Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/nypirg 2017-10-21T02:59:31+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Voting Reform Advocates Say Cuomo Can Do More Through Executive Order 2017-07-26T04:00:00+00:00 2017-07-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7089:voting-reform-advocates-say-cuomo-can-do-more-through-executive-order Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/34717216573_c5971089a9_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo podium" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo&nbsp;signed an executive order Monday expanding the list of New York State agencies required to provide voter registration assistance and creating a task force to oversee implementation of the program.</p> <p>While current state and federal law requires the forms to be available at the Department of Motor Vehicles and certain social service agencies, Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/Executive_Order_169.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new order</a> mandates that all agencies that interact with the public through professional licensing, recreational activities and other avenues carry the forms. <br /> <br />The State Agency Voter Registration Task Force -- comprised of Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David, Jamie Rubin, his Director of State Operations, as well as a variety of agency commissioners -- will explore ways to implement the reforms laid out in the executive order. The task force will also study the use of electronic signatures and how to set up secure online voting registration systems -- similar to the one currently in place at the Department of Motor Vehicles -- through additional state agencies, according to the governor’s office.</p> <p>Advocates of voting reform, who were disappointed by the lack of meaningful electoral reform during the 2017 legislative session, were buoyed by the news, praising it as an important first step, but they also noted that a lot more can be done to increase access to registration and voting.</p> <p>“While we appreciate Governor Cuomo’s intentions, his proposed executive order will do little to&nbsp;address the issues New York State voters face on Election Day. Voter purges, strict registration&nbsp;and party change deadlines, and long lines at the polls cannot be fixed with enhanced voter&nbsp;registration,” said Jennifer Wilson of League of Women Voters in a statement.</p> <p>In pointing out that voter registration is not the main barrier to voting in New York State, Wilson noted that in 2016 voter registration reached a record high, but many newly enrolled voters faced barriers to casting their ballots.</p> <p>“While we agree that state agencies should take a more active role in voter registration, we would prefer to see an executive order that enacts early voting, alters registration deadlines, or allows for electronic poll books. The only way to truly empower voters and ensure ballot integrity is to make voting easier and more accessible,” said Wilson.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, issued a statement saying the organization is “most excited by the potential to use proven technology to implement fully online voter registration in New York State. State agencies, SUNY and CUNY and Boards of Election should make voting easier by maximizing the use of secure technology.”</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo’s actions are a helpful step in what we hope is a wider push to update our archaic voting system,” said New York Civil Liberties Union head Donna Lieberman, noting the executive action’s timeliness in the wake of the Trump administration’s request for voter information through its newly created voter fraud commission, which critics say is paving the way to attempt voter suppression, and 44 states, including New York, have refused to comply with.</p> <p>The voter registration expansion ordered by Cuomo could have a significant impact in places like New York City and Westchester where a considerable number of voters do not frequently interact with the DMV, because they are not car owners or are not licensed to drive.</p> <p>A recent study by the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), which has been pushing for all agencies to make voter registration forms available, found that fewer than 50 percent of people who are of voting age living in Brooklyn or the Bronx possessed driver’s licenses, while in Queens, 64 percent of those residents were licensed, and in Manhattan, 54 percent of those residents were licensed. Eighty-three percent of voting age Staten Islanders were licensed, and in Westchester, 88 percent of those residents were registered with the DMV.</p> <p>The analysis also found disparities between men and women who interacted with the DMV in New York State; there were 300,000 fewer female licensed drivers than male drivers, though there are 600,000 more women than men in the state. The NYPIRG estimates are based on 2010 U.S. Census data.</p> <p>Cuomo has also ordered SUNY and CUNY to conduct a full investigation of their campus voter registration practices in order to ensure that required steps are being taken to increase voter registration rates among young voters on the state's public college campuses. State law requires SUNY and CUNY campuses to provide all students with voter registration forms at the beginning of each school year, as well as in January of each presidential election year.</p> <p>Finally, Cuomo directed the DMV to send information referencing its online voter registration application in all emails reminding New Yorkers to renew their licenses, identification cards, and vehicle registrations, in order to maximize New Yorkers' awareness of the electronic voter registration application.</p> <p>Since the launch of online voter registration in 2012, there have been over 921,922 online voter registration applications, including 430,886 who identified themselves as first-time voters, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany called on the new Cuomo task force, CUNY and SUNY to hold public hearings around improving voter registration.</p> <p>Earlier this year, as part of his State of the State and 2017 policy book, the governor proposed "The Democracy Project," a legislative package to further modernize and reform New York's voting system. The bills were comprehensive, including early voting, same-day voter registration, and automatic voter registration, but the governor was criticized for failing to see any of those measures passed during the budget or subsequent legislative session, which ended in late June.</p> <p>When asked about the failure to pass these reforms, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6823-cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said there was “no appetite” in the Legislature</a>.</p> <p>"There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget," Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said of the reforms</a> when talking with reporters at an annual Easter open house.</p> <p>Chisun Lee, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, noted that while an executive order has its limitations, the governor could direct his task force to “study the benefits of and best practices for implementing opt-out automatic registration — a reform that would move New York from the back of the pack to the vanguard of pro-voter states.” Under this program, all eligible voters would automatically be registered unless they proactively declined.</p> <p>“Today’s order is a good step forward, though more can and should be done to replace New York’s archaic, paper-based registration system with a modern, electronic one that increases efficiency and improves accuracy of our registration rolls,” Lee said in a statement.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office said the governor will continue to push for the reforms introduced in his 2017 agenda, but did not elaborate about how.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/34717216573_c5971089a9_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo podium" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo&nbsp;signed an executive order Monday expanding the list of New York State agencies required to provide voter registration assistance and creating a task force to oversee implementation of the program.</p> <p>While current state and federal law requires the forms to be available at the Department of Motor Vehicles and certain social service agencies, Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/Executive_Order_169.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new order</a> mandates that all agencies that interact with the public through professional licensing, recreational activities and other avenues carry the forms. <br /> <br />The State Agency Voter Registration Task Force -- comprised of Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David, Jamie Rubin, his Director of State Operations, as well as a variety of agency commissioners -- will explore ways to implement the reforms laid out in the executive order. The task force will also study the use of electronic signatures and how to set up secure online voting registration systems -- similar to the one currently in place at the Department of Motor Vehicles -- through additional state agencies, according to the governor’s office.</p> <p>Advocates of voting reform, who were disappointed by the lack of meaningful electoral reform during the 2017 legislative session, were buoyed by the news, praising it as an important first step, but they also noted that a lot more can be done to increase access to registration and voting.</p> <p>“While we appreciate Governor Cuomo’s intentions, his proposed executive order will do little to&nbsp;address the issues New York State voters face on Election Day. Voter purges, strict registration&nbsp;and party change deadlines, and long lines at the polls cannot be fixed with enhanced voter&nbsp;registration,” said Jennifer Wilson of League of Women Voters in a statement.</p> <p>In pointing out that voter registration is not the main barrier to voting in New York State, Wilson noted that in 2016 voter registration reached a record high, but many newly enrolled voters faced barriers to casting their ballots.</p> <p>“While we agree that state agencies should take a more active role in voter registration, we would prefer to see an executive order that enacts early voting, alters registration deadlines, or allows for electronic poll books. The only way to truly empower voters and ensure ballot integrity is to make voting easier and more accessible,” said Wilson.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, issued a statement saying the organization is “most excited by the potential to use proven technology to implement fully online voter registration in New York State. State agencies, SUNY and CUNY and Boards of Election should make voting easier by maximizing the use of secure technology.”</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo’s actions are a helpful step in what we hope is a wider push to update our archaic voting system,” said New York Civil Liberties Union head Donna Lieberman, noting the executive action’s timeliness in the wake of the Trump administration’s request for voter information through its newly created voter fraud commission, which critics say is paving the way to attempt voter suppression, and 44 states, including New York, have refused to comply with.</p> <p>The voter registration expansion ordered by Cuomo could have a significant impact in places like New York City and Westchester where a considerable number of voters do not frequently interact with the DMV, because they are not car owners or are not licensed to drive.</p> <p>A recent study by the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), which has been pushing for all agencies to make voter registration forms available, found that fewer than 50 percent of people who are of voting age living in Brooklyn or the Bronx possessed driver’s licenses, while in Queens, 64 percent of those residents were licensed, and in Manhattan, 54 percent of those residents were licensed. Eighty-three percent of voting age Staten Islanders were licensed, and in Westchester, 88 percent of those residents were registered with the DMV.</p> <p>The analysis also found disparities between men and women who interacted with the DMV in New York State; there were 300,000 fewer female licensed drivers than male drivers, though there are 600,000 more women than men in the state. The NYPIRG estimates are based on 2010 U.S. Census data.</p> <p>Cuomo has also ordered SUNY and CUNY to conduct a full investigation of their campus voter registration practices in order to ensure that required steps are being taken to increase voter registration rates among young voters on the state's public college campuses. State law requires SUNY and CUNY campuses to provide all students with voter registration forms at the beginning of each school year, as well as in January of each presidential election year.</p> <p>Finally, Cuomo directed the DMV to send information referencing its online voter registration application in all emails reminding New Yorkers to renew their licenses, identification cards, and vehicle registrations, in order to maximize New Yorkers' awareness of the electronic voter registration application.</p> <p>Since the launch of online voter registration in 2012, there have been over 921,922 online voter registration applications, including 430,886 who identified themselves as first-time voters, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany called on the new Cuomo task force, CUNY and SUNY to hold public hearings around improving voter registration.</p> <p>Earlier this year, as part of his State of the State and 2017 policy book, the governor proposed "The Democracy Project," a legislative package to further modernize and reform New York's voting system. The bills were comprehensive, including early voting, same-day voter registration, and automatic voter registration, but the governor was criticized for failing to see any of those measures passed during the budget or subsequent legislative session, which ended in late June.</p> <p>When asked about the failure to pass these reforms, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6823-cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said there was “no appetite” in the Legislature</a>.</p> <p>"There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget," Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said of the reforms</a> when talking with reporters at an annual Easter open house.</p> <p>Chisun Lee, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, noted that while an executive order has its limitations, the governor could direct his task force to “study the benefits of and best practices for implementing opt-out automatic registration — a reform that would move New York from the back of the pack to the vanguard of pro-voter states.” Under this program, all eligible voters would automatically be registered unless they proactively declined.</p> <p>“Today’s order is a good step forward, though more can and should be done to replace New York’s archaic, paper-based registration system with a modern, electronic one that increases efficiency and improves accuracy of our registration rolls,” Lee said in a statement.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office said the governor will continue to push for the reforms introduced in his 2017 agenda, but did not elaborate about how.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Reviews Are In: What Watchdogs Say About The New State Budget 2017-06-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7003:reviews-are-in-what-watchdogs-say-about-new-state-budget Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/24334328716_29ac89de3e_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo budget presentation" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A new state budget was passed in April in typical Albany fashion: with almost no time for public scrutiny of the bills or proper review by the legislators who quickly voted them through. Since the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6867-10-key-takeaways-for-new-york-city-from-the-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$153.1 billion budget was passed</a>, watchdogs both in and out of government have released analyses, helping to better inform citizens and increase accountability.</p> <p>The budget was adopted a little over a week into the new fiscal year, which begins April 1, after compromises were reached among legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo on contentious issues such as raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, education aid, a college tuition affordability program, the allocation of large sums of affordable housing monies, and more. The frantic and secretive nature of state budget adoption leaves a lot to digest afterward.</p> <p>Now, about two months after the budget was passed, those analyses by watchdogs can bring to light a few common themes and several other key points.</p> <p>Aside from general criticism of the process itself, there are the issues of the large lump sum appropriations, projects funded by mysterious sources, and the governor faulty marketing of his budgetary discipline.</p> <p><strong>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli</strong><br />State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2017/2017-18-enacted-budget-report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on the state budget that includes critiques of the budgeting process and the end result. The budget continues to rely heavily on appropriations from the federal government, at almost a third of state revenue, despite the unpredictability of state aid from Washington, D.C. under President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress.</p> <p>“Although the budget came together more than a week into the fiscal year, the Legislature and Executive acted on critical budget issues that will help New York move forward,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “However, billions of dollars in spending lacks key details that would better inform the public about how their tax dollars are being spent.”</p> <p>The Comptroller’s report included a lengthy chart showing the legislature’s inaction on ethics reform, criticizing the fact that, among other things, the budget “intentionally omits” measures such as requiring advisory opinions on legislators’ outside income, closing the LLC loophole in corporate political contributions, and extending the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to cover the Legislature. The Comptroller was equally pointed on the state’s procurement practices, which have come under fire due to rampant corruption in the state’s contracting process, stating that the changes were needed to “ensure spending accountability and transparency” in a statement. A measure to authorize the IG to investigate criminal wrongdoing in the state’s procurements was intentionally omitted.</p> <p>The Comptroller was critical of the quickness of the process, essentially disallowing public review. Also criticized was the prevalence of lump sum appropriations, which can make state money harder to track.</p> <p>“It should concern all New Yorkers that budget decisions in Washington may force tough fiscal choices for the state and raise new questions for local governments and nonprofits that rely on state funding,” DiNapoli said. “Federal actions that could adversely affect New York, as well as economic uncertainty, are key risks to this budget.”</p> <p><strong>Citizens Budget Commission</strong><br />In a statement on the day the budget was adopted, CBC President Carol Kellermann said “achieving a fiscally sound budget is more important than an ‘on time’ budget,” referring to the emergency budget extender passed when negotiating parties couldn’t reach a deal on time. Still, CBC expressed dismay that the state budget was neither on-time nor fiscally sound.</p> <p>In a later report, CBC also <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/when-2-percent-isnt-2-percent" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> Governor Cuomo for misleadingly saying that the adopted budget continued his “record of holding State Operating Funds spending annual growth to no more than 2 percent.” In reality, CBC explained, spending growth is closer to 3.7%, well above the 2% benchmark that Cuomo prides himself on. The budget is able to exploit this loophole by not “adjusting for payment timing differences and accounting changes,” such as through premature debt service payments or “shifting expenditures out of state operating funds spending.”</p> <p>CBC has created a “<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/budget-navigator" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">budget navigator</a>” to allow citizens to see how city and state money is being spent.</p> <p><strong>Empire Center for Public Policy</strong><br />Empire Center, a conservative think tank based in Albany, has released a <a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/budget/">slew of criticisms</a> of the budget. Condemnations expressed on the Empire Center blog cover health care spending, certain tax breaks, and the “free” college tuition program. Empire Center is also critical of the added tax deduction for union dues, “effectively a $35 million gratuity for an already privileged caste of (mostly government) workers.”</p> <p>“The positives in New York’s FY 2018 budget make up a pretty short list—while the negatives are in some respects worse than usual,” wrote E.J. McMahon, Empire Center’s founder and research director, in a budget breakdown <a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/budget-pluses-and-minuses/">post</a> on the Center’s blog.</p> <p>McMahon argues for more transparency and accountability with the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, which he says “used to be put before voters in New York.” Now that doing so is no longer a requirement, McMahon writes, “the governor and Legislature obviously figure, why bother?”</p> <p><strong>Citizens Union</strong><br />Citizens Union identifies the budget’s large non-specific lump sum funding in its “<a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/spending_in_the_shadows__nonspecific_lump_sum_funding_in_the_fy_2018_new_york_state_enacted_budget">Spending in the Shadows</a>” report. The watchdog identified nearly $13 billion in the budget in nonspecific funding: around $3 billion “subject to decisions of one or more particular elected officials,” and nearly $10 billion “in approximately 40 different economic development and infrastructure pots listing no official with spending authority.” The group also found that there was “inadequate reporting as to how these funds are eventually spent.”</p> <p>Citizens Union calls on the governor and Legislature to publicly identify all nonspecific funding and to publicly disclose information, such as purposes and the requester, regarding these funds, especially ahead of spending, not afterward as is often the case. Further, the organization calls for amending state finance law to introduce accountability and conflict-of-interest identification to public contracting, the disclosure of grants and contracts “awarded under nonspecific lump sum appropriations and reappropriations,” and for “aging the budget bills for three days.”</p> <p><strong>Reinvent Albany</strong><br />Reinvent Albany has focused largely on procurement reform, which has become a major point of contention, particularly after the Buffalo Billion corruption scandal broke. Along with other watchdog groups, Reinvent Albany issued a <a href="http://reinventalbany.org/2017/05/budget-and-transparency-watchdogs-groups-call-on-senate-assembly-and-governor-cuomo-to-pass-clean-contracting-reforms/">release</a> in May calling for “five clean contracting reforms,” all of which failed to make it into the budget:</p> <p>1. Require competitive and transparent contracting for the award of state funds by all state agencies, authorities, and affiliates. Use existing agency procurement guidelines as a uniform minimum standard.</p> <p>2. Transfer responsibility for awarding all economic development awards to Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and end awards by state non-profits and SUNY.</p> <p>3. Empower the Comptroller to review and approve all state contracts over $250,000.</p> <p>4. Prohibit state authorities, state corporations, and state non-profits from doing business with their board members.</p> <p>5. Create a ‘Database of Deals’ that allows the public to see the total value of all forms of subsidies awarded to a business – as six states have done.</p> <p>The groups have continued to call for such reforms, but legislative leaders have been hesitant to challenge Cuomo, who is opposed.</p> <p><strong>New York Public Interest Research Group</strong><br />NYPIRG also criticized the opacity of the state budget process, which notorious for taking place largely behind closed doors, especially in terms of the final, major deals reached, with the infamous “Three Men in a Room” process determining what stays and what goes -- largely without public input. (There’s been a fourth man in the room of late given the addition of IDC Leader Jeff Klein along with the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader.)</p> <p>“The process by which these decisions were made was awful and arguably worse than in the recent past,” said the organization in a <a href="http://www.nypirg.org/capitolperspective/?p=1861">statement</a> shortly after the budget’s passage. “Virtually all the deliberations in developing the budget were conducted behind closed doors. There were no hearings, no open meetings, and with the three day legislative review period waived by the governor lawmakers were voting on bills that they had little time to comprehensively review.”