lawyers Alliance for New York. Sharon Stapel is President and CEO of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York. Michelle Jackson is Deputy Director of the Human Services Council of New York.

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

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Lobby Laws Should Empower the Grassroots, Not Big Money Mon, 25 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Claiming Attempt to Silence Them, Advocacy Groups Oppose Cuomo Lobbying Proposal http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8270-claiming-attempt-to-silence-them-advocacy-groups-oppose-cuomo-lobbying-proposal http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8270-claiming-attempt-to-silence-them-advocacy-groups-oppose-cuomo-lobbying-proposal Cuomo press conference

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 agenda includes a host of voting, campaign finance, and ethics reforms. Of three provisions related to government lobbying, one is spurring backlash from nonprofits, smaller advocacy organizations, and grassroots activists who feel threatened. Cuomo would like to require any individual or organization spending over $500 in a year on lobbying to be required to register as a lobbyist, lowering the threshold from $5,000.

The proposal is sparking outcry from nonprofit leaders and members, among others, who view the legislation as exclusionary of smaller organizations and unincorporated activist groups that do little formal lobbying and cannot afford the labor or time to navigate the state’s complex lobbying regulations. A letter from 15 New York nonprofits outlines vehement opposition to the new legislation. “Perversely, while this might increase the number of filings, it will effectively silence small groups while increasing the influence of big money in government,” the letter reads.

Signees include The Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, the Hispanic Federation, Homeless Services United, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Lawyer’s Alliance, the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, and the NYC Immigration Coalition, among others.

In addition to lowering the registration threshold, Cuomo’s two other lobbying reforms include redefining “reportable business relationships,” i.e. compensation paid to individuals connected with lobbying, to those involving $500 or more, instead of the current $1,000.

The third provision would mandate a semi-annual report for lobbying expenditures exceeding $500, lowering the threshold from the current $5,000. Cuomo has included the three lobbying reforms in his policy book and Executive Budget, setting the stage for negotiations with the Legislature before a budget deal is due April 1 for the new fiscal year.

According to the governor’s office, his larger bill is a multipronged reform package. “It’s not just lobbying reform. It’s lobbying reform, and campaign finance reform, and independent expenditure reform, and voting reform, and procurement reform. It’s all related and we have an unprecedented opportunity to increase transparency and disclosure and improve our democracy for the better. The fact that some self-described reform groups are against reform speaks to the problem in better ways than I can,” said Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo.

Co-signers of the letter believe the bill would limit their ability to participate in New York democracy, and some observers of state politics believe it is purposefully aimed at quieting Cuomo critics.

Jim Purcell, chief executive officer of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, made the decision to add his organization to the letter. “It’s not a fundamental disagreement about accountability, but this is taken in a direction that’s unnecessary and burdensome,” he said.

Purcell gave an example of how quickly an individual can hit $500 in lobbying expenditure. “The train back and forth to Albany is $100. A cab is $20. An organization that spends one day a year lobbying or organizing a letter to support foster care for kids, it ends up feeling like you don’t want to hear from us.”

From a bigger picture perspective, $287 million was spent in 2017 on lobbying state government by 3,415 filers, per the latest available data from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Laura Abel, senior counsel for the Lawyer’s Alliance, an organization that co-signed the letter, said the top 100 filers spent 22 percent of the total amount, which translates to $63 million. By contrast, 390 filers spent less than $10,000.

“It’s a lot like election spending, where you’ve got a handful of really wealthy people and companies putting in most of the money. And then you’ve got a lot of small, really small spenders.” said Abel.

Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit watchdog that advocates for transparency and accountability at the state and city levels, also opposes the governor’s proposed lobbying reform. Its analysis, released last month, cites New York State’s 92 pages of lobbying regulations as “some of the most comprehensive in the country,” consisting of “carefully tracking and reporting compensation, expenses, hours spent lobbying, persons lobbied, and bills, executive orders, and procurement lobbied on in addition to potentially having to disclose reportable business relationships.”

Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for the organization, said “We think the benefits of the additional transparency are exceeded by the cost of burdens on smaller organizations.”

The burden of the legislation, if enacted, also goes in another direction. JCOPE commissioners during a January 29 meeting to discuss the governor’s proposed budget recognized what would be added responsibility for regulators. After the proposed legislation was read aloud, commissioner James E. Dering said, “Requiring lobbyists to spend $500 or more would precipitously increase the resources needed. One would hope if this is enacted there will be resources provided certainly at that time, but we may need resources in advance to gear up for that. It would be quite an increase.”