</p> <p>***<br />by&nbsp;Ben Brachfeld &amp; Jynn Schubert<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/24334328716_29ac89de3e_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo budget presentation" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A new state budget was passed in April in typical Albany fashion: with almost no time for public scrutiny of the bills or proper review by the legislators who quickly voted them through. Since the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6867-10-key-takeaways-for-new-york-city-from-the-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$153.1 billion budget was passed</a>, watchdogs both in and out of government have released analyses, helping to better inform citizens and increase accountability.</p> <p>The budget was adopted a little over a week into the new fiscal year, which begins April 1, after compromises were reached among legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo on contentious issues such as raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, education aid, a college tuition affordability program, the allocation of large sums of affordable housing monies, and more. The frantic and secretive nature of state budget adoption leaves a lot to digest afterward.</p> <p>Now, about two months after the budget was passed, those analyses by watchdogs can bring to light a few common themes and several other key points.</p> <p>Aside from general criticism of the process itself, there are the issues of the large lump sum appropriations, projects funded by mysterious sources, and the governor faulty marketing of his budgetary discipline.</p> <p><strong>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli</strong><br />State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2017/2017-18-enacted-budget-report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on the state budget that includes critiques of the budgeting process and the end result. The budget continues to rely heavily on appropriations from the federal government, at almost a third of state revenue, despite the unpredictability of state aid from Washington, D.C. under President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress.</p> <p>“Although the budget came together more than a week into the fiscal year, the Legislature and Executive acted on critical budget issues that will help New York move forward,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “However, billions of dollars in spending lacks key details that would better inform the public about how their tax dollars are being spent.”</p> <p>The Comptroller’s report included a lengthy chart showing the legislature’s inaction on ethics reform, criticizing the fact that, among other things, the budget “intentionally omits” measures such as requiring advisory opinions on legislators’ outside income, closing the LLC loophole in corporate political contributions, and extending the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to cover the Legislature. The Comptroller was equally pointed on the state’s procurement practices, which have come under fire due to rampant corruption in the state’s contracting process, stating that the changes were needed to “ensure spending accountability and transparency” in a statement. A measure to authorize the IG to investigate criminal wrongdoing in the state’s procurements was intentionally omitted.</p> <p>The Comptroller was critical of the quickness of the process, essentially disallowing public review. Also criticized was the prevalence of lump sum appropriations, which can make state money harder to track.</p> <p>“It should concern all New Yorkers that budget decisions in Washington may force tough fiscal choices for the state and raise new questions for local governments and nonprofits that rely on state funding,” DiNapoli said. “Federal actions that could adversely affect New York, as well as economic uncertainty, are key risks to this budget.”</p> <p><strong>Citizens Budget Commission</strong><br />In a statement on the day the budget was adopted, CBC President Carol Kellermann said “achieving a fiscally sound budget is more important than an ‘on time’ budget,” referring to the emergency budget extender passed when negotiating parties couldn’t reach a deal on time. Still, CBC expressed dismay that the state budget was neither on-time nor fiscally sound.</p> <p>In a later report, CBC also <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/when-2-percent-isnt-2-percent" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> Governor Cuomo for misleadingly saying that the adopted budget continued his “record of holding State Operating Funds spending annual growth to no more than 2 percent.” In reality, CBC explained, spending growth is closer to 3.7%, well above the 2% benchmark that Cuomo prides himself on. The budget is able to exploit this loophole by not “adjusting for payment timing differences and accounting changes,” such as through premature debt service payments or “shifting expenditures out of state operating funds spending.”</p> <p>CBC has created a “<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/budget-navigator" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">budget navigator</a>” to allow citizens to see how city and state money is being spent.</p> <p><strong>Empire Center for Public Policy</strong><br />Empire Center, a conservative think tank based in Albany, has released a <a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/budget/">slew of criticisms</a> of the budget. Condemnations expressed on the Empire Center blog cover health care spending, certain tax breaks, and the “free” college tuition program. Empire Center is also critical of the added tax deduction for union dues, “effectively a $35 million gratuity for an already privileged caste of (mostly government) workers.”</p> <p>“The positives in New York’s FY 2018 budget make up a pretty short list—while the negatives are in some respects worse than usual,” wrote E.J. McMahon, Empire Center’s founder and research director, in a budget breakdown <a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/budget-pluses-and-minuses/">post</a> on the Center’s blog.</p> <p>McMahon argues for more transparency and accountability with the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, which he says “used to be put before voters in New York.” Now that doing so is no longer a requirement, McMahon writes, “the governor and Legislature obviously figure, why bother?”</p> <p><strong>Citizens Union</strong><br />Citizens Union identifies the budget’s large non-specific lump sum funding in its “<a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/spending_in_the_shadows__nonspecific_lump_sum_funding_in_the_fy_2018_new_york_state_enacted_budget">Spending in the Shadows</a>” report. The watchdog identified nearly $13 billion in the budget in nonspecific funding: around $3 billion “subject to decisions of one or more particular elected officials,” and nearly $10 billion “in approximately 40 different economic development and infrastructure pots listing no official with spending authority.” The group also found that there was “inadequate reporting as to how these funds are eventually spent.”</p> <p>Citizens Union calls on the governor and Legislature to publicly identify all nonspecific funding and to publicly disclose information, such as purposes and the requester, regarding these funds, especially ahead of spending, not afterward as is often the case. Further, the organization calls for amending state finance law to introduce accountability and conflict-of-interest identification to public contracting, the disclosure of grants and contracts “awarded under nonspecific lump sum appropriations and reappropriations,” and for “aging the budget bills for three days.”</p> <p><strong>Reinvent Albany</strong><br />Reinvent Albany has focused largely on procurement reform, which has become a major point of contention, particularly after the Buffalo Billion corruption scandal broke. Along with other watchdog groups, Reinvent Albany issued a <a href="http://reinventalbany.org/2017/05/budget-and-transparency-watchdogs-groups-call-on-senate-assembly-and-governor-cuomo-to-pass-clean-contracting-reforms/">release</a> in May calling for “five clean contracting reforms,” all of which failed to make it into the budget:</p> <p>1. Require competitive and transparent contracting for the award of state funds by all state agencies, authorities, and affiliates. Use existing agency procurement guidelines as a uniform minimum standard.</p> <p>2. Transfer responsibility for awarding all economic development awards to Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and end awards by state non-profits and SUNY.</p> <p>3. Empower the Comptroller to review and approve all state contracts over $250,000.</p> <p>4. Prohibit state authorities, state corporations, and state non-profits from doing business with their board members.</p> <p>5. Create a ‘Database of Deals’ that allows the public to see the total value of all forms of subsidies awarded to a business – as six states have done.</p> <p>The groups have continued to call for such reforms, but legislative leaders have been hesitant to challenge Cuomo, who is opposed.</p> <p><strong>New York Public Interest Research Group</strong><br />NYPIRG also criticized the opacity of the state budget process, which notorious for taking place largely behind closed doors, especially in terms of the final, major deals reached, with the infamous “Three Men in a Room” process determining what stays and what goes -- largely without public input. (There’s been a fourth man in the room of late given the addition of IDC Leader Jeff Klein along with the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader.)</p> <p>“The process by which these decisions were made was awful and arguably worse than in the recent past,” said the organization in a <a href="http://www.nypirg.org/capitolperspective/?p=1861">statement</a> shortly after the budget’s passage. “Virtually all the deliberations in developing the budget were conducted behind closed doors. There were no hearings, no open meetings, and with the three day legislative review period waived by the governor lawmakers were voting on bills that they had little time to comprehensively review.”</p> <p>***<br />by&nbsp;Ben Brachfeld &amp; Jynn Schubert<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p> As Session Nears End, Electoral Reforms Mostly Stalled & Cuomo Quiet 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6972:as-session-nears-end-electoral-reforms-mostly-stalled-cuomo-quiet Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/22127912963_5f30becd97_z_3.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/04/cuomo-says-goodbye-to-albany-and-any-ethics-push-for-the-year-111271" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prediction</a> that there is insufficient political will at the New York State Legislature to pass any significant voting reform measures this year may be coming to fruition.</p> <p>During the final weeks before the end of the legislative session, this year June 21 -- when lawmakers leave the Capitol and return to their districts for the remainder of the year -- there is typically a final thrust for policy measures that did not make it into the budget, which this year was passed in early April.</p> <p>On the electoral front, there has been a growing push from voting reform activists, civil rights organizations, and some Democratic elected officials to modernize New York’s arcane system, but, given the reluctance of Senate Republicans and, at least in part, Cuomo’s lack of prioritization of electoral reform despite saying in January he backs an ambitious agenda, major reforms appear to be elusive.</p> <p>Citing numerous barriers faced by voters during the 2016 elections, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Bill de Blasio have joined the call for Albany to pass meaningful electoral reform, a cause that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">championed</a> by other Democrats in the state Assembly majority and Senate minority.</p> <p>Democrats in both legislative houses have introduced a slew of voting reform bills -- including legislation on early voting, automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, and “no excuse” absentee ballots, among other measures -- as they do each year. While most <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/Press/20170515/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed</a> the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as usual, the efforts are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by a slim majority given the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and bolstered by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in a coalition agreement.</p> <p>The Senate has passed a significantly slimmer electoral package, most of which would do little to increase voter access or enhance voter registration.</p> <p>So far, the only electoral legislation passed in both houses would allow polling place inspectors to work eight-hour half-shifts, when previously they were made to work 16-hour days. It is a move intended to help Boards of Elections recruit staff and improve efficiency on election days.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, sponsored by IDC Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Amy Paulin in their respective chambers, would require special ballots to be mailed to domestic violence victims and has passed each house’s election committee and is calendared for floor votes.</p> <p>The Assembly election committee <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?sh=agen2&amp;agenda=2017-06-02-20.51.46.129889&amp;ver=2017-06-02-20.51.46.188449&amp;ano=18&amp;com=Election%20Law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is meeting</a> on Tuesday, June 6, to consider a dozen more electoral law changes.</p> <p>Other relatively minor pieces of electoral <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1567/amendment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> close to being passed in both houses relate to the way candidates are listed on the ballot, the creation of an inventory of official campaign websites, and protecting the ballot information of domestic violence victims.</p> <p>One sign of the lack of agreement on major electoral reforms, though, relates to consolidating New York’s repetitive primary election days, a cause that has bipartisan support -- in theory. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed bills to consolidate federal and state primary elections -- a move projected to save the state $25 million and help increase voter turnout -- however the houses cannot disagree on which month to hold the joint election.</p> <p>The congressional primaries were split from state level primaries in 2012, when the federal MOVE Act mandated that federal elections allow sufficient time for absentee ballots from those in the army and overseas to be collected. The Assembly bill requires the joint primary to happen in June, in order to allow more absentee ballots to trickle in, while the Senate suggests an August date, which would still meet federal regulations. Democrats argue that the August date would suppress voter turnout given peoples’ summer vacations.</p> <p>The only bill designed to expand voter access that has advanced in the Senate is an early voting bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, which would allow eligible New Yorkers an additional seven-day window prior to election day to cast their ballots, but it too appears unlikely to reach the Senate floor.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins’ bill, which mirrors legislation by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh that has passed the Assembly, would open poll sites for seven days ahead of election day, allowing one day in between the early voting period and elections. Each county, depending on its size, would be required to make at least one and up to seven polling sites available during that period.</p> <p>In March, when Stewart-Cousins forced the Senate election committee to vote on the measure, Democratic members of the committee voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor, only to have it diverted to the local government committee by GOP members. <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/05/01/senate-committee-advances-early-voting-bill-111684" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Politico wrote</a>, the majority conference is able to kill legislation without explicitly voting against it by pawning it off to another committee, which is unlikely to meet more than once or twice before the end of session and does not have to calendar a vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S3304" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A bill</a> for automatic voter registration, sponsored by Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, was defeated after a vote was compelled in the same manner.</p> <p>While Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, unveiled a sweeping electoral reform agenda during his 2017 State of the State, by April, following the passage of the budget, he appeared to have lost any can-do, <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">telling reporters</a>, “There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget."</p> <p>This lack of enthusiasm on voting reform is echoed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican of Long Island, who, when asked recently by a reporter, noted the fiscal component of early voting. “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day?” he asked rhetorically. “I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>While there is still time left in the legislative session, without Cuomo using his influence, movement on the issue in unlikely, according the Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group, one of the advocacy organizations lobbying for electoral reform.</p> <p>“Lawmakers don't have to face voters until next year so they are more likely to do popular things on even number years than odd number years. The governor has not shown a lot of leadership on this, so they haven't felt a lot of pressure,” Horner said.</p> <p>De Blasio, no ally of Cuomo, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> last week that he and unnamed partners intend “to launch a major effort” to see voting and election reforms passed in Albany by the end of the session.<br /><br />Cuomo’s office <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the governor continues to support modernizing the state’s electoral laws and will keep pushing for measures to do so despite their lack of movement through the Legislature. A spokesperson did not answer whether the governor would make any public push to see his desired electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/22127912963_5f30becd97_z_3.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/04/cuomo-says-goodbye-to-albany-and-any-ethics-push-for-the-year-111271" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prediction</a> that there is insufficient political will at the New York State Legislature to pass any significant voting reform measures this year may be coming to fruition.</p> <p>During the final weeks before the end of the legislative session, this year June 21 -- when lawmakers leave the Capitol and return to their districts for the remainder of the year -- there is typically a final thrust for policy measures that did not make it into the budget, which this year was passed in early April.</p> <p>On the electoral front, there has been a growing push from voting reform activists, civil rights organizations, and some Democratic elected officials to modernize New York’s arcane system, but, given the reluctance of Senate Republicans and, at least in part, Cuomo’s lack of prioritization of electoral reform despite saying in January he backs an ambitious agenda, major reforms appear to be elusive.</p> <p>Citing numerous barriers faced by voters during the 2016 elections, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Bill de Blasio have joined the call for Albany to pass meaningful electoral reform, a cause that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">championed</a> by other Democrats in the state Assembly majority and Senate minority.</p> <p>Democrats in both legislative houses have introduced a slew of voting reform bills -- including legislation on early voting, automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, and “no excuse” absentee ballots, among other measures -- as they do each year. While most <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/Press/20170515/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed</a> the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as usual, the efforts are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by a slim majority given the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and bolstered by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in a coalition agreement.</p> <p>The Senate has passed a significantly slimmer electoral package, most of which would do little to increase voter access or enhance voter registration.</p> <p>So far, the only electoral legislation passed in both houses would allow polling place inspectors to work eight-hour half-shifts, when previously they were made to work 16-hour days. It is a move intended to help Boards of Elections recruit staff and improve efficiency on election days.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, sponsored by IDC Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Amy Paulin in their respective chambers, would require special ballots to be mailed to domestic violence victims and has passed each house’s election committee and is calendared for floor votes.</p> <p>The Assembly election committee <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?sh=agen2&amp;agenda=2017-06-02-20.51.46.129889&amp;ver=2017-06-02-20.51.46.188449&amp;ano=18&amp;com=Election%20Law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is meeting</a> on Tuesday, June 6, to consider a dozen more electoral law changes.</p> <p>Other relatively minor pieces of electoral <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1567/amendment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> close to being passed in both houses relate to the way candidates are listed on the ballot, the creation of an inventory of official campaign websites, and protecting the ballot information of domestic violence victims.</p> <p>One sign of the lack of agreement on major electoral reforms, though, relates to consolidating New York’s repetitive primary election days, a cause that has bipartisan support -- in theory. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed bills to consolidate federal and state primary elections -- a move projected to save the state $25 million and help increase voter turnout -- however the houses cannot disagree on which month to hold the joint election.</p> <p>The congressional primaries were split from state level primaries in 2012, when the federal MOVE Act mandated that federal elections allow sufficient time for absentee ballots from those in the army and overseas to be collected. The Assembly bill requires the joint primary to happen in June, in order to allow more absentee ballots to trickle in, while the Senate suggests an August date, which would still meet federal regulations. Democrats argue that the August date would suppress voter turnout given peoples’ summer vacations.</p> <p>The only bill designed to expand voter access that has advanced in the Senate is an early voting bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, which would allow eligible New Yorkers an additional seven-day window prior to election day to cast their ballots, but it too appears unlikely to reach the Senate floor.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins’ bill, which mirrors legislation by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh that has passed the Assembly, would open poll sites for seven days ahead of election day, allowing one day in between the early voting period and elections. Each county, depending on its size, would be required to make at least one and up to seven polling sites available during that period.</p> <p>In March, when Stewart-Cousins forced the Senate election committee to vote on the measure, Democratic members of the committee voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor, only to have it diverted to the local government committee by GOP members. <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/05/01/senate-committee-advances-early-voting-bill-111684" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Politico wrote</a>, the majority conference is able to kill legislation without explicitly voting against it by pawning it off to another committee, which is unlikely to meet more than once or twice before the end of session and does not have to calendar a vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S3304" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A bill</a> for automatic voter registration, sponsored by Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, was defeated after a vote was compelled in the same manner.</p> <p>While Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, unveiled a sweeping electoral reform agenda during his 2017 State of the State, by April, following the passage of the budget, he appeared to have lost any can-do, <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">telling reporters</a>, “There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget."</p> <p>This lack of enthusiasm on voting reform is echoed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican of Long Island, who, when asked recently by a reporter, noted the fiscal component of early voting. “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day?” he asked rhetorically. “I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>While there is still time left in the legislative session, without Cuomo using his influence, movement on the issue in unlikely, according the Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group, one of the advocacy organizations lobbying for electoral reform.</p> <p>“Lawmakers don't have to face voters until next year so they are more likely to do popular things on even number years than odd number years. The governor has not shown a lot of leadership on this, so they haven't felt a lot of pressure,” Horner said.</p> <p>De Blasio, no ally of Cuomo, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> last week that he and unnamed partners intend “to launch a major effort” to see voting and election reforms passed in Albany by the end of the session.<br /><br />Cuomo’s office <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the governor continues to support modernizing the state’s electoral laws and will keep pushing for measures to do so despite their lack of movement through the Legislature. A spokesperson did not answer whether the governor would make any public push to see his desired electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As Legislative Leaders Warn of Con Con Dangers, Good Government Groups Come Out in Favor 2017-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6935:as-legislative-leaders-warn-of-con-con-dangers-good-government-groups-come-out-in-favor Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/assembly_chamber_via_wikicommons.jpg" alt="assembly chamber via wikicommons" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>The Assembly (photo: wikicommons)</p> <hr /> <p>While legislative leaders are declaring opposition to a New York State constitutional convention, government reform organizations are trending in the other direction, with some who were wary of the idea in previous years coming out in support or considering doing so.</p> <p>Leading up to the November 7 vote on whether to hold a convention, the debate is shaping up around fear of what could be taken away versus hope that the public can take a shot at democratic reform.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in a joint appearance in Albany on May 9, both warned of dangers posed by deep-pocketed interests from outside the state, who could potentially derail a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>“I understand people’s desire to put it in the hands of the people to decide. But people are also subjected to campaigns,” Heastie said at the event at the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center. “I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside of the state who can decide to spend millions of dollars to put forward their position.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6769-as-con-con-debate-heats-up-heastie-declares-opposition" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Heastie</a> and Flanagan, of the Bronx and Long Island, respectively, suggested that the state instead continue using piecemeal constitutional amendments to update the lengthy, outdated document. Such amendments must be passed by two consecutive legislative classes, then the public via singular ballot amendment.</p> <p>Similar sentiments have been expressed by Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with the GOP, and, most recently, by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/dem-warns-convention-change-n-y-constitution-article-1.3148452" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview with The Daily News</a>. On the other hand, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, has for years been an outspoken proponent of holding a convention and is the only legislative conference leader in support of a “yes” vote on this year’s November ballot question as to whether New York should hold a convention to edit or rewrite its constitution.</p> <p>The authors of the New York State Constitution included a provision that once every 20 years, the public would have the opportunity to completely overhaul and modernize the document. So, this Election Day, voters will vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention -- or a “con con,” as it is sometimes called -- and if the referendum passes, the people will then elect delegates, who would convene to potentially rewrite, or significantly propose modifications to the state constitution. Those proposals would then go before voters as a slate of changes to be voted up or down.</p> <p>While legislative leaders are expressing their fear of a con con, a growing number of government reform advocates say it’s an opportunity to enact long-sought reforms that have been stagnant in the Legislature.</p> <p>In March, for the first time in half a century, the League of Women Voters’ New York chapter <a href="http://files.constantcontact.com/37d635eb001/d805e949-b29f-4b1b-86a3-6ca4c081d62c.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsed a “yes” vote</a> for the once-in-a-generation referendum, citing electoral reforms, campaign finance reform, fair legislative redistricting, and the modernization of New York’s court system as motivating factors. The League had been instrumental in the last convention, which took place in 1967, but did not produce the sweeping reforms many had hoped for, and ultimately all the proposed amendments, which were controversially presented to voters as a package deal, were voted down.</p> <p>In the 1990s, the group’s board had a policy that the League would not endorse another constitutional convention unless the essential changes were made to the delegate selection and convention process. Five years ago, LWV board members agreed to modify that policy; rather than automatically opposing a convention that did not meet those requirements, the board would reconvene and consider whether to support a convention while thoroughly weighing delegate election and transparency concerns.</p> <p>In 1997, the last time a con con was on the ballot, most good government groups chose to remain neutral on the ballot question, focussing instead on launching educational campaigns about the pros and cons of holding a convention, and potential issues to be addressed. Only Citizens Union, one of New York’s leading government reform organizations (and sister organization to Gotham Gazette’s publisher, Citizens Union Foundation), has consistently backed a constitutional convention, despite what was to many a disappointing outcome from the 1967 convention.</p> <p>Twenty years ago, as was the case during previous con con votes, there was some momentum to back a convention prior to the vote, and public opinion polls showed significant interest. But a last-minute ad campaign by labor unions and other interest groups ultimately dissuaded voters for voting “yes” on the ballot question.</p> <p>“The campaign to defeat the convention referendum has created some of the oddest political bedfellows in recent memory. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Conservative Party, the Sierra Club, the National Abortion Rights Action League, legislators of both parties and Change New York, the anti-tax group, were united against the measure,” wrote Richard Perez-Pena, for the New York Times, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/05/nyregion/the-1997-elections-ballot-question-voters-reject-constitutional-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on November 5, 1997</a>, just before the con con vote that year.</p> <p>This year -- which follows a two-decade stretch that has seen dozens of elected officials leave office due to ethical or legal scandal -- there appears to be a marked shift and legislative leaders are finding themselves at odds with government reform organizations who view the convention more favorably, even those who sat out the vote in 1997.</p> <p>Citizens Union is again in suppor and the League of Women Voters is not the only government reform organization reevaluating its stance. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), which as part of its mission seeks to raise judicial standards and reform the legal system, will discuss the issue at its upcoming House of Delegates meeting on June 17, and consider voting on whether to take a position on the ballot measure, a spokesperson has confirmed.</p> <p>In February, NYSBA issued <a href="http://www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/SecondaryStandard.aspx?id=70868" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> highlighting how a constitutional convention could streamline all aspects of New York’s bafflingly complex legal system, from traffic ticket processing to child support orders.</p> <p>The League of Women Voters does still hold concerns about how a convention would be implemented, but decided the potential benefits outweigh the risks.</p> <p>“We’re not saying this is the end-all and be-all, but we are going to try get all we want out of it. And there are risks, but it’s a balancing act. We asked the question: Is it worth it that we could gain more than people think might be lost? And the state League has decided yes, that it’s worth opening it up and trying to get the changes that we can’t get through the Legislature now,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of League of Women Voters New York.</p> <p>Ladd Bierman noted that some state lawmakers recently told members of the League they would be more amenable to pushing for voting reform if the public voted in favor of a convention.</p> <p>SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, who has been on the front lines pushing for constitutional reform for decades, said he is not surprised government reform organizations are coming around on the issue.</p> <p>“Twenty years ago they made a set of decisions, so they have 20 years of experience in observing whether they have been able to achieve the reforms necessary -- they have not -- so they rightfully understand that this is the only way they are going to make progress,” said Benjamin. “Twenty years have reinforced the observation that the Legislature will not make fundamental structural changes, and the reputation in New York governance has steadily declined.”</p> <p>Representatives from other government watchdog organizations -- including New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Budget Commission -- told Gotham Gazette that they have not taken a position on the ballot question, but that the issue is being debated vigorously internally.</p> <p>“I'm not sure what we will do. Twenty years ago we thought we could play the most useful role by staying neutral and offering a balanced look at the pros and cons of a convention,” said NYPIRG’s executive director Blair Horner. “It's possible we'll be in the same place this year.”</p> <p>Bill Samuels, a businessman, con con advocate, and chair of the board of EffectiveNY, a think tank, believes the chaos surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration will also help fuel a “yes” vote in November.</p> <p>“The same activists who were around in 1967 during the civil rights-anti war movement are still around today,” he said. “When you combine that with what’s happening in Washington -- if I had to sum it up: we still have a system in Albany that’s still not reaching its goal. New York and California have emerged as the great stand-up states to Trump. We want to be excited, we want to have the best Legislature in the country, and we think we can! The best way to fight Trump is to move New York forward.”</p> <p>In the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has repeatedly expressed support for a convention, suggesting a con con may be the only way to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform while Republicans who oppose a public matching system and donation limits continue to control the state Senate. While Cuomo came out in vocal support last year and attempted to insert money into the state budget for a preparatory committee, the issue was not included in his 2017 State of the State policy book nor his executive budget proposal. Cuomo’s office told Gotham Gazette the governor still favors a con con, but Cuomo has not been vocal about the issue. This governor has not set aside funds to plot out a potential convention like his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, did ahead of the 1997 vote.</p> <p>During a recent meeting with The Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said he supports the idea of a convention, but “you have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators who you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that." In this point, Cuomo echoed what a variety of other elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said about concerns regarding the delegate process.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a 40-member coalition of con con supporters called the Committee for a Constitutional Convention <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/committee-formed-to-support-constitutional-convention-vote-108991" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has launched</a>. The group includes many prominent public figures including former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, former lieutenant governor Stan Lundine, and former state senator Seymour Lachman. They are joined by constitutional experts like Professor Benjamin and Touro Law Center dean Patty Salkin and slew of well-known attorneys like the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz. Bill Samuels is a member as well.</p> <p>For Citizens Union, support for a convention has only been reinforced over the last two decades. “Twenty years ago, we felt like money in politics was a problem, that effective strong oversight of public ethics was a problem, that our court system was a problem, and the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature were a problem,” said Citizen Union executive director Dick Dadey. “Those problems have not gone away. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. Our state government is broken. Budget bills are passed in the dark of night with little time to scrutinize them, pay to play culture is thriving, and voter apathy is rising.”</p> <p>Opponents of a convention fear opening up the constitution could put at risk hard-won labor and environmental protections, among others. Those concerned about outside interests swaying the outcome of a convention also note that delegates are frequently people who are well-known in public life, often those who hold or previously held a public office, and point to a skewed delegate election process, which they say undermines the point of a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>The current system allows major political parties to influence <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6628-the-best-delegate-election-process-for-a-new-york-constitutional-convention" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the delegate election</a>, by grouping together a “slate” of candidates on the ballot. Further, of 204 elected delegates, 189 would be chosen from New York’s 63 state Senate districts, three from each, which Democrats note are heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republican interests.</p> <p>While opposition forces, led by labor unions, have already begun to spend sizeable sums of money to encourage a “no” vote, it is unclear how<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> rising populist sentiments</a> indicated in last year’s presidential election -- especially through the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump -- may factor in.</p> <p>If the ballot measure does pass, Ladd Bierman of LWV noted, there are many questions that must be addressed in the following legislative session. Will voters be presented with a preselected slate of delegates? Will the convention be made subject to Freedom of Information Law? Where will the convention take place? The constitution says it must take place at the Capitol on April 2, but if the convention overlaps with the legislative session, there may not be sufficient office space to host the event.</p> <p>Regardless of where they stand on the ballot measure, she said, if it passes good government groups will be on the front lines pushing for a process that is as fair, transparent, and as democratic as possible.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/assembly_chamber_via_wikicommons.jpg" alt="assembly chamber via wikicommons" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>The Assembly (photo: wikicommons)</p> <hr /> <p>While legislative leaders are declaring opposition to a New York State constitutional convention, government reform organizations are trending in the other direction, with some who were wary of the idea in previous years coming out in support or considering doing so.</p> <p>Leading up to the November 7 vote on whether to hold a convention, the debate is shaping up around fear of what could be taken away versus hope that the public can take a shot at democratic reform.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in a joint appearance in Albany on May 9, both warned of dangers posed by deep-pocketed interests from outside the state, who could potentially derail a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>“I understand people’s desire to put it in the hands of the people to decide. But people are also subjected to campaigns,” Heastie said at the event at the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center. “I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside of the state who can decide to spend millions of dollars to put forward their position.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6769-as-con-con-debate-heats-up-heastie-declares-opposition" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Heastie</a> and Flanagan, of the Bronx and Long Island, respectively, suggested that the state instead continue using piecemeal constitutional amendments to update the lengthy, outdated document. Such amendments must be passed by two consecutive legislative classes, then the public via singular ballot amendment.</p> <p>Similar sentiments have been expressed by Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with the GOP, and, most recently, by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/dem-warns-convention-change-n-y-constitution-article-1.3148452" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview with The Daily News</a>. On the other hand, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, has for years been an outspoken proponent of holding a convention and is the only legislative conference leader in support of a “yes” vote on this year’s November ballot question as to whether New York should hold a convention to edit or rewrite its constitution.</p> <p>The authors of the New York State Constitution included a provision that once every 20 years, the public would have the opportunity to completely overhaul and modernize the document. So, this Election Day, voters will vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention -- or a “con con,” as it is sometimes called -- and if the referendum passes, the people will then elect delegates, who would convene to potentially rewrite, or significantly propose modifications to the state constitution. Those proposals would then go before voters as a slate of changes to be voted up or down.</p> <p>While legislative leaders are expressing their fear of a con con, a growing number of government reform advocates say it’s an opportunity to enact long-sought reforms that have been stagnant in the Legislature.</p> <p>In March, for the first time in half a century, the League of Women Voters’ New York chapter <a href="http://files.constantcontact.com/37d635eb001/d805e949-b29f-4b1b-86a3-6ca4c081d62c.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsed a “yes” vote</a> for the once-in-a-generation referendum, citing electoral reforms, campaign finance reform, fair legislative redistricting, and the modernization of New York’s court system as motivating factors. The League had been instrumental in the last convention, which took place in 1967, but did not produce the sweeping reforms many had hoped for, and ultimately all the proposed amendments, which were controversially presented to voters as a package deal, were voted down.</p> <p>In the 1990s, the group’s board had a policy that the League would not endorse another constitutional convention unless the essential changes were made to the delegate selection and convention process. Five years ago, LWV board members agreed to modify that policy; rather than automatically opposing a convention that did not meet those requirements, the board would reconvene and consider whether to support a convention while thoroughly weighing delegate election and transparency concerns.</p> <p>In 1997, the last time a con con was on the ballot, most good government groups chose to remain neutral on the ballot question, focussing instead on launching educational campaigns about the pros and cons of holding a convention, and potential issues to be addressed. Only Citizens Union, one of New York’s leading government reform organizations (and sister organization to Gotham Gazette’s publisher, Citizens Union Foundation), has consistently backed a constitutional convention, despite what was to many a disappointing outcome from the 1967 convention.</p> <p>Twenty years ago, as was the case during previous con con votes, there was some momentum to back a convention prior to the vote, and public opinion polls showed significant interest. But a last-minute ad campaign by labor unions and other interest groups ultimately dissuaded voters for voting “yes” on the ballot question.</p> <p>“The campaign to defeat the convention referendum has created some of the oddest political bedfellows in recent memory. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Conservative Party, the Sierra Club, the National Abortion Rights Action League, legislators of both parties and Change New York, the anti-tax group, were united against the measure,” wrote Richard Perez-Pena, for the New York Times, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/05/nyregion/the-1997-elections-ballot-question-voters-reject-constitutional-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on November 5, 1997</a>, just before the con con vote that year.</p> <p>This year -- which follows a two-decade stretch that has seen dozens of elected officials leave office due to ethical or legal scandal -- there appears to be a marked shift and legislative leaders are finding themselves at odds with government reform organizations who view the convention more favorably, even those who sat out the vote in 1997.</p> <p>Citizens Union is again in suppor and the League of Women Voters is not the only government reform organization reevaluating its stance. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), which as part of its mission seeks to raise judicial standards and reform the legal system, will discuss the issue at its upcoming House of Delegates meeting on June 17, and consider voting on whether to take a position on the ballot measure, a spokesperson has confirmed.</p> <p>In February, NYSBA issued <a href="http://www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/SecondaryStandard.aspx?id=70868" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> highlighting how a constitutional convention could streamline all aspects of New York’s bafflingly complex legal system, from traffic ticket processing to child support orders.</p> <p>The League of Women Voters does still hold concerns about how a convention would be implemented, but decided the potential benefits outweigh the risks.</p> <p>“We’re not saying this is the end-all and be-all, but we are going to try get all we want out of it. And there are risks, but it’s a balancing act. We asked the question: Is it worth it that we could gain more than people think might be lost? And the state League has decided yes, that it’s worth opening it up and trying to get the changes that we can’t get through the Legislature now,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of League of Women Voters New York.</p> <p>Ladd Bierman noted that some state lawmakers recently told members of the League they would be more amenable to pushing for voting reform if the public voted in favor of a convention.</p> <p>SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, who has been on the front lines pushing for constitutional reform for decades, said he is not surprised government reform organizations are coming around on the issue.</p> <p>“Twenty years ago they made a set of decisions, so they have 20 years of experience in observing whether they have been able to achieve the reforms necessary -- they have not -- so they rightfully understand that this is the only way they are going to make progress,” said Benjamin. “Twenty years have reinforced the observation that the Legislature will not make fundamental structural changes, and the reputation in New York governance has steadily declined.”</p> <p>Representatives from other government watchdog organizations -- including New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Budget Commission -- told Gotham Gazette that they have not taken a position on the ballot question, but that the issue is being debated vigorously internally.</p> <p>“I'm not sure what we will do. Twenty years ago we thought we could play the most useful role by staying neutral and offering a balanced look at the pros and cons of a convention,” said NYPIRG’s executive director Blair Horner. “It's possible we'll be in the same place this year.”</p> <p>Bill Samuels, a businessman, con con advocate, and chair of the board of EffectiveNY, a think tank, believes the chaos surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration will also help fuel a “yes” vote in November.</p> <p>“The same activists who were around in 1967 during the civil rights-anti war movement are still around today,” he said. “When you combine that with what’s happening in Washington -- if I had to sum it up: we still have a system in Albany that’s still not reaching its goal. New York and California have emerged as the great stand-up states to Trump. We want to be excited, we want to have the best Legislature in the country, and we think we can! The best way to fight Trump is to move New York forward.”</p> <p>In the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has repeatedly expressed support for a convention, suggesting a con con may be the only way to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform while Republicans who oppose a public matching system and donation limits continue to control the state Senate. While Cuomo came out in vocal support last year and attempted to insert money into the state budget for a preparatory committee, the issue was not included in his 2017 State of the State policy book nor his executive budget proposal. Cuomo’s office told Gotham Gazette the governor still favors a con con, but Cuomo has not been vocal about the issue. This governor has not set aside funds to plot out a potential convention like his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, did ahead of the 1997 vote.</p> <p>During a recent meeting with The Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said he supports the idea of a convention, but “you have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators who you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that." In this point, Cuomo echoed what a variety of other elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said about concerns regarding the delegate process.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a 40-member coalition of con con supporters called the Committee for a Constitutional Convention <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/committee-formed-to-support-constitutional-convention-vote-108991" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has launched</a>. The group includes many prominent public figures including former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, former lieutenant governor Stan Lundine, and former state senator Seymour Lachman. They are joined by constitutional experts like Professor Benjamin and Touro Law Center dean Patty Salkin and slew of well-known attorneys like the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz. Bill Samuels is a member as well.</p> <p>For Citizens Union, support for a convention has only been reinforced over the last two decades. “Twenty years ago, we felt like money in politics was a problem, that effective strong oversight of public ethics was a problem, that our court system was a problem, and the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature were a problem,” said Citizen Union executive director Dick Dadey. “Those problems have not gone away. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. Our state government is broken. Budget bills are passed in the dark of night with little time to scrutinize them, pay to play culture is thriving, and voter apathy is rising.”</p> <p>Opponents of a convention fear opening up the constitution could put at risk hard-won labor and environmental protections, among others. Those concerned about outside interests swaying the outcome of a convention also note that delegates are frequently people who are well-known in public life, often those who hold or previously held a public office, and point to a skewed delegate election process, which they say undermines the point of a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>The current system allows major political parties to influence <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6628-the-best-delegate-election-process-for-a-new-york-constitutional-convention" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the delegate election</a>, by grouping together a “slate” of candidates on the ballot. Further, of 204 elected delegates, 189 would be chosen from New York’s 63 state Senate districts, three from each, which Democrats note are heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republican interests.</p> <p>While opposition forces, led by labor unions, have already begun to spend sizeable sums of money to encourage a “no” vote, it is unclear how<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> rising populist sentiments</a> indicated in last year’s presidential election -- especially through the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump -- may factor in.</p> <p>If the ballot measure does pass, Ladd Bierman of LWV noted, there are many questions that must be addressed in the following legislative session. Will voters be presented with a preselected slate of delegates? Will the convention be made subject to Freedom of Information Law? Where will the convention take place? The constitution says it must take place at the Capitol on April 2, but if the convention overlaps with the legislative session, there may not be sufficient office space to host the event.</p> <p>Regardless of where they stand on the ballot measure, she said, if it passes good government groups will be on the front lines pushing for a process that is as fair, transparent, and as democratic as possible.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Now a Lobbyist, Democratic Power Broker Faces Restrictions in New Job 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6702:now-a-lobbyist-democratic-power-broker-faces-restrictions-in-new-job Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25090668205_33a25be8b3_z.jpg" alt="Keith Wright Governor Cuomo" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Keith Wright, left, &amp; Gov. Cuomo photo:&nbsp;(Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">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 &amp; Citron LLP, but under state law he must avoid matters before both chambers of the state Legislature for two years after leaving office.</p> <p dir="ltr">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 &amp; Citron LLP was <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/keith-wright-joins-davidoff-hutcher-citron-108429" target="_blank">first reported</a> by Politico New York on Wednesday morning.</p> <p dir="ltr">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 <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">the DHC website</a>. A partner told Gotham Gazette that Wright's exact role is still being defined.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under New York State’s <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/about/ethc/PUBLIC%20OFFICERS%20LAW%2073.pdf" target="_blank">Public Officers Law</a>, 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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">McClure clarified though that a former legislator “could appear before other local, state (such as agencies and/or the Executive Chamber), or federal bodies.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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.</p> <p>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."</p> <p>DHC's&nbsp;"team of lobbyists" is "led by Sid Davidoff in New York City and Steve Malito in Albany," <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">according to the firm</a>,&nbsp;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."</p> <p dir="ltr">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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6665-special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off" target="_blank">Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25090668205_33a25be8b3_z.jpg" alt="Keith Wright Governor Cuomo" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Keith Wright, left, &amp; Gov. Cuomo photo:&nbsp;(Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">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 &amp; Citron LLP, but under state law he must avoid matters before both chambers of the state Legislature for two years after leaving office.</p> <p dir="ltr">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 &amp; Citron LLP was <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/keith-wright-joins-davidoff-hutcher-citron-108429" target="_blank">first reported</a> by Politico New York on Wednesday morning.</p> <p dir="ltr">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 <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">the DHC website</a>. A partner told Gotham Gazette that Wright's exact role is still being defined.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under New York State’s <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/about/ethc/PUBLIC%20OFFICERS%20LAW%2073.pdf" target="_blank">Public Officers Law</a>, 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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">McClure clarified though that a former legislator “could appear before other local, state (such as agencies and/or the Executive Chamber), or federal bodies.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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.</p> <p>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."</p> <p>DHC's&nbsp;"team of lobbyists" is "led by Sid Davidoff in New York City and Steve Malito in Albany," <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">according to the firm</a>,&nbsp;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."</p> <p dir="ltr">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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6665-special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off" target="_blank">Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
City Council Hears Legislative Package on Conflicts of Interest and Campaign Finance 2016-11-21T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-21T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6635:city-council-hears-legislative-package-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-campaign-finance Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/berger_council.jpg" alt="berger council" width="600" height="410" /></p> <p>Henry Berger testifying (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council heard testimony Monday on a broad package of bills that would prevent conflicts of interest between elected officials and political nonprofits, limit the electoral influence of those who do business with the city, and make it easier for first-time candidates to navigate the city’s campaign finance system.</p> <p>The Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics heard 14 bills on Monday in what was the current Council’s first hearing of the committee focused on legislation. Of the 14, the headlining bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, was the Council’s direct response to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit formed by the mayor’s allies to promote his agenda that has been at the center of controversy, criticism, and law enforcement investigations.</p> <p>The Campaign for One New York, since disbanded, skirted the city’s campaign finance law, in part by raising major sums from entities with city business. Federal investigators have been looking at whether government action was exchanged for donations. The mayor has maintained that he, his administration, and the organization followed the law and sought guidances from the Conflicts of Interest Board throughout. His activities were probed by the city Campaign Finance Board, which let him off with a slap on the wrist but stressed the need to close the loophole in the law that he took advantage of in fundraising for his group.</p> <p>The bill at hand is sponsored by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally. It takes aim at that exact loophole and limits donations from those who are lobbyists or have business before the city to nonprofits created or controlled by elected officials or their agents. The limit of $400 currently applies to donations made by such categories of donors directly to candidate committees. Under the bill, if an organization spends more than 10 percent of its annual budget on “public-facing communications that feature the name or picture of the elected official who controls them” contributions to the nonprofit would be limited and it would have to disclose its donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito did not attend the hearing, which was led by Standards and Ethics Committee Chair Alan Maisel. Mark-Viverito’s spokesperson, Robin Levine, said in an email that Council staff was monitoring the hearing and will brief the speaker as she reviews the testimony.</p> <p>While there was broad support for Mark-Viverito’s bill, there were questions about its language and the implementation that it requires. As it currently stands, the bill seeks to prevent actual and perceived conflicts of interest by preventing business interests from donating large sums of money to a nonprofit to ingratiate themselves with an elected official. But concerns were raised that the bill paints with a broad brush and would include nonprofits that are affiliated to an extent with public officials but aren’t involved in public fundraising to benefit those officials. The bill also doesn’t include high-ranking public officials in city agencies, only elected officials. Council Members sought feedback on how they could amend and improve the proposal, and agency heads suggested more clear definitions of the organizations that would be covered.</p> <p>The rest of the bills being heard Monday aim at streamlining campaign finance disclosure requirements and tweak certain aspects of the city’s campaign finance law. These bills would usually be heard by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has heard another package of campaign finance reform bills that awaits a vote, but were lumped together with the first proposal concerning conflicts of interest, which is under the standards and ethics committee’s jurisdiction.</p> <p>“All these bills are designed to ensure we streamline the process of running for office without sacrificing the safeguards that ensure integrity of our democratic process,” said Council Member David Greenfield, sponsor of five of the bills, in his opening statement.</p> <p>The campaign finance bills cover a lot of ground. One bill shortens the deadline for candidates to choose a hearing before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings for alleged campaign violations and penalties. Currently, most candidates go through a more informal hearing before the Campaign Finance Board. Another bill requires campaign contributions to be deposited within 20 business days, and cash contributions to be deposited within 10 business days.</p> <p>A bill sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander would allow non-public campaign funds to be used by public officials for their official duties. One of the proposals that the CFB particularly opposed would prohibit CFB staff from being present at an executive session of the board where campaign finance violations are being adjudicated. This bill would prevent the CFB’s own executive director from attending such a session.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=info&amp;Search" target="_blank">The main bill</a>, Intro. 1345,&nbsp;received support, with certain caveats, from the de Blasio administration, the Conflicts of Interest Board, the Campaign Finance Board, and private government reform organizations that favor more transparency in campaign finance.</p> <p>Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support of all the bills but expressed certain doubts about the scope of Intro. 1345 and about one provision in <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, one of Greenfield’s bills.</p> <p>On Intro. 1345, Berger said the administration was “generally supportive of the intent of this bill,” but said the definition of an organization affiliated with an elected official was “overbroad and may be problematic.” He warned that it could also raise legal concerns over free speech of private entities. “These concerns would need to be addressed in future discussions at a staff level,” he said.</p> <p>Berger cited the precautions that the mayor’s team took for the Campaign for One New York, including the willing disclosure of donors, which the new bill would require, and he agreed that limits should be placed on nonprofits that create a perception of helping a particular candidate. “[Intro. 1345] provides very strong assurances that would avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest,” he said. “And that’s important. Confidence in our government requires that.”</p> <p>But he worried that the bill would also apply to nonprofits that don’t raise funds and are already subject to extensive reporting requirements, such as the Economic Development Corporation, or programmatic organizations that don’t benefit an individual but may raise funds such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “We’re looking for some tightening but....we think this bill comes very close to drawing the line,” he said.</p> <p>Once a bill is heard in Council committee, behind-the-scenes negotiation usually occurs to tweak bill language, before a bill is voted on in committee and then, if it passes, the the full Council. At times, like the other package of campaign finance reform bills that was heard months ago by the government operations committee, bills do not receive a committee vote soon after a hearing, if at all. Council sources do indicate, though, that they plan to move the bills heard today quickly, while also moving the other campaign finance bills.</p> <p>Changes to the campaign finance system would already be late in the four-year election cycle as the election year of 2017 is fast-approaching and candidates have already been raising money.</p> <p>The political nonprofits bill also expands the definition for those who do business before the city to include family members, which, Berger said, would create logistical and technical issues for the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, which maintains the city’s doing business database. MOCS would need time to adjust to the bill, he later told Council members.</p> <p>Addressing Intro. 1355, which relaxes certain documentation requirements for campaign contributions, Berger said there was a potential for fraud since the bill removes the obligation for a candidate committee to collect contributor cards if they receive a check or money order with the name and address of a donor on them.</p> <p>Berger’s biggest complaints, however, were that certain necessary proposals were not included in the package of bills. He said the Council should consider legislation that would overhaul the process for post-election campaign audits, to ensure they are concluded faster; proposed that legal fees for responding to campaign finance issues should not be counted against a campaign’s expenditure limits; and suggested that candidates who must raise money for a general election during primary season be allowed to attribute fundraising expenditures to their general election spending cap instead of the primary one.</p> <p>Representatives of the Conflicts of Interest Board commended the Council on Intro. 1345, but said they are unsure about being charged with implementing it. Executive Director Carolyn Lisa Miller said the board “remains uncertain whether we are the right agency to administer the legislation,” but expressed willingness to work with the Council and the administration.</p> <p>Miller listed 20 possible issues arising from the legislation, ranging from the definition of the nonprofits covered to the substantial penalties levied and the timeframe of disclosures required by organizations. She also cited issues with enforcement and investigation. COIB is a small city agency, with 26 full-time employees, and has no investigators of its own, relying instead on the Department of Investigation which is an independent agency. Miller said COIB would likely require additional staff and funding to comply with the legislation.</p> <p>What might complicate things further is that COIB cannot enforce fines on City Council members, if one should choose not to accept a violation found and penalty assessed by the board. In such a situation, which Miller said has never arisen to date, the board could only make recommendations to the Speaker and the Council which would have to decide to refer the case to the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>Council Member Lander, co-sponsor of Intro. 1345 and a prime sponsor on another one of the bills, pushed back against Miller’s uncertainty. “To me the reason to put this legislation and its enforcement with you is it is an issue of conflicts of interest,” he said. “Even though we are concerned about the public-facing communication, what we’re guarding against here is public corruption. That’s the goal, making sure that people who have business interests with the city don’t have an avenue into giving that influences public officials. That’s not primarily campaign finance. That’s primarily conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>With 13 bills out of the package dealing directly with the Campaign Finance Board, much of the hearing focused on testimony from Amy Loprest, CFB executive director. Loprest, like COIB’s Miller, praised Intro. 1345 but had strong apprehensions nonetheless. “We note the several concerns regarding the bill’s drafting and implementation raised by our colleagues at the Conflicts of Interest Board,” Loprest said in her opening statement. “We urge the Council to take those into account, and we will be available to assist in any way they or the Council deems appropriate.”</p> <p>She also criticized the legislation’s accompanying “poison pill” measures which would “significantly weaken the CFB’s oversight of the matching funds program.”</p> <p>“These measures should not be the cost of implementing a commendable and necessary reform,” she said, taking issue with the timing of many of the proposals, saying they would be disruptive to the board’s preparations for the 2017 city elections.</p> <p>In a cordial back-and-forth with Council Member Greenfield, who argued that the Council’s proposed changes to CFB procedures were warranted, necessary, and justified under its jurisdiction, Loprest attempted to explain her broader concerns.</p> <p>“It is important for us to review how we do operate, how we do our audits, how we do our procedures,” she conceded. “I do however think that this kind of piecemeal, finger in one part of a complicated process will have unintended and unwelcome consequences and will make things more complicated when our goal is to try and make things less complicated.”</p> <p>Greenfield pushed back. “I think that’s where we’re going to come to agree to disagree,” he said. “Just like your job is to audit candidates, our job is to audit the CFB, for lack of a better term.”</p> <p>Good government groups testified in support of the bills, but had reservations about both the timing and the manner in which they were drafted and introduced. Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group, approved of the bills but said it was late in the game to consider changes to the city’s campaign finance system, with the next election so close.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, applauded the Council, but insisted that the bills should have included more public discussion when they were being drafted. Intro. 1345, in particular, addresses concerns that Citizens Union raised earlier this year in a proposal to regulate nonprofit organizations affiliated with elected officials. “We believe the proposed bill can effectively bring needed oversight to these organizations,” Dadey said at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>The only testimony that rejected most of the proposals outright came from Dominic Mauro, staff attorney for Reinvent Albany, an advocacy organization. Mauro said his organization supported the intent of Intro. 1345 but questioned how it could be implemented. The entire package of bills, Mauro said, “add up to a huge step backwards.” Admitting that the CFB is “imperfect, he said, however, that his organization thinks “Many of these bills seem like petty retaliation and an expression of irritation by Council members who are annoyed with CFB nitpicking.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/berger_council.jpg" alt="berger council" width="600" height="410" /></p> <p>Henry Berger testifying (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council heard testimony Monday on a broad package of bills that would prevent conflicts of interest between elected officials and political nonprofits, limit the electoral influence of those who do business with the city, and make it easier for first-time candidates to navigate the city’s campaign finance system.</p> <p>The Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics heard 14 bills on Monday in what was the current Council’s first hearing of the committee focused on legislation. Of the 14, the headlining bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, was the Council’s direct response to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit formed by the mayor’s allies to promote his agenda that has been at the center of controversy, criticism, and law enforcement investigations.