While many typically think of lobbying as done by high-powered for-hire firms, it takes many forms. As Purcell said, “I can hear someone saying ‘Lobbying is a dirty business, and I don’t want to do that,’ but if you want to have your voice heard, you have to visit your local official or go to Albany.”

Note - This article has been updated.

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Claiming Attempt to Silence Them, Advocacy Groups Oppose Cuomo Lobbying Proposal Sun, 10 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Immigrant-Service Organizations, Struggling with Immense Demand, Need Our Support http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7971-immigrant-service-organizations-struggling-with-demand-need-our-support http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7971-immigrant-service-organizations-struggling-with-demand-need-our-support cm carlos m franciso m jumaane w protest

(photo: John McCarten/New York City Council)


The news that immigrants who legally access public benefits, such as food, housing, and medical assistance, could be denied green cards will make it increasingly difficult for many immigrants across our city and nation to meet their basic needs, placing a sizeable burden on the nonprofit sector.

Already, the sector is faced with an unyielding demand for support by families and communities as immigrants turn to nonprofits for support in steeper numbers.

What has become abundantly clear from our work with more than 400 organizations each year that focus on immigration and other social service and advocacy groups is that the current challenges are formidable: nonprofits are doing the best they can despite a national climate of bias and discrimination against immigrants and the groups that serve them.

This increased workload is experienced not only by organizations with an immigrant-serving mission. It is seen by hundreds of the nonprofits we work with each year, from hunger organizations to affordable housing organizations, to those with an educational mission, and countless others.

Amid this climate, Community Resource Exchange recently convened six nonprofit leaders to illustrate the obstacles their staffs and constituents are facing. Speakers, whose work focuses on grassroots organizing, legal support, immigrant youth, economic justice, and LGBTQIA immigrant rights, pointed to issues that are creating a double-bind for nonprofits: increased demand coupled with changes to the system that make delivering services harder.

This the result of multiple factors, including that immigrants already have a heightened fear of being viewed as a public charge when accessing necessary services such as public assistance, Medicaid, and food stamps, for which they are eligible. The proposed change only exacerbates this fear.

This fear is the result of persistent myths that are being exaggerated in the current environment, for instance, that immigrants don’t pay taxes, come to the United States purely dreaming of opportunity (as opposed to fleeing life-threatening conditions in their homelands), and do not contribute to the economy, which have been proved untrue.

Complicating factors have been revisions to information required by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, amplifying fears of immediate deportation due to things like any accidental errors in completing applications.

Our panelists posed solutions to better serve immigrants: federal and international action to change the reality for immigrants in this country, including the need for a transnational conversation about the treatment of migrants and immigrants not just here in the U.S., but in Europe and other places. Local governments—city and state—and individuals must step in not only with financial help, but with common sense approaches.

Nonprofits need sufficient funding to support increased needs of immigrants coming through their doors, and elected officials who “get it” are those that are on the ground and in the neighborhoods, visibly witnessing the challenges being faced every day.

We must use our voices to seek change. This November 6, Election Day, is one opportunity, when people can support candidates who understand the needs and benefits of our multicultural society—and not just give lip service to secure votes.

Even simply starting a conversation with friends and family—albeit difficult ones—can springboard to broader awareness of the issues surrounding immigration, greater support for nonprofits on the frontlines of serving immigrants, and, most importantly, a better life for immigrants seeking a life in America free from discrimination and fear.

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Katie Leonberger is the President and CEO of Community Resource Exchange. On Twitter @katieleonberger & @CREinNYC.

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

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Immigrant-Service Organizations, Struggling with Immense Demand, Need Our Support Thu, 04 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Leaders Must Blunt Impact of Federal Tax Reform on New York Nonprofits and the People Who Rely on Us http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7445-state-leaders-must-blunt-impact-of-federal-tax-reform-on-new-york-nonprofits-and-the-people-who-rely-on-us http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7445-state-leaders-must-blunt-impact-of-federal-tax-reform-on-new-york-nonprofits-and-the-people-who-rely-on-us 37749459904 8287feee00 z

(photo via The Governor's Office)


The recently passed federal tax law will deepen inequality and jeopardize the health and wellbeing of families and individuals across our state. This legislation penalizes New Yorkers by capping the state and local tax (SALT) deduction and will create deficits that are likely to result in catastrophic cuts to the programs they depend on. These tax “cuts” will drive up the national deficit, which will then be cynically used as a rationale for slashing investments in critical programs such as food assistance, public housing, and affordable healthcare.