</p> <p>The Campaign for One New York, since disbanded, skirted the city’s campaign finance law, in part by raising major sums from entities with city business. Federal investigators have been looking at whether government action was exchanged for donations. The mayor has maintained that he, his administration, and the organization followed the law and sought guidances from the Conflicts of Interest Board throughout. His activities were probed by the city Campaign Finance Board, which let him off with a slap on the wrist but stressed the need to close the loophole in the law that he took advantage of in fundraising for his group.</p> <p>The bill at hand is sponsored by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally. It takes aim at that exact loophole and limits donations from those who are lobbyists or have business before the city to nonprofits created or controlled by elected officials or their agents. The limit of $400 currently applies to donations made by such categories of donors directly to candidate committees. Under the bill, if an organization spends more than 10 percent of its annual budget on “public-facing communications that feature the name or picture of the elected official who controls them” contributions to the nonprofit would be limited and it would have to disclose its donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito did not attend the hearing, which was led by Standards and Ethics Committee Chair Alan Maisel. Mark-Viverito’s spokesperson, Robin Levine, said in an email that Council staff was monitoring the hearing and will brief the speaker as she reviews the testimony.</p> <p>While there was broad support for Mark-Viverito’s bill, there were questions about its language and the implementation that it requires. As it currently stands, the bill seeks to prevent actual and perceived conflicts of interest by preventing business interests from donating large sums of money to a nonprofit to ingratiate themselves with an elected official. But concerns were raised that the bill paints with a broad brush and would include nonprofits that are affiliated to an extent with public officials but aren’t involved in public fundraising to benefit those officials. The bill also doesn’t include high-ranking public officials in city agencies, only elected officials. Council Members sought feedback on how they could amend and improve the proposal, and agency heads suggested more clear definitions of the organizations that would be covered.</p> <p>The rest of the bills being heard Monday aim at streamlining campaign finance disclosure requirements and tweak certain aspects of the city’s campaign finance law. These bills would usually be heard by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has heard another package of campaign finance reform bills that awaits a vote, but were lumped together with the first proposal concerning conflicts of interest, which is under the standards and ethics committee’s jurisdiction.</p> <p>“All these bills are designed to ensure we streamline the process of running for office without sacrificing the safeguards that ensure integrity of our democratic process,” said Council Member David Greenfield, sponsor of five of the bills, in his opening statement.</p> <p>The campaign finance bills cover a lot of ground. One bill shortens the deadline for candidates to choose a hearing before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings for alleged campaign violations and penalties. Currently, most candidates go through a more informal hearing before the Campaign Finance Board. Another bill requires campaign contributions to be deposited within 20 business days, and cash contributions to be deposited within 10 business days.</p> <p>A bill sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander would allow non-public campaign funds to be used by public officials for their official duties. One of the proposals that the CFB particularly opposed would prohibit CFB staff from being present at an executive session of the board where campaign finance violations are being adjudicated. This bill would prevent the CFB’s own executive director from attending such a session.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=info&amp;Search" target="_blank">The main bill</a>, Intro. 1345,&nbsp;received support, with certain caveats, from the de Blasio administration, the Conflicts of Interest Board, the Campaign Finance Board, and private government reform organizations that favor more transparency in campaign finance.</p> <p>Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support of all the bills but expressed certain doubts about the scope of Intro. 1345 and about one provision in <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, one of Greenfield’s bills.</p> <p>On Intro. 1345, Berger said the administration was “generally supportive of the intent of this bill,” but said the definition of an organization affiliated with an elected official was “overbroad and may be problematic.” He warned that it could also raise legal concerns over free speech of private entities. “These concerns would need to be addressed in future discussions at a staff level,” he said.</p> <p>Berger cited the precautions that the mayor’s team took for the Campaign for One New York, including the willing disclosure of donors, which the new bill would require, and he agreed that limits should be placed on nonprofits that create a perception of helping a particular candidate. “[Intro. 1345] provides very strong assurances that would avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest,” he said. “And that’s important. Confidence in our government requires that.”</p> <p>But he worried that the bill would also apply to nonprofits that don’t raise funds and are already subject to extensive reporting requirements, such as the Economic Development Corporation, or programmatic organizations that don’t benefit an individual but may raise funds such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “We’re looking for some tightening but....we think this bill comes very close to drawing the line,” he said.</p> <p>Once a bill is heard in Council committee, behind-the-scenes negotiation usually occurs to tweak bill language, before a bill is voted on in committee and then, if it passes, the the full Council. At times, like the other package of campaign finance reform bills that was heard months ago by the government operations committee, bills do not receive a committee vote soon after a hearing, if at all. Council sources do indicate, though, that they plan to move the bills heard today quickly, while also moving the other campaign finance bills.</p> <p>Changes to the campaign finance system would already be late in the four-year election cycle as the election year of 2017 is fast-approaching and candidates have already been raising money.</p> <p>The political nonprofits bill also expands the definition for those who do business before the city to include family members, which, Berger said, would create logistical and technical issues for the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, which maintains the city’s doing business database. MOCS would need time to adjust to the bill, he later told Council members.</p> <p>Addressing Intro. 1355, which relaxes certain documentation requirements for campaign contributions, Berger said there was a potential for fraud since the bill removes the obligation for a candidate committee to collect contributor cards if they receive a check or money order with the name and address of a donor on them.</p> <p>Berger’s biggest complaints, however, were that certain necessary proposals were not included in the package of bills. He said the Council should consider legislation that would overhaul the process for post-election campaign audits, to ensure they are concluded faster; proposed that legal fees for responding to campaign finance issues should not be counted against a campaign’s expenditure limits; and suggested that candidates who must raise money for a general election during primary season be allowed to attribute fundraising expenditures to their general election spending cap instead of the primary one.</p> <p>Representatives of the Conflicts of Interest Board commended the Council on Intro. 1345, but said they are unsure about being charged with implementing it. Executive Director Carolyn Lisa Miller said the board “remains uncertain whether we are the right agency to administer the legislation,” but expressed willingness to work with the Council and the administration.</p> <p>Miller listed 20 possible issues arising from the legislation, ranging from the definition of the nonprofits covered to the substantial penalties levied and the timeframe of disclosures required by organizations. She also cited issues with enforcement and investigation. COIB is a small city agency, with 26 full-time employees, and has no investigators of its own, relying instead on the Department of Investigation which is an independent agency. Miller said COIB would likely require additional staff and funding to comply with the legislation.</p> <p>What might complicate things further is that COIB cannot enforce fines on City Council members, if one should choose not to accept a violation found and penalty assessed by the board. In such a situation, which Miller said has never arisen to date, the board could only make recommendations to the Speaker and the Council which would have to decide to refer the case to the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>Council Member Lander, co-sponsor of Intro. 1345 and a prime sponsor on another one of the bills, pushed back against Miller’s uncertainty. “To me the reason to put this legislation and its enforcement with you is it is an issue of conflicts of interest,” he said. “Even though we are concerned about the public-facing communication, what we’re guarding against here is public corruption. That’s the goal, making sure that people who have business interests with the city don’t have an avenue into giving that influences public officials. That’s not primarily campaign finance. That’s primarily conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>With 13 bills out of the package dealing directly with the Campaign Finance Board, much of the hearing focused on testimony from Amy Loprest, CFB executive director. Loprest, like COIB’s Miller, praised Intro. 1345 but had strong apprehensions nonetheless. “We note the several concerns regarding the bill’s drafting and implementation raised by our colleagues at the Conflicts of Interest Board,” Loprest said in her opening statement. “We urge the Council to take those into account, and we will be available to assist in any way they or the Council deems appropriate.”</p> <p>She also criticized the legislation’s accompanying “poison pill” measures which would “significantly weaken the CFB’s oversight of the matching funds program.”</p> <p>“These measures should not be the cost of implementing a commendable and necessary reform,” she said, taking issue with the timing of many of the proposals, saying they would be disruptive to the board’s preparations for the 2017 city elections.</p> <p>In a cordial back-and-forth with Council Member Greenfield, who argued that the Council’s proposed changes to CFB procedures were warranted, necessary, and justified under its jurisdiction, Loprest attempted to explain her broader concerns.</p> <p>“It is important for us to review how we do operate, how we do our audits, how we do our procedures,” she conceded. “I do however think that this kind of piecemeal, finger in one part of a complicated process will have unintended and unwelcome consequences and will make things more complicated when our goal is to try and make things less complicated.”</p> <p>Greenfield pushed back. “I think that’s where we’re going to come to agree to disagree,” he said. “Just like your job is to audit candidates, our job is to audit the CFB, for lack of a better term.”</p> <p>Good government groups testified in support of the bills, but had reservations about both the timing and the manner in which they were drafted and introduced. Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group, approved of the bills but said it was late in the game to consider changes to the city’s campaign finance system, with the next election so close.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, applauded the Council, but insisted that the bills should have included more public discussion when they were being drafted. Intro. 1345, in particular, addresses concerns that Citizens Union raised earlier this year in a proposal to regulate nonprofit organizations affiliated with elected officials. “We believe the proposed bill can effectively bring needed oversight to these organizations,” Dadey said at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>The only testimony that rejected most of the proposals outright came from Dominic Mauro, staff attorney for Reinvent Albany, an advocacy organization. Mauro said his organization supported the intent of Intro. 1345 but questioned how it could be implemented. The entire package of bills, Mauro said, “add up to a huge step backwards.” Admitting that the CFB is “imperfect, he said, however, that his organization thinks “Many of these bills seem like petty retaliation and an expression of irritation by Council members who are annoyed with CFB nitpicking.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Ahead of Election Year, De Blasio Must Name New Campaign Finance Board Chair 2016-10-25T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6591:ahead-of-election-year-de-blasio-must-name-new-campaign-finance-board-chair Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/30141612996_83b86f16c0_z.jpg" alt="de blasio podium" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">With the impending departure of the head of the city’s campaign finance regulatory body, good government advocates say Mayor Bill de Blasio must be careful about who he chooses to fill the position as the city heads into an election year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The chair of the campaign finance board is probably the single most important player in government ethics,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group, a government reform organization.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last week, the <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/head-of-the-nyc-campaign-finance-board-is-stepping-down-1476913748" target="_blank">Wall Street Journal reported</a> that Rose Gill Hearn, chair of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, will be stepping down at the end of the year. Hearn is resigning, she indicated, due to an increasing burden from her position as a principal at Bloomberg Associates, a consulting firm. “My increasingly heavy work schedule no longer permits me to devote the time warranted for the important activities of the board,” Gill Hearn said in a public statement.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gill Hearn informed the mayor of her resignation in a letter on September 23, to give him “ample time to find a replacement and ensure a smooth transition.” According to the City Charter, the mayor is to appoint the CFB chair with the advice of the City Council Speaker. There are four other members of the board, and about 100 CFB employees who make the agency run. The board makes determinations on public funds payments and campaign violations, considers changes to the campaign finance rules, and otherwise oversees the work of the agency, which includes monitoring and auditing electoral campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I believe that the Campaign Finance Board and staff will continue in the long tradition of nonpartisanship and independence that has always been a part of the institution,” Gill Hearn said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Her resignation comes at a crucial time for both the mayor and for the city at large as every city elected official is on the ballot in municipal elections set for Fall 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">For de Blasio, appointing a new chair is delicate and potentially fraught territory as he is embroiled in multiple investigations at the state and federal level into fundraising activities -- though mostly ones that don’t concern the CFB system. Neither de Blasio nor his allies have been charged with any crime, and the mayor insists that they will be vindicated.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it’s not yet clear if the mayor or his associates broke any laws, de Blasio’s own re-election campaign will continue to be the subject of CFB scrutiny -- in fact, the mayor’s campaign recently had a matter before the CFB related to the funds raised by a political nonprofit, The Campaign for One New York, that is affiliated with de Blasio, formed to promote his agenda, and a key piece of multiple law enforcement investigations.</p> <p dir="ltr">In July, the board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank">chastised de Blasio</a> for exploiting loopholes in the city’s campaign finance law and undermining a system that is held up as a national model. The mayor and his nonprofit were let off with a slap on the wrist, but the board insisted that they <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/press-releases/2016-07-06-000000/cfb-issues-advisory-opinion-issues-determination-regarding" target="_blank">did not consider</a> the matter closed. The next CFB chair will be responsible for overseeing any further investigations should they arise. The Campaign for One New York is in the process of shutting down, something announced in advance of the CFB hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Such a case is one example, albeit an especially high-profile one, of the type of issues brought before the campaign finance board. Meanwhile, employees at the CFB help educate candidates and campaigns about the city’s public matching system, vet campaign donations, and disburse public matching funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">The CFB is a nonpartisan five-member body, with two members appointed by the speaker of the City Council, two appointed by the mayor, and a chair chosen by the mayor in consultation with the speaker. The two members appointed by each the mayor and speaker cannot be from the same political party. The chair serves a five-year term and Gill Hearn’s replacement will serve through the remainder of hers, which expires November 30, 2018.</p> <p dir="ltr">“[Mayor de Blasio] has to pick somebody of impeccable ethical credentials,” said Russianoff of NYPIRG about replacing Gill Hearn. “There’s no reason to believe he won’t do it.” Russianoff added that the scandals the mayor is currently facing “are putting extra pressure on the administration to do the right thing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Only three people other than Gill Hearn have served as chair since the board was created in 1988. The first chair was Father Joseph O’Hare, a Jesuit priest and former editor in chief of America magazine. O’Hare became president of Fordham University in 1984 and later served on Mayor Ed Koch’s Committee on Appointments and the Charter Revision Commission. O’Hare was reappointed twice and led the CFB until 2003.</p> <p dir="ltr">O’Hare was followed by Frederick A.O Schwarz, Jr., who was corporation counsel for Mayor Koch between 1982 and 1986. In 1989, he chaired the Charter Revision Commission. He was CFB chair for one term. In 2008, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Joseph Parkes, who was already a member of the CFB, to succeed Schwarz, Jr. as chair. Parkes has been president of Cristo Rey New York High School in East Harlem since 2004 and also previously served as president of Fordham Preparatory School.</p> <p dir="ltr">The search for the next chair has not yet begun. Mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said in a statement, “As is standard practice mandated by the Campaign Finance Board, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito will work together to review potential candidates and appoint the person best suited for the job.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Eric Koch, spokesperson for Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, said in an email on Monday that the speaker was awaiting a consultation with the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">After Gill Hearn’s resignation is effective, the mayor will have 90 days to appoint a new chair. (The deadline, usually 180 days, is shorter because of the proximity to the next election.) If he should fail to do so, the remaining members of the board can choose someone to replace Gill Hearn.</p> <p dir="ltr">“In spite of Chairperson Hearn’s solid leadership over the last three years, this could not come at a worse time,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, “because it is the fourth quarter of the four-year city election cycle, with the major officeholders up for reelection.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Dadey said the mayor should pick someone who will be “applauded uniformly” for their integrity. “We cannot afford to have someone in this position who is seen as a political or partisan figure because the integrity of the campaign finance program going forward really depends on the kind of people who run this program,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Dadey said he did not doubt the mayor would choose the right person for the job, he said the appointment would regardless be closely scrutinized because of the investigations the mayor faces. “[The mayor] has a higher bar now to select the kind of person that will be beyond dispute,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, which oversees the CFB, said in a statement last week that he hoped to see a “a thorough and open search for a new chair who will be independent, non-partisan, and non-political” in their role.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is of supreme importance that the next chair be someone who has the stature and integrity to not only stand up to candidates and any elected officials but guide the board through election years independently,” Kallos said.</p> <p>Notably, de Blasio was faced with a somewhat similar choice when selecting a chair for a mandated commission to study and reccomend compensation levels for the city's elected officials. De Blasio chose Schwarz, Jr. in what was a universally applauded decision.</p> <p dir="ltr">Beyond just choosing a new chair, NYPIRG’s Russianoff said this was an apt time for the mayor to commit wholeheartedly to campaign finance reform by pushing for crucial legislation to improve the city’s campaign finance laws. There are six campaign finance reform bills before the City Council, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6489-time-running-out-for-campaign-finance-bills-in-limbo" target="_blank">languishing in committee</a> and awaiting a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bills have been heard once since they were introduced in November 2015 and incorporate many of the recommendations made by the CFB in it’s 2013 post-election report. (Some of those recommendations have already been codified into law.) “De Blasio’s people should do what they can to get those immediate reforms through,” said Russianoff, warning that time is running out before the 2017 elections. “The worst thing that can happen is nothing happens.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The most significant of the bills would limit the impact that can be made by people who have business before the city and bundle donations for a candidate. Mark-Viverito recently told Gotham Gazette that the bills are going through the normal legislative process but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6489-time-running-out-for-campaign-finance-bills-in-limbo" target="_blank">did not explain</a> why they have not moved.</p> <p>Additionally, the CFB itself is currently mulling over a raft of rules proposals that would tighten and clarify provisions of the campaign finance law to make it easier for candidates to run their campaigns and harder for outside groups to coordinate expenditures with candidates, among other changes.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/30141612996_83b86f16c0_z.jpg" alt="de blasio podium" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">With the impending departure of the head of the city’s campaign finance regulatory body, good government advocates say Mayor Bill de Blasio must be careful about who he chooses to fill the position as the city heads into an election year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The chair of the campaign finance board is probably the single most important player in government ethics,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group, a government reform organization.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last week, the <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/head-of-the-nyc-campaign-finance-board-is-stepping-down-1476913748" target="_blank">Wall Street Journal reported</a> that Rose Gill Hearn, chair of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, will be stepping down at the end of the year. Hearn is resigning, she indicated, due to an increasing burden from her position as a principal at Bloomberg Associates, a consulting firm. “My increasingly heavy work schedule no longer permits me to devote the time warranted for the important activities of the board,” Gill Hearn said in a public statement.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gill Hearn informed the mayor of her resignation in a letter on September 23, to give him “ample time to find a replacement and ensure a smooth transition.” According to the City Charter, the mayor is to appoint the CFB chair with the advice of the City Council Speaker. There are four other members of the board, and about 100 CFB employees who make the agency run. The board makes determinations on public funds payments and campaign violations, considers changes to the campaign finance rules, and otherwise oversees the work of the agency, which includes monitoring and auditing electoral campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I believe that the Campaign Finance Board and staff will continue in the long tradition of nonpartisanship and independence that has always been a part of the institution,” Gill Hearn said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Her resignation comes at a crucial time for both the mayor and for the city at large as every city elected official is on the ballot in municipal elections set for Fall 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">For de Blasio, appointing a new chair is delicate and potentially fraught territory as he is embroiled in multiple investigations at the state and federal level into fundraising activities -- though mostly ones that don’t concern the CFB system. Neither de Blasio nor his allies have been charged with any crime, and the mayor insists that they will be vindicated.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it’s not yet clear if the mayor or his associates broke any laws, de Blasio’s own re-election campaign will continue to be the subject of CFB scrutiny -- in fact, the mayor’s campaign recently had a matter before the CFB related to the funds raised by a political nonprofit, The Campaign for One New York, that is affiliated with de Blasio, formed to promote his agenda, and a key piece of multiple law enforcement investigations.</p> <p dir="ltr">In July, the board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank">chastised de Blasio</a> for exploiting loopholes in the city’s campaign finance law and undermining a system that is held up as a national model. The mayor and his nonprofit were let off with a slap on the wrist, but the board insisted that they <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/press-releases/2016-07-06-000000/cfb-issues-advisory-opinion-issues-determination-regarding" target="_blank">did not consider</a> the matter closed. The next CFB chair will be responsible for overseeing any further investigations should they arise. The Campaign for One New York is in the process of shutting down, something announced in advance of the CFB hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Such a case is one example, albeit an especially high-profile one, of the type of issues brought before the campaign finance board. Meanwhile, employees at the CFB help educate candidates and campaigns about the city’s public matching system, vet campaign donations, and disburse public matching funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">The CFB is a nonpartisan five-member body, with two members appointed by the speaker of the City Council, two appointed by the mayor, and a chair chosen by the mayor in consultation with the speaker. The two members appointed by each the mayor and speaker cannot be from the same political party. The chair serves a five-year term and Gill Hearn’s replacement will serve through the remainder of hers, which expires November 30, 2018.</p> <p dir="ltr">“[Mayor de Blasio] has to pick somebody of impeccable ethical credentials,” said Russianoff of NYPIRG about replacing Gill Hearn. “There’s no reason to believe he won’t do it.” Russianoff added that the scandals the mayor is currently facing “are putting extra pressure on the administration to do the right thing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Only three people other than Gill Hearn have served as chair since the board was created in 1988. The first chair was Father Joseph O’Hare, a Jesuit priest and former editor in chief of America magazine. O’Hare became president of Fordham University in 1984 and later served on Mayor Ed Koch’s Committee on Appointments and the Charter Revision Commission. O’Hare was reappointed twice and led the CFB until 2003.</p> <p dir="ltr">O’Hare was followed by Frederick A.O Schwarz, Jr., who was corporation counsel for Mayor Koch between 1982 and 1986. In 1989, he chaired the Charter Revision Commission. He was CFB chair for one term. In 2008, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Joseph Parkes, who was already a member of the CFB, to succeed Schwarz, Jr. as chair. Parkes has been president of Cristo Rey New York High School in East Harlem since 2004 and also previously served as president of Fordham Preparatory School.</p> <p dir="ltr">The search for the next chair has not yet begun. Mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said in a statement, “As is standard practice mandated by the Campaign Finance Board, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito will work together to review potential candidates and appoint the person best suited for the job.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Eric Koch, spokesperson for Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, said in an email on Monday that the speaker was awaiting a consultation with the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">After Gill Hearn’s resignation is effective, the mayor will have 90 days to appoint a new chair. (The deadline, usually 180 days, is shorter because of the proximity to the next election.) If he should fail to do so, the remaining members of the board can choose someone to replace Gill Hearn.</p> <p dir="ltr">“In spite of Chairperson Hearn’s solid leadership over the last three years, this could not come at a worse time,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, “because it is the fourth quarter of the four-year city election cycle, with the major officeholders up for reelection.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Dadey said the mayor should pick someone who will be “applauded uniformly” for their integrity. “We cannot afford to have someone in this position who is seen as a political or partisan figure because the integrity of the campaign finance program going forward really depends on the kind of people who run this program,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Dadey said he did not doubt the mayor would choose the right person for the job, he said the appointment would regardless be closely scrutinized because of the investigations the mayor faces. “[The mayor] has a higher bar now to select the kind of person that will be beyond dispute,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, which oversees the CFB, said in a statement last week that he hoped to see a “a thorough and open search for a new chair who will be independent, non-partisan, and non-political” in their role.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is of supreme importance that the next chair be someone who has the stature and integrity to not only stand up to candidates and any elected officials but guide the board through election years independently,” Kallos said.</p> <p>Notably, de Blasio was faced with a somewhat similar choice when selecting a chair for a mandated commission to study and reccomend compensation levels for the city's elected officials. De Blasio chose Schwarz, Jr. in what was a universally applauded decision.</p> <p dir="ltr">Beyond just choosing a new chair, NYPIRG’s Russianoff said this was an apt time for the mayor to commit wholeheartedly to campaign finance reform by pushing for crucial legislation to improve the city’s campaign finance laws. There are six campaign finance reform bills before the City Council, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6489-time-running-out-for-campaign-finance-bills-in-limbo" target="_blank">languishing in committee</a> and awaiting a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bills have been heard once since they were introduced in November 2015 and incorporate many of the recommendations made by the CFB in it’s 2013 post-election report. (Some of those recommendations have already been codified into law.) “De Blasio’s people should do what they can to get those immediate reforms through,” said Russianoff, warning that time is running out before the 2017 elections. “The worst thing that can happen is nothing happens.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The most significant of the bills would limit the impact that can be made by people who have business before the city and bundle donations for a candidate. Mark-Viverito recently told Gotham Gazette that the bills are going through the normal legislative process but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6489-time-running-out-for-campaign-finance-bills-in-limbo" target="_blank">did not explain</a> why they have not moved.</p> <p>Additionally, the CFB itself is currently mulling over a raft of rules proposals that would tighten and clarify provisions of the campaign finance law to make it easier for candidates to run their campaigns and harder for outside groups to coordinate expenditures with candidates, among other changes.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
2016 Again Highlights New York ‘Incumbency Protection Machine’ 2016-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6536:2016-again-highlights-new-york-incumbency-protection-machine Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/NYC_BOE_photo_voting_machines_cropped.png" alt="NYC BOE photo voting machines cropped" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>(photo via NYC Board of Elections)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City residents are represented in the state Legislature by a total of 91 seats, 26 in the state Senate and 65 in the state Assembly. Among them, 60 are held by incumbents who were uncontested in their party primary elections that took place Tuesday, September 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">In these just-completed primaries, 66 percent -- or about two-thirds -- of the city&rsquo;s state legislative seats saw no intra-party competition. Twenty-four New York City-based legislators did face primary challengers this month, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6526-new-york-state-legislative-primary-results" target="_blank">three of whom</a> lost.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, there were seven already-vacant seats or seats where the current officeholder is not seeking re-election -- most of these seats saw competitive primaries, but City Council Member Inez Dickens <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">ran unopposed</a> for the Assembly seat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">being vacated</a> by Keith Wright in Harlem.</p> <p>In total, there are 150 Assembly seats and 63 Senate seats in the state Legislature. There are no term limits for state legislators in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 60 New York City-based incumbents who were uncontested from within their parties this cycle, 58 are Democrats, including State Senator Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans in Albany and has both the Democrat and Republican lines on the ballot this year. In most, if not all, of these districts, Board of Elections voter enrollment data show registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republican voters 4-to-1, or more in some cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">The single party dominance in many districts renders general election competition virtually meaningless and allows incumbents to be re-elected without lifting a finger. In some districts, the opposing party isn&rsquo;t running a general election candidate at all. As many as 23 state legislators across the city will face neither a primary nor general election opponent this election cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">For example, Queens Democratic Assemblymember Michael DenDekker is running unopposed in the general election after facing no challenger in the primary. Elected into office in 2008, DenDekker has never faced a primary or general election challenger, <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_DenDekker" target="_blank">according to Ballotpedia</a>. Like with many other legislative races, especially so for uncontested votes, a small percentage of registered voters cast ballots for DenDekker and other uncontested incumbents, though numbers do rise when there is a presidential contest the same day.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 2010 general election, not a presidential year, just 10,117 people -- 1-in-5 registered voters in Assembly District 34 -- selected DenDekker&rsquo;s name at the polls. New York State Assembly members each represent an average of 129,089 district residents, while state Senators have larger districts and represent roughly 307,356 residents, <a href="http://www.latfor.state.ny.us/faqs/" target="_blank">according to</a> the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographics and Reapportionment.</p> <p>Senator Felder of Brooklyn, who has been instrumental in maintaining a narrow Republican majority in the state Senate, will appear on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative ballot lines in District 17 for the general election. Felder won his first state Senate election in 2012. In that first <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2012/General/SD_07292013.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> he defeated incumbent Republican David Storobin. He hasn&rsquo;t faced a primary or general election challenger since.</p> <p dir="ltr">Repeatedly uncontested primaries and general elections has become the norm for many seats across New York City and at least partially explains dismally low voter turnout in legislative elections around the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the <a href="http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx" target="_blank">2016 primary elections</a>, 115,819 New Yorkers cast a ballot for state Senator out of nearly 1.1 million active voters within the districts where elections were held -- just 11 percent of the active voting population in those districts.</p> <p dir="ltr">With so few New Yorkers casting ballots and so little competition, state legislators are more likely to listen less to their constituents and more to the people and interest groups who fund their campaigns, political consultants, and lobbyists. Elected officials become indebted to these power brokers for maintaining their office as big donors could just as easily funnel their money to a primary challenger should their interests go unheard.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s not good enough, people should be made aware of that,&rdquo; said Olateju &ldquo;Remi&rdquo; Ogunremi, 54, a civil servant who has lived in Brooklyn for ten years, when told that his local Assembly member is running unopposed and fits a larger pattern. Residing in Crown Heights, Remi is represented in the state Assembly by Walter Mosley, a Democrat who is uncontested in his primary and general election this year. &ldquo;There should be a competitor to make it more democratic,&rdquo; Remi said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Without a public campaign finance system that matches private donations and encourages small-dollar contributions, outsider legislative candidates have little to no chance of raising enough cash to stage a significant challenge without strong name recognition or support of established organizations, unions, and local political figures. Once elected, incumbents have helped redraw their own districts to their and their party&rsquo;s advantage and regularly pass legislation benefiting the people and interest groups that help them stay in office (redistricting will be done differently in New York next time thanks to a constitutional amendment <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/11/voters-approve-all-three-ballot-propositions-017202" target="_blank">passed at the ballot by voters in 2014</a>).</p> <p dir="ltr">Without term limits in place, state legislators get comfortable. The average tenure in Albany is over a decade long, according to a <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/12/average-tenure-in-albany-more-than-a-decade-018476" target="_blank">2015 report by Politico New York</a>. State lawmakers have also been at the center of a rash of corruption schemes and convictions, including recent leaders of each house.</p> <p dir="ltr">As discontent and disapproval of state government grows, so does a lack of interest and involvement in the political system - less voting by those who are eligible; fewer aspirants willing to run for office. With loyal incumbents securely in office and fewer competitive races for which to distribute resources, campaign donors are free to hone their attention on strategic districts where they seek to broaden their influence and push their agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s very difficult for newcomers to unseat incumbents,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University. &ldquo;Once you&rsquo;re in office it&rsquo;s much easier to stay in and protect that office, so a lot of people see it as a David versus Goliath situation and choose not to engage in trying to break into the political system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer paints a striking picture of the situation: &ldquo;If you are from a very Democratic district and won your primary, then you&rsquo;re probably not going to have a credible Republican challenger when you&rsquo;re on the ballot in November. You&rsquo;re going to Albany with 4,000 votes. You&rsquo;re going to be in charge of a budget that&rsquo;s larger than most countries on the planet. You&rsquo;re going to be able to control children&rsquo;s education, what happens to a woman&rsquo;s body, prisons, drug use, punishment, marriage equality-- and you&rsquo;re being sent there with 4,000 votes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Representing District 57, Assemblymember Mosley has no electoral competition this year. He was first elected to an open seat in 2012 when he faced challengers in both the primary and general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">District 57 -- representing large portions of Brooklyn neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant -- is one of many districts that is overwhelmingly dominated by the Democratic Party to the point that general election contests are virtually meaningless. Any serious candidate, liberal or conservative, would be smart to run as a Democrat in the district if they expect to stand a chance.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2012, 47,844 votes were cast in District 57 for the Assembly general election, which Mosley handily won with 98 percent of the vote. Occurring at the same time as the Presidential vote with Barack Obama seeking re-election against Mitt Romney, over half of the registered voters in AD57 went to the polls for the general. But, many missed the actual Assembly race that took place months before.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the AD57 Democratic primary that year, out of 72,380 registered Democrats in the district, just 7,268 cast a ballot -- about 10 percent. Mosley won with 4,565 votes, or 1-in-16 registered Democrats in a district representing over 129,000 residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;People are not enthusiastic, they are not willing to come out and vote,&rdquo; said Remi in a conversation with Gotham Gazette outside of the Franklin Avenue subway station on Eastern Parkway. &ldquo;People need to be aware of which contestant they need to fight for.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD57 fits a pattern.</p> <p dir="ltr">Multiple forces produce the current system of so many uncontested elections. On one hand, there are the natural incumbency advantages of name recognition and access to financial means, but there is more to it than that.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One, is the gerrymandering that occurs allowing lawmakers to draw their own district lines&hellip;[two is] a disgraceful campaign finance system that allows them to hit up special interests for ridiculous amounts of money,&rdquo; said Blair Horner, executive director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to a lack of &ldquo;pay-to-play&rdquo; restrictions on campaign donors with government business. &ldquo;You overlay that with the lousy system of running elections in general -- which is, voter registration laws are cumbersome, we have a closed primary system, getting on the ballot is difficult -- and as a result New York has anemic voter turnout, one of the worst in the country.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the voting public increasingly believes that they will not see competitive elections by and large, and it&rsquo;s a reflection of a system that is designed to be an incumbency protection machine,&rdquo; said Horner. This is a self-perpetuating problem Horner calls a &ldquo;democracy death spiral.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One of the reasons I think the public is so unhappy with Albany is to some extent a reflection of policies that have emerged that are also not in the public&rsquo;s interest,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;As the public gets more turned off you can see it in the voter turnout numbers, interest groups wield more clout, which further alienates the voting public.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">This lack of competition has a negative impact on voter turnout, and as Greer also points out, it&rsquo;s not limited to New York City. &ldquo;Think about places in the deep south that are very red where we&rsquo;re seeing a dismal turnout among Republicans,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just a Democratic problem, it&rsquo;s an elected official problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Horner agrees that incumbent dominance to the point of mass uncontested elections is not unique to the Democratic Party&rsquo;s control in New York City. &ldquo;What you&rsquo;ve found in New York City sadly is the case across the state,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;New York has always had a twisted system like this&hellip;and as the stakes get higher, more and more money comes in, it too often crowds out the public&rsquo;s interest.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">With such a history of one party dominance in New York City and decades of policies that have favored incumbents, mitigating this problem is a daunting task.</p> <p dir="ltr">One place to look for possible solutions is New York City itself. With one of the most highly regarded public campaign financing systems and term limits, City Council elections have been opened up for candidates of modest means to run, and sometimes win.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;A system of public financing allows individuals who are not beholden to any groups to actually run significant campaigns for public office,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;You see that in New York and you don&rsquo;t see it at the state level because you have the highest campaign contribution limits of any state that has limits in the country, coupled with a rigged system of redistricting and the normal powers of incumbency.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The state Legislature could pass a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">variety of measures</a> that would make elections more democratic. There are advocates for the general idea of more open and fair elections throughout both the state Senate and Assembly, though most of the relevant legislation has failed to come up in each passing session, often in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another avenue of reform could be through improved civics education programs. &ldquo;I worry that we&rsquo;re just creating more and more generations of people who are disaffected and non-participatory,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;I wish we could figure out a way in which we could better educate the public about these offices, but I don&rsquo;t really know how to solve that. Obviously the literature that we&rsquo;re sending out to voters isn&rsquo;t resonating in a way, [and] it&rsquo;s not being taught in schools where students are actually retaining the information.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Voters can be among those who see it as a shared responsibility. &ldquo;Everyone has their own role to play; Republicans, Democrats, and the Board of Elections needs to generate more awareness, they need to distribute more information into the grassroots,&rdquo; said Remi. &ldquo;I mean, a grassroots election is the most important election, but having nobody to contest with, that means we&rsquo;re going to be getting the same ideas and nothing is going to change.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Others Unchallenged</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Queens</strong><br />Democratic Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Aravella_Simotas" target="_blank">Aravella Simotas</a> (AD36) has held her seat in Queens since winning an open seat election in 2010. She ran uncontested in both the <a href="http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/results/new-york/state-legislature" target="_blank">Democratic primary</a> and <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2010/general/2010AssemblyRecertified09122012.