Our state leaders must take action to ensure that we can weather this storm.

Federal aid accounts for one-third of the New York State budget and directly accounts for 8-10% of the New York City budget. The state is already facing a deficit that will be exacerbated by any federal cuts to state assistance or Medicaid spending.  For example, homelessness is a major problem in our city and two-thirds of the New York City Housing Authority’s budget comes from federal aid. Cuts in aid to states would also have a significant impact on our children as 41% of the budget for the Administration for Children’s Services and 8% of the Department of Youth & Community Development funding comes from the federal government. Lack of funds at these agencies would impact foster care, adoption services, after-school programs, and Head Start. When direct aid is cut, families and individuals will rely even more heavily on nonprofit human services organizations. Our nonprofits deliver essential programs through contracts with city and state governments that support people through every stage of life, including early child education, elder care, shelter for people experiencing homelessness, job placement, and nutrition assistance. However, these government contracts rarely cover the full cost of providing services, which has resulted in a chronically underfunded sector.

At the same time, this federal legislation dis-incentivizes charitable giving.

Private fundraising has been an important (but insufficient) tool for filling the deficit that comes with government contracts. The tax bill raises the standard deduction, and with that increase many people will not itemize anymore, meaning that they will not see a tax benefit in making charitable donations. According to the Indiana University School of Philanthropy in a report commissioned by Independent Sector, 82 percent of charitable giving comes from people who itemize their tax return, and it is estimated that charitable giving will go down by about $13 billion.

Too many organizations are already at a breaking point. In New York City, 18% of nonprofit human services organizations are insolvent. This tax bill could push them over the edge at the exact moment when they are needed most. While we know this is a difficult budget year, given the deficit and uncertainty at the federal level, it is now more important than ever that we make sure our nonprofits are financially strong and resilient.

We are asking the state to make investments in our workforce and our infrastructure to ensure we are strong enough to continue serving communities well into the future. The underfunding of human services is not a new issue, but we need the Governor to lead in this area and 1) fund the minimum wage for human services workers contracted by the State, 2) continue the Nonprofit Capital Infrastructure Fund – a highly sought after grant program that assists nonprofits in making crucial improvements to their buildings and technology, and 3) fund a wage adjustment for a workforce that has gone without a salary increase in over eight years.

The Governor’s Executive Budget recognizes the federal threats to New York and includes an impressive agenda, which requires the close collaboration of human services providers across the state who are threatened not only by federal policies, but also by years of state policies and funding decisions that have jeopardized their ability to serve as anchors for their communities. Our organizations are dedicated to elevating the human potential of our families and communities, and we were gravely disappointed that some of our representatives did not act in the best interests of our state in passing this damaging tax legislation. However, New York now has an opportunity to be a progressive leader for the country by making investments in the human services sector. In times of challenge and uncertainty, nonprofits are our communities’ first line of defense and careful planning and adequate financial resources from the city and state are needed to protect these essential services.

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Center for New York City Affairs
Fiscal Policy Institute
FPWA
Human Services Council of New York
United Neighborhood Houses

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

Note: this column has been updated to correctly identify Independent Sector as the funder of the Indiana University study, not the United Way as originally written.

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State Leaders Must Blunt Impact of Federal Tax Reform on New York Nonprofits and the People Who Rely on Us Sun, 28 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Must Remove Nonprofits from Tax Lien Sale http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6701-city-must-remove-nonprofits-from-tax-lien-sale http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6701-city-must-remove-nonprofits-from-tax-lien-sale garden tax lien sale

(photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)


In New York City, tiny, vulnerable, nonprofit organizations too often lose the real estate they own to for-profit developers. These unjustifiable losses are a complete mix-up of city and state tax policy, through the mechanism called the tax lien sale. New York City needs to fix this problem by removing nonprofits from the tax lien sale.

Nonprofits of various sizes -- religious institutions, universities, and community gardens alike -- frequently own property. These organizations, due to their nonprofit status, according to the New York State Constitution and New York State law and are tax exempt. Yet every year, New York City facilitates the sale of some of these properties to private speculative developers, and it is never the mega universities or big churches that end up in this mess, but small, local nonprofits.

New York City is correctly concerned with maintaining its tax base to keep the city functioning. In 1996, the Giuliani administration drastically changed the way the city deals with owners who don’t pay their property taxes out of concern for the lost tax revenue. One aspect of that change was the introduction of the tax lien sale for all property owners, including nonprofit owners even though they do not owe these taxes in the first place.

The tax lien sale works like this: if you, as a property owner, don’t pay your property taxes, the city places a lien on your property and sells it to a tax lien trust, an investment vehicle only rich ("accredited") investors can use. The trust then adds interest and fees and collects the "past due" taxes even when they were not technically due. If the property owner doesn't pay those fees, the trust initiates foreclosure and then sells to a buyer, usually a developer, at a post-foreclosure auction.

If you are a nonprofit owner, to avoid the tax lien sale you need to successfully apply for a tax exemption. When your tiny organization has a staff of two or three people, sometimes the administration is imperfect and you don’t file an exemption form when you acquire the property, which can lead to the loss of your property because of the tax lien system.

To continue avoiding the tax lien sale, your nonprofit needs to annually file a renewal form with the Department of Finance. So, if your community garden board misses a few pieces of mail because the former president retired and the new generation of garden caretakers doesn’t have every city agency sending mail to the right place, the renewal might not get filed. And the tax lien warnings may go unnoticed.

In a year or two, New York City thinks this property has a civic duty to pay taxes (which it does not) and is delinquent in that duty. The lien gets sold, and then your garden or church gets foreclosed. The worst case scenario happens when a developer shows up with court papers at your garden’s fence and tells you “we own this now and you must go.”

So, even though the state constitution provides for the exemption of property taxes for nonprofits, and even though New York law provides that your property is exempt from the date you acquire the property as a nonprofit, the City Department of Finance is still permitting the tax lien sales of nonprofits.

As D.W. Gibson reported earlier this year, the Black Veterans for Social Justice in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn learned this year that tax debt on their property had been sold. Tax debt that, under state constitutional principle and state law, they do not owe. They are working on untangling this mess before their building ends up in foreclosure.

Tax revenue from property owners is an important piece of how the city functions. But this cannot be an excuse for seeing a small community nonprofit, especially in an already pressed neighborhood, fall into foreclosure.

The city should collect taxes from luxury real estate developers. The city should exert more muscle to collect fines from delinquent landlords who permit their buildings to collapse around tenants. The city should focus its hunt for lost revenue on the actual organizations that legally and morally should be paying it.

The rules around tax lien sales are up for renewal this year. New York City must exempt nonprofits from the tax lien sale altogether. New York City should not be seeking lost revenue from the most vulnerable populations. This problem can be fixed.

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Richard Semegram is a tenant lawyer and an advisory committee member of 596 Acres. On Twitter @richagram.

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

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City Must Remove Nonprofits from Tax Lien Sale 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/state/6498-cuomo-s-minimum-wage-nonprofit-through-the-lens-of-his-new-regulatory-scheme http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/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
     

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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
Nonprofit Funding Boost, Pre-K Pay Parity Left Out of City Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6394-nonprofit-funding-boost-pre-k-pay-parity-left-out-of-city-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6394-nonprofit-funding-boost-pre-k-pay-parity-left-out-of-city-budget de blasio council budget question

Mayor & Council members announce budget deal (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)


In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s budget agreement between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council, a number of Council members decried what they said was underfunding of top Council priorities including summer youth employment, cultural institutions, libraries, senior services, and more. Consequently, the mayor conceded to most of those funding requests in the final deal.

Most, but not all. Two major issues -- additional funding for human services nonprofits contracted by the city and funding to ensure pay parity for pre-kindergarten providers -- were absent from the deal, leaving Council members, advocates, and those at relevant organizations reeling.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal of the lack of additional nonprofit funding. “We ask these providers to do serious work for 2.5 million New Yorkers. When we underfund them, we’re shortchanging New Yorkers.”

The city contracts with nonprofits to provide a range of services including after-school programs, mental health services, food pantries, and senior care. Nonprofit providers have been warning of a crisis in the sector if the government does not step in to increase funding - they say that the city is not paying them for the full costs of their services. In January this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio took one big step in announcing a $15 an hour minimum wage for employees of nonprofits contracted by the city, but the contracts that the city awards must reflect these added compensation costs, along with rising rent and other operational fees, those who run these organizations say.

Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s committee on contracts, has been stressing the issue throughout the budget season. Last month, she led 46 other Council members in signing a letter to the mayor pushing him to baseline the additional funding, which would amount to about $25 million or a 2.5 percent increase. This funding would go to Other Than Personal Services (OTPS) costs, such as rent, supplies, maintenance and technology. If the city doesn’t help nonprofits cover those costs, Rosenthal said, “We’re going to have fewer staff and dirtier conditions."

Nonprofit closures, the worst case scenario, are also not that unlikely. About 18 percent of the city’s roughly 3,700 nonprofits faced insolvency in 2013 and 27 percent operated on a deficit in 2014, according to a report by the Human Services Council (HSC), a coalition of nonprofit providers.

“The human services sector is in crisis that has a lot to do with government underfunding of contracts,” said Allison Sesso, executive director of HSC. “We’re relying on these nonprofits to address some of the city’s most pressing issues like homelessness. How can they help struggling families if they’re struggling themselves?” Sesso said the city missed an opportunity to “turn the tide in the right direction,” but she was hopeful that efforts by advocates would yield results in the November modification to the budget.

Mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein confirmed in an email that the funding was not included but said that “the administration is committed to the city’s nonprofit sector and the New Yorkers it serves, including many of our most vulnerable. That is why we have made unprecedented investments in human services, including securing our contractors on the road to $15 an hour. We are always looking for ways to strengthen nonprofits and will continue to do so moving forward.”

Another significant funding demand the administration did not meet in the budget is ensuring pay parity for pre-kindergarten providers, a long-running gripe for employees of Community Based Organizations (CBOs) who administer the city’s universal pre-kindergarten mandate but whose employees receive lower pay and benefits than Department of Education employees doing the same work. A number of elected officials have supported the cause, including multiple City Council members and Public Advocate Letitia James. A spokesperson for the Council Speaker’s office said though the funding wasn’t in the budget for both pre-k pay parity and nonprofits, conversations on both issues are ongoing.

“If they want community-based programs to survive then they need to put the money forward,” said Andrea Anthony, executive director of the Day Care Council of New York, which represents nonprofits that provide childcare services at city-funded centers. “You can’t have the DOE competing with small nonprofits for the same pot of professionals and children.”

Currently, the Day Care Council is engaged in union contract negotiations with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), which is one reason the administration stated it hadn’t included funding for pay parity in the budget. “The City is engaged in those discussions and supportive of the negotiations underway – but it’s a collective bargaining process between the providers and the unions,” said Goldstein, the mayoral spokesperson, by email.

Several Council members who have been vocal on the issue did not comment for this article. Council Member Rosenthal said she wasn’t familiar with progress on the contract negotiations. A spokesperson for Council Member Stephen Levin said they were waiting for final budget documents to be posted and Council Member Elizabeth Crowley was unavailable for comment.

Anthony of the Day Care Council said union negotiations over salary and benefits would likely be concluded within a month and the union has been supportive of reaching parity levels for pre-k teachers. “They understand that without certified teachers, these organizations cannot function,” she said.

CSA Director of Communications Clem Richardson said the union wasn’t averse to raises for teachers but that their primary concern was the directors at CBOs who often make less than pre-kindergarten teachers. “We believe everyone who takes care of children deserve a living wage in this very expensive city that we live in,” he said in a phone interview. He said there had been no progress at a negotiation meeting on Monday but another meeting was scheduled for later this month. He was also optimistic that the final 2017 budget would include funding to accommodate these raises. The City Council is set to vote the budget through on Tuesday, though there is always the November budget modification. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Richardson’s optimism was echoed by Stephanie Gendell, associate executive director of the Citizens Committee for Children, an advocacy group. “We remain hopeful as labor negotiations continue,” she said, “that the city will come to an agreement that includes salary parity for the early childhood education workforce.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Nonprofit Funding Boost, Pre-K Pay Parity Left Out of City Budget Mon, 13 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000