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> that year despite there being no incumbent in the race. In 2012, Simontas handily defeated Republican Julia Haich in the general election. She has run unopposed since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Simanowitz" target="_blank">Michael Simanowitz</a>, an elected Democrat who also appears on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines, is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and the general election for Assembly District 27. In 2011, Simanowitz won a special election against Republican Marco Desena. He&rsquo;s been unchallenged in the primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Hevesi" target="_blank">Andrew Hevesi</a> is a Democrat representing Assembly District 28 in Queens since he was first elected in 2005. The last general election fight Hevesi faced was in 2010. He was also challenged in the Democratic primary that year. He&rsquo;s run unopposed in all primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Assemblymember Michelle Titus represents District 31 in Queens and is facing neither a Democratic primary opponent or any general election competition. Titus, who was first elected 2002, ran unchallenged in the primary even that year, and has never faced a primary opponent. She faced a general eleciton opponent in 2002, 2004, and 2006; while in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, Titus faced no opponents whatsoever, al according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Jeffrion_Aubry" target="_blank">Jeffrion Aubry</a> has served in the state Assembly since he was first elected in a 1992 special election for District 35. The veteran Democrat has run unopposed in at least five straight election cycles including the current one, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Veteran Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Catherine_Nolan" target="_blank">Catherine Nolan</a> of Queens, a Democrat, has served residents of District 37 since 1984. She has not faced a primary competitor in the last five election cycles. John Kevin Wilson challenged Nolan as a Republican in 2012 and as a Libertarian in the 2014 general elections, which Nolan easily won. In the 2014 general election, Nolan defeated Wilson with just 10,336 votes, or one-in-six register voters, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Francisco_Moya" target="_blank">Francisco Moya</a> is a Democrat representing District 39 in Queens since he was first elected in 2010. He is running uncontested in the general election this November after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. The 2008 election cycle was the last time Moya faced a primary or general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>SD11 - Democratic State Senator Tony Avella;<br />SD12 - Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris;<br />SD13 - Democratic State Senator Jose Peralta;<br />SD14 - Democratic State Senator Leroy Comrie; and<br />SD15 - Democratic State Senator Joe Addabbo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD24 - Democratic State Assemblymember David Weprin;<br />AD25 - Democratic State Assemblymember Nily Rozic;<br />AD26 - Democratic State Assemblymember Edward Braunstein;<br />AD38 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Miller; and<br />AD40 - Democratic State Assemblymember Ron Kim</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Brooklyn</strong><br />Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Martin_Golden" target="_blank">Martin Golden</a> has held the District 22 seat since he was first elected in 2002. He was uncontested for the Republican nomination this year and will not face a challenger in November either, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans 2-to-1 in the district, which largely covers Southern Brooklyn. Registered voters with no party affiliation also outnumber Republicans in the 22nd District. Golden faced a serious challenger each of the past two general elections, though Democrats are not putting up a fight this cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 43, State Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diana_Richardson" target="_blank">Diana Richardson</a> has held office since winning a 2015 special election in which she won 49% of the vote as a Working Families and Green Party candidate. Now an incumbent Democrat, Richardson was unchallenged in 2016 party primary, nor will she face a general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Dov_Hikind" target="_blank">Dov Hikind</a>, a Democrat, has served Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 48 since 1983. There is no one challenging Hikind this election cycle. In 2012, Mitchell Tischler challenged Hikind for his seat in both the Democratic primary and in the general election as a School Choice Party candidate. In 2014, Hikind ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and defeated Nachman Caller in the general election. In a solidly Democratic district, Caller was able to achieve over 20 percent of the total vote count. Hikind won his re-election against a serious Republican challenger with just 12,317 votes, or one-in-four registered voters in the district, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Democrat <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Joseph_Lentol" target="_blank">Joseph Lentol</a> has served in the State Assembly representing Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 50 since he was first elected in 1972. He is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and general election this election cycle. In 2014, Lentol faced Republican challenger William Davidson and won with 9,789 votes -- one-in-eight registered voters cast a ballot for their Assembly member in a District representing over 129,000 residents, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Assembly District 53, Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Maritza_Davila" target="_blank">Maritza Davila</a> has represented Brooklyn since winning a special election in 2013. She ran uncontested in the Democratic primary this year and will run unchallenged in the general election, as was the case in the 2014 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/N._Nick_Perry" target="_blank">Nick Perry</a> has served as the Assemblymember for District 58 in Brooklyn since he was first elected in 1992. He will be running unopposed in the general election this year after facing no challenger in the Democratic primary either. In the last five election cycles, Perry has only faced one primary opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brooklyn incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD20 - Democratic State Senator Jesse Hamilton; and<br />SD21 - Democratic State Senator Kevin Parker;</p> <p>AD41 - Democratic State Assemblymember Helene Weinstein;<br />AD45 - Democratic State Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz;<br />AD47 - Democratic State Assemblymember William Colton;<br />AD49 - Democratic State Assemblymember Peter Abbate;<br />AD51 - Democratic State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz;<br />AD52 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon;<br />AD54 - Democratic State Assemblymember Erik Dilan;<br />AD59 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jaime Williams; and<br />AD60 - Democratic State Assemblymember Charles Barron</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Staten Island</strong><br />Democratic State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diane_Savino" target="_blank">Diane Savino</a> is part of the five-member Independent Democratic Conference and incumbent for District 23 on Staten Island and in parts of Brooklyn. She has held her seat since she was first elected in 2004. The IDC has helped Republicans maintain a majority in the State Senate. In 2014 multiple IDC members were challenged in the Democratic primary, though not Savino, who was again unopposed in the Democratic primary this year (other IDC members were not challenged this year either.) Savino is also running unopposed in the general election. She has never faced a primary challenger; she faced a general election opponent two cycles ago, in 2012, in Lisa Grey, who Savino handily defeated. One-in-three registered voters in District 23 cast a vote in that general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Senate District 24, also on Staten Island, Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Lanza" target="_blank">Andrew Lanza</a> has held his seat since winning in 2006. The district is home to many more Republicans than most New York City districts, though they are still outnumbered by registered Democrats in the district. Lanza has never faced a Republican primary challenger. He handily defeated Democrat Gary Carsel in the 2012 and 2014 general elections. Carsel nor any other Democrat has staged a campaign against Lanza this election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Matthew_Titone" target="_blank">Matthew Titone</a> of Staten Island ran unopposed in the District 61 Democratic Primary and will not face a challenger in the general election either. Titone won a special election in 2007 that gained him the seat. He has never faced a primary opponent though he has handily defeated several general election contestants. He ran totally unopposed in the previous election cycle of 2014, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Cusick" target="_blank">Michael Cusick</a> is a Staten Island Democratic Assemblymember who won his first District 63 election in 2002. Cusick has run unopposed in the past five Democratic primaries, though he has faced a general election contestant every year up until now. He&rsquo;s running unopposed in the general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Republican Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Nicole_Malliotakis" target="_blank">Nicole Malliotakis</a> has represented the people of District 64 on Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn since first winning the seat in 2010. Previously she represented District 60 in the State Assembly. The Democrats have ran campaigns against Malliotakis in the last three general elections, while she has ran unopposed in the Republican Primaries. This election cycle Malliotakis will not face an opponent in the general election in addition to the primary, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Manhattan</strong><br />In Senate District 27 of Manhattan, Democrat State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Brad_M._Hoylman" target="_blank">Brad Hoylman</a> has held office since he was first elected in 2012. This election cycle he faces no Republican opposition in winning back his seat. During the 2012 open seat election, Hoylman came through the Democratic primary, then won an uncontested general election in which 93,469 registered voters cast a ballot for him. In the primary of that year, Hoylman split the vote with two other Democratic contenders, with only 13,051 Democrats voting, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who represents District 26, which encompasses downtown Manhattan and part of downtown Brooklyn, is running unoppposed in the general after facing no primary opponent either. Squadron was elected in 2008, but did not face a primary opponent then and has not faced one since.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are nine other Manhattan legislators listed below who did not face a primary challenger this year. On the other hand, Sheldon Silver&rsquo;s replacement Alice Cancel (AD65) and Guillermo Linares (AD72) lost their seats, while Sen. Adriano Espaillat&rsquo;s chosen successor Marisol Alcantara (SD31) won her election.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the Upper East Side, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6497-manhattan-gop-sees-hope-on-upper-east-side" target="_blank">Republicans</a> are seeing hope in gaining more support for general elections in the Assembly.</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD28 - Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger;<br />SD29 - Democratic State Senator Jose Serrano;<br />SD30 - Democratic State Senator Bill Perkins;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD68 - Democratic State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez;<br />AD71 - Democratic State Assemblymember Herman Farrell;<br />AD73 - Democratic State Assemblymember Dan Quart;<br />AD74 - Democratic State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh;<br />AD75 - Democratic State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried; and<br />AD76 - Democratic State Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Bronx</strong><br />Senate Minority Leader <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrea_Stewart-Cousins" target="_blank">Andrea Stewart-Cousins</a> (SD35) has represented residents north of the Bronx in Westchester County since 2006. She has never faced a Democratic primary challenger as she previously served as the vice-chair of the Westchester County Democratic Party and in the Westchester County Legislature from 1996 and until she was elected to the state Senate. Stewart-Cousins will not face a challenger in the general election this year, as was the case in the 2012 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Bronx State Senator Jeff Klein, a Democrat who leads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, had to primary opponent, unlike in 2014 when mainline Democrats tried to unseat him. He is also facing no Republican challenger in November. Klein's IDC has formed a ruling coalition with Republicans in the Senate for the past two sessions. Klein represents the 34th Senate District.</p> <p dir="ltr">And finally, Democratic Speaker of the Assembly <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Carl_Heastie" target="_blank">Carl Heastie</a> -- of the Bronx&rsquo;s 83rd Assembly District -- was first elected to the chamber in 2000. He is not facing a competition in his general election contest after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. Heastie ran unopposed in the last five Democratic primaries, while he defeated general election challengers in those election cycles with upwards of 95 percent of the vote, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bronx incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>AD77 - Democratic State Assemblymember Latoya Joyner;<br />AD79 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Blake;<br />AD80 - Democratic State Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj;<br />AD81 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz; and<br />AD82 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Benedetto</p> <p dir="ltr">Many of the incumbents without a primary challenge will see an opponent from another party in the general election. That said, given that New York City voters are overwhelmingly Democrats, general election competition is often symbolic.</p> <p>&ldquo;Oftentimes for so many districts across the country, the primary is the election for all intents and purposes,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;In either strong Republican or Democratic districts, if you win your primary you essentially don&rsquo;t even face anyone in November, and if you do it&rsquo;s almost a joke.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by William Fowler for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>*note: as stated, many of the references to past elections are based on aggregation done by <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/" target="_blank">Ballotpedia</a>.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/NYC_BOE_photo_voting_machines_cropped.png" alt="NYC BOE photo voting machines cropped" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>(photo via NYC Board of Elections)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City residents are represented in the state Legislature by a total of 91 seats, 26 in the state Senate and 65 in the state Assembly. Among them, 60 are held by incumbents who were uncontested in their party primary elections that took place Tuesday, September 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">In these just-completed primaries, 66 percent -- or about two-thirds -- of the city&rsquo;s state legislative seats saw no intra-party competition. Twenty-four New York City-based legislators did face primary challengers this month, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6526-new-york-state-legislative-primary-results" target="_blank">three of whom</a> lost.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, there were seven already-vacant seats or seats where the current officeholder is not seeking re-election -- most of these seats saw competitive primaries, but City Council Member Inez Dickens <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">ran unopposed</a> for the Assembly seat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">being vacated</a> by Keith Wright in Harlem.</p> <p>In total, there are 150 Assembly seats and 63 Senate seats in the state Legislature. There are no term limits for state legislators in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 60 New York City-based incumbents who were uncontested from within their parties this cycle, 58 are Democrats, including State Senator Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans in Albany and has both the Democrat and Republican lines on the ballot this year. In most, if not all, of these districts, Board of Elections voter enrollment data show registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republican voters 4-to-1, or more in some cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">The single party dominance in many districts renders general election competition virtually meaningless and allows incumbents to be re-elected without lifting a finger. In some districts, the opposing party isn&rsquo;t running a general election candidate at all. As many as 23 state legislators across the city will face neither a primary nor general election opponent this election cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">For example, Queens Democratic Assemblymember Michael DenDekker is running unopposed in the general election after facing no challenger in the primary. Elected into office in 2008, DenDekker has never faced a primary or general election challenger, <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_DenDekker" target="_blank">according to Ballotpedia</a>. Like with many other legislative races, especially so for uncontested votes, a small percentage of registered voters cast ballots for DenDekker and other uncontested incumbents, though numbers do rise when there is a presidential contest the same day.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 2010 general election, not a presidential year, just 10,117 people -- 1-in-5 registered voters in Assembly District 34 -- selected DenDekker&rsquo;s name at the polls. New York State Assembly members each represent an average of 129,089 district residents, while state Senators have larger districts and represent roughly 307,356 residents, <a href="http://www.latfor.state.ny.us/faqs/" target="_blank">according to</a> the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographics and Reapportionment.</p> <p>Senator Felder of Brooklyn, who has been instrumental in maintaining a narrow Republican majority in the state Senate, will appear on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative ballot lines in District 17 for the general election. Felder won his first state Senate election in 2012. In that first <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2012/General/SD_07292013.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> he defeated incumbent Republican David Storobin. He hasn&rsquo;t faced a primary or general election challenger since.</p> <p dir="ltr">Repeatedly uncontested primaries and general elections has become the norm for many seats across New York City and at least partially explains dismally low voter turnout in legislative elections around the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the <a href="http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx" target="_blank">2016 primary elections</a>, 115,819 New Yorkers cast a ballot for state Senator out of nearly 1.1 million active voters within the districts where elections were held -- just 11 percent of the active voting population in those districts.</p> <p dir="ltr">With so few New Yorkers casting ballots and so little competition, state legislators are more likely to listen less to their constituents and more to the people and interest groups who fund their campaigns, political consultants, and lobbyists. Elected officials become indebted to these power brokers for maintaining their office as big donors could just as easily funnel their money to a primary challenger should their interests go unheard.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s not good enough, people should be made aware of that,&rdquo; said Olateju &ldquo;Remi&rdquo; Ogunremi, 54, a civil servant who has lived in Brooklyn for ten years, when told that his local Assembly member is running unopposed and fits a larger pattern. Residing in Crown Heights, Remi is represented in the state Assembly by Walter Mosley, a Democrat who is uncontested in his primary and general election this year. &ldquo;There should be a competitor to make it more democratic,&rdquo; Remi said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Without a public campaign finance system that matches private donations and encourages small-dollar contributions, outsider legislative candidates have little to no chance of raising enough cash to stage a significant challenge without strong name recognition or support of established organizations, unions, and local political figures. Once elected, incumbents have helped redraw their own districts to their and their party&rsquo;s advantage and regularly pass legislation benefiting the people and interest groups that help them stay in office (redistricting will be done differently in New York next time thanks to a constitutional amendment <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/11/voters-approve-all-three-ballot-propositions-017202" target="_blank">passed at the ballot by voters in 2014</a>).</p> <p dir="ltr">Without term limits in place, state legislators get comfortable. The average tenure in Albany is over a decade long, according to a <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/12/average-tenure-in-albany-more-than-a-decade-018476" target="_blank">2015 report by Politico New York</a>. State lawmakers have also been at the center of a rash of corruption schemes and convictions, including recent leaders of each house.</p> <p dir="ltr">As discontent and disapproval of state government grows, so does a lack of interest and involvement in the political system - less voting by those who are eligible; fewer aspirants willing to run for office. With loyal incumbents securely in office and fewer competitive races for which to distribute resources, campaign donors are free to hone their attention on strategic districts where they seek to broaden their influence and push their agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s very difficult for newcomers to unseat incumbents,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University. &ldquo;Once you&rsquo;re in office it&rsquo;s much easier to stay in and protect that office, so a lot of people see it as a David versus Goliath situation and choose not to engage in trying to break into the political system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer paints a striking picture of the situation: &ldquo;If you are from a very Democratic district and won your primary, then you&rsquo;re probably not going to have a credible Republican challenger when you&rsquo;re on the ballot in November. You&rsquo;re going to Albany with 4,000 votes. You&rsquo;re going to be in charge of a budget that&rsquo;s larger than most countries on the planet. You&rsquo;re going to be able to control children&rsquo;s education, what happens to a woman&rsquo;s body, prisons, drug use, punishment, marriage equality-- and you&rsquo;re being sent there with 4,000 votes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Representing District 57, Assemblymember Mosley has no electoral competition this year. He was first elected to an open seat in 2012 when he faced challengers in both the primary and general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">District 57 -- representing large portions of Brooklyn neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant -- is one of many districts that is overwhelmingly dominated by the Democratic Party to the point that general election contests are virtually meaningless. Any serious candidate, liberal or conservative, would be smart to run as a Democrat in the district if they expect to stand a chance.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2012, 47,844 votes were cast in District 57 for the Assembly general election, which Mosley handily won with 98 percent of the vote. Occurring at the same time as the Presidential vote with Barack Obama seeking re-election against Mitt Romney, over half of the registered voters in AD57 went to the polls for the general. But, many missed the actual Assembly race that took place months before.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the AD57 Democratic primary that year, out of 72,380 registered Democrats in the district, just 7,268 cast a ballot -- about 10 percent. Mosley won with 4,565 votes, or 1-in-16 registered Democrats in a district representing over 129,000 residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;People are not enthusiastic, they are not willing to come out and vote,&rdquo; said Remi in a conversation with Gotham Gazette outside of the Franklin Avenue subway station on Eastern Parkway. &ldquo;People need to be aware of which contestant they need to fight for.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD57 fits a pattern.</p> <p dir="ltr">Multiple forces produce the current system of so many uncontested elections. On one hand, there are the natural incumbency advantages of name recognition and access to financial means, but there is more to it than that.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One, is the gerrymandering that occurs allowing lawmakers to draw their own district lines&hellip;[two is] a disgraceful campaign finance system that allows them to hit up special interests for ridiculous amounts of money,&rdquo; said Blair Horner, executive director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to a lack of &ldquo;pay-to-play&rdquo; restrictions on campaign donors with government business. &ldquo;You overlay that with the lousy system of running elections in general -- which is, voter registration laws are cumbersome, we have a closed primary system, getting on the ballot is difficult -- and as a result New York has anemic voter turnout, one of the worst in the country.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the voting public increasingly believes that they will not see competitive elections by and large, and it&rsquo;s a reflection of a system that is designed to be an incumbency protection machine,&rdquo; said Horner. This is a self-perpetuating problem Horner calls a &ldquo;democracy death spiral.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One of the reasons I think the public is so unhappy with Albany is to some extent a reflection of policies that have emerged that are also not in the public&rsquo;s interest,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;As the public gets more turned off you can see it in the voter turnout numbers, interest groups wield more clout, which further alienates the voting public.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">This lack of competition has a negative impact on voter turnout, and as Greer also points out, it&rsquo;s not limited to New York City. &ldquo;Think about places in the deep south that are very red where we&rsquo;re seeing a dismal turnout among Republicans,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just a Democratic problem, it&rsquo;s an elected official problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Horner agrees that incumbent dominance to the point of mass uncontested elections is not unique to the Democratic Party&rsquo;s control in New York City. &ldquo;What you&rsquo;ve found in New York City sadly is the case across the state,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;New York has always had a twisted system like this&hellip;and as the stakes get higher, more and more money comes in, it too often crowds out the public&rsquo;s interest.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">With such a history of one party dominance in New York City and decades of policies that have favored incumbents, mitigating this problem is a daunting task.</p> <p dir="ltr">One place to look for possible solutions is New York City itself. With one of the most highly regarded public campaign financing systems and term limits, City Council elections have been opened up for candidates of modest means to run, and sometimes win.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;A system of public financing allows individuals who are not beholden to any groups to actually run significant campaigns for public office,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;You see that in New York and you don&rsquo;t see it at the state level because you have the highest campaign contribution limits of any state that has limits in the country, coupled with a rigged system of redistricting and the normal powers of incumbency.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The state Legislature could pass a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">variety of measures</a> that would make elections more democratic. There are advocates for the general idea of more open and fair elections throughout both the state Senate and Assembly, though most of the relevant legislation has failed to come up in each passing session, often in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another avenue of reform could be through improved civics education programs. &ldquo;I worry that we&rsquo;re just creating more and more generations of people who are disaffected and non-participatory,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;I wish we could figure out a way in which we could better educate the public about these offices, but I don&rsquo;t really know how to solve that. Obviously the literature that we&rsquo;re sending out to voters isn&rsquo;t resonating in a way, [and] it&rsquo;s not being taught in schools where students are actually retaining the information.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Voters can be among those who see it as a shared responsibility. &ldquo;Everyone has their own role to play; Republicans, Democrats, and the Board of Elections needs to generate more awareness, they need to distribute more information into the grassroots,&rdquo; said Remi. &ldquo;I mean, a grassroots election is the most important election, but having nobody to contest with, that means we&rsquo;re going to be getting the same ideas and nothing is going to change.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Others Unchallenged</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Queens</strong><br />Democratic Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Aravella_Simotas" target="_blank">Aravella Simotas</a> (AD36) has held her seat in Queens since winning an open seat election in 2010. She ran uncontested in both the <a href="http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/results/new-york/state-legislature" target="_blank">Democratic primary</a> and <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2010/general/2010AssemblyRecertified09122012.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> that year despite there being no incumbent in the race. In 2012, Simontas handily defeated Republican Julia Haich in the general election. She has run unopposed since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Simanowitz" target="_blank">Michael Simanowitz</a>, an elected Democrat who also appears on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines, is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and the general election for Assembly District 27. In 2011, Simanowitz won a special election against Republican Marco Desena. He&rsquo;s been unchallenged in the primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Hevesi" target="_blank">Andrew Hevesi</a> is a Democrat representing Assembly District 28 in Queens since he was first elected in 2005. The last general election fight Hevesi faced was in 2010. He was also challenged in the Democratic primary that year. He&rsquo;s run unopposed in all primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Assemblymember Michelle Titus represents District 31 in Queens and is facing neither a Democratic primary opponent or any general election competition. Titus, who was first elected 2002, ran unchallenged in the primary even that year, and has never faced a primary opponent. She faced a general eleciton opponent in 2002, 2004, and 2006; while in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, Titus faced no opponents whatsoever, al according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Jeffrion_Aubry" target="_blank">Jeffrion Aubry</a> has served in the state Assembly since he was first elected in a 1992 special election for District 35. The veteran Democrat has run unopposed in at least five straight election cycles including the current one, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Veteran Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Catherine_Nolan" target="_blank">Catherine Nolan</a> of Queens, a Democrat, has served residents of District 37 since 1984. She has not faced a primary competitor in the last five election cycles. John Kevin Wilson challenged Nolan as a Republican in 2012 and as a Libertarian in the 2014 general elections, which Nolan easily won. In the 2014 general election, Nolan defeated Wilson with just 10,336 votes, or one-in-six register voters, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Francisco_Moya" target="_blank">Francisco Moya</a> is a Democrat representing District 39 in Queens since he was first elected in 2010. He is running uncontested in the general election this November after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. The 2008 election cycle was the last time Moya faced a primary or general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>SD11 - Democratic State Senator Tony Avella;<br />SD12 - Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris;<br />SD13 - Democratic State Senator Jose Peralta;<br />SD14 - Democratic State Senator Leroy Comrie; and<br />SD15 - Democratic State Senator Joe Addabbo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD24 - Democratic State Assemblymember David Weprin;<br />AD25 - Democratic State Assemblymember Nily Rozic;<br />AD26 - Democratic State Assemblymember Edward Braunstein;<br />AD38 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Miller; and<br />AD40 - Democratic State Assemblymember Ron Kim</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Brooklyn</strong><br />Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Martin_Golden" target="_blank">Martin Golden</a> has held the District 22 seat since he was first elected in 2002. He was uncontested for the Republican nomination this year and will not face a challenger in November either, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans 2-to-1 in the district, which largely covers Southern Brooklyn. Registered voters with no party affiliation also outnumber Republicans in the 22nd District. Golden faced a serious challenger each of the past two general elections, though Democrats are not putting up a fight this cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 43, State Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diana_Richardson" target="_blank">Diana Richardson</a> has held office since winning a 2015 special election in which she won 49% of the vote as a Working Families and Green Party candidate. Now an incumbent Democrat, Richardson was unchallenged in 2016 party primary, nor will she face a general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Dov_Hikind" target="_blank">Dov Hikind</a>, a Democrat, has served Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 48 since 1983. There is no one challenging Hikind this election cycle. In 2012, Mitchell Tischler challenged Hikind for his seat in both the Democratic primary and in the general election as a School Choice Party candidate. In 2014, Hikind ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and defeated Nachman Caller in the general election. In a solidly Democratic district, Caller was able to achieve over 20 percent of the total vote count. Hikind won his re-election against a serious Republican challenger with just 12,317 votes, or one-in-four registered voters in the district, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Democrat <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Joseph_Lentol" target="_blank">Joseph Lentol</a> has served in the State Assembly representing Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 50 since he was first elected in 1972. He is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and general election this election cycle. In 2014, Lentol faced Republican challenger William Davidson and won with 9,789 votes -- one-in-eight registered voters cast a ballot for their Assembly member in a District representing over 129,000 residents, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Assembly District 53, Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Maritza_Davila" target="_blank">Maritza Davila</a> has represented Brooklyn since winning a special election in 2013. She ran uncontested in the Democratic primary this year and will run unchallenged in the general election, as was the case in the 2014 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/N._Nick_Perry" target="_blank">Nick Perry</a> has served as the Assemblymember for District 58 in Brooklyn since he was first elected in 1992. He will be running unopposed in the general election this year after facing no challenger in the Democratic primary either. In the last five election cycles, Perry has only faced one primary opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brooklyn incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD20 - Democratic State Senator Jesse Hamilton; and<br />SD21 - Democratic State Senator Kevin Parker;</p> <p>AD41 - Democratic State Assemblymember Helene Weinstein;<br />AD45 - Democratic State Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz;<br />AD47 - Democratic State Assemblymember William Colton;<br />AD49 - Democratic State Assemblymember Peter Abbate;<br />AD51 - Democratic State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz;<br />AD52 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon;<br />AD54 - Democratic State Assemblymember Erik Dilan;<br />AD59 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jaime Williams; and<br />AD60 - Democratic State Assemblymember Charles Barron</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Staten Island</strong><br />Democratic State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diane_Savino" target="_blank">Diane Savino</a> is part of the five-member Independent Democratic Conference and incumbent for District 23 on Staten Island and in parts of Brooklyn. She has held her seat since she was first elected in 2004. The IDC has helped Republicans maintain a majority in the State Senate. In 2014 multiple IDC members were challenged in the Democratic primary, though not Savino, who was again unopposed in the Democratic primary this year (other IDC members were not challenged this year either.) Savino is also running unopposed in the general election. She has never faced a primary challenger; she faced a general election opponent two cycles ago, in 2012, in Lisa Grey, who Savino handily defeated. One-in-three registered voters in District 23 cast a vote in that general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Senate District 24, also on Staten Island, Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Lanza" target="_blank">Andrew Lanza</a> has held his seat since winning in 2006. The district is home to many more Republicans than most New York City districts, though they are still outnumbered by registered Democrats in the district. Lanza has never faced a Republican primary challenger. He handily defeated Democrat Gary Carsel in the 2012 and 2014 general elections. Carsel nor any other Democrat has staged a campaign against Lanza this election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Matthew_Titone" target="_blank">Matthew Titone</a> of Staten Island ran unopposed in the District 61 Democratic Primary and will not face a challenger in the general election either. Titone won a special election in 2007 that gained him the seat. He has never faced a primary opponent though he has handily defeated several general election contestants. He ran totally unopposed in the previous election cycle of 2014, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Cusick" target="_blank">Michael Cusick</a> is a Staten Island Democratic Assemblymember who won his first District 63 election in 2002. Cusick has run unopposed in the past five Democratic primaries, though he has faced a general election contestant every year up until now. He&rsquo;s running unopposed in the general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Republican Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Nicole_Malliotakis" target="_blank">Nicole Malliotakis</a> has represented the people of District 64 on Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn since first winning the seat in 2010. Previously she represented District 60 in the State Assembly. The Democrats have ran campaigns against Malliotakis in the last three general elections, while she has ran unopposed in the Republican Primaries. This election cycle Malliotakis will not face an opponent in the general election in addition to the primary, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Manhattan</strong><br />In Senate District 27 of Manhattan, Democrat State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Brad_M._Hoylman" target="_blank">Brad Hoylman</a> has held office since he was first elected in 2012. This election cycle he faces no Republican opposition in winning back his seat. During the 2012 open seat election, Hoylman came through the Democratic primary, then won an uncontested general election in which 93,469 registered voters cast a ballot for him. In the primary of that year, Hoylman split the vote with two other Democratic contenders, with only 13,051 Democrats voting, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who represents District 26, which encompasses downtown Manhattan and part of downtown Brooklyn, is running unoppposed in the general after facing no primary opponent either. Squadron was elected in 2008, but did not face a primary opponent then and has not faced one since.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are nine other Manhattan legislators listed below who did not face a primary challenger this year. On the other hand, Sheldon Silver&rsquo;s replacement Alice Cancel (AD65) and Guillermo Linares (AD72) lost their seats, while Sen. Adriano Espaillat&rsquo;s chosen successor Marisol Alcantara (SD31) won her election.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the Upper East Side, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6497-manhattan-gop-sees-hope-on-upper-east-side" target="_blank">Republicans</a> are seeing hope in gaining more support for general elections in the Assembly.</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD28 - Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger;<br />SD29 - Democratic State Senator Jose Serrano;<br />SD30 - Democratic State Senator Bill Perkins;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD68 - Democratic State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez;<br />AD71 - Democratic State Assemblymember Herman Farrell;<br />AD73 - Democratic State Assemblymember Dan Quart;<br />AD74 - Democratic State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh;<br />AD75 - Democratic State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried; and<br />AD76 - Democratic State Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Bronx</strong><br />Senate Minority Leader <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrea_Stewart-Cousins" target="_blank">Andrea Stewart-Cousins</a> (SD35) has represented residents north of the Bronx in Westchester County since 2006. She has never faced a Democratic primary challenger as she previously served as the vice-chair of the Westchester County Democratic Party and in the Westchester County Legislature from 1996 and until she was elected to the state Senate. Stewart-Cousins will not face a challenger in the general election this year, as was the case in the 2012 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Bronx State Senator Jeff Klein, a Democrat who leads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, had to primary opponent, unlike in 2014 when mainline Democrats tried to unseat him. He is also facing no Republican challenger in November. Klein's IDC has formed a ruling coalition with Republicans in the Senate for the past two sessions. Klein represents the 34th Senate District.</p> <p dir="ltr">And finally, Democratic Speaker of the Assembly <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Carl_Heastie" target="_blank">Carl Heastie</a> -- of the Bronx&rsquo;s 83rd Assembly District -- was first elected to the chamber in 2000. He is not facing a competition in his general election contest after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. Heastie ran unopposed in the last five Democratic primaries, while he defeated general election challengers in those election cycles with upwards of 95 percent of the vote, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bronx incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>AD77 - Democratic State Assemblymember Latoya Joyner;<br />AD79 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Blake;<br />AD80 - Democratic State Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj;<br />AD81 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz; and<br />AD82 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Benedetto</p> <p dir="ltr">Many of the incumbents without a primary challenge will see an opponent from another party in the general election. That said, given that New York City voters are overwhelmingly Democrats, general election competition is often symbolic.</p> <p>&ldquo;Oftentimes for so many districts across the country, the primary is the election for all intents and purposes,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;In either strong Republican or Democratic districts, if you win your primary you essentially don&rsquo;t even face anyone in November, and if you do it&rsquo;s almost a joke.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by William Fowler for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>*note: as stated, many of the references to past elections are based on aggregation done by <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/" target="_blank">Ballotpedia</a>.</p>
Cuomo’s Minimum Wage Nonprofit Through the Lens of His New Regulatory Scheme 2016-08-29T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6498:cuomo-s-minimum-wage-nonprofit-through-the-lens-of-his-new-regulatory-scheme Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25143676952_dfea2735b1_z.jpg" alt="mario cuomo campaign for economic justice bus capitol" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>photos via The Governor's Office on Flickr</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>In a complicated confluence of relationships, Cuomo&rsquo;s government office notified the press about the events and streamed the governor&rsquo;s appearances at rallies organized by the group; while his reelection campaign spokesperson served in that role for MCCEJ. Cuomo&rsquo;s office and the MCCEJ at times appeared to be one.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Later in the legislative session, in June, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6476-for-cuomo-passing-ethics-bill-was-urgent-signing-it-is-not" target="_blank">created and won passage</a> 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.</p> <p>Cuomo calls the bill an historic stand against dark money, the influence of Super PACs, and the Supreme Court&rsquo;s Citizens United decision that opened up the floodgates for major, secretive political donations.</p> <p>&ldquo;New York is taking aggressive action to restore the people&rsquo;s faith in government and increase accountability and transparency in the electoral process,&rdquo; Cuomo said in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. &ldquo;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 &ndash; and now it&rsquo;s time for the rest of the nation to follow suit.&rdquo;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>&ldquo;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,&rdquo; said Perry. &ldquo;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&rsquo;t even involved in lobbying, but pure issue advocacy. This bill will have a chilling impact on their donors.&rdquo;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>In Cuomo&rsquo;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&rsquo;s more recent Campaign for One New York, Cuomo&rsquo;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&rsquo;s group did not disclose its donors; de Blasio&rsquo;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.</p> <p>Critics have said that the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, like de Blasio&rsquo;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&rsquo;s campaign.</p> <p>&ldquo;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,&rdquo; Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/02/minimum-raise-push-blurs-lines-between-donors-apparatus-and-cuomos-031618" target="_blank">told Politico New York</a> in February. &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo appeared to criticize de Blasio&rsquo;s relationship with the Campaign for One New York while unveiling his reform plan in June. &ldquo;The collusion, the coordination, the subterfuge, the fraud in the current political system is rampant,&rdquo; Cuomo said, <a href="http://observer.com/2016/06/cuomo-plans-crackdown-on-de-blasio-style-political-organizations/" target="_blank">according to The Observer</a>, without naming de Blasio&rsquo;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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>&ldquo;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.&rdquo; 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.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24590614793_4c9b6e7477_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo mario cuomo campaign economic justice speech" width="300" height="200" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />Sources 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.</p> <p>Now, more disclosure is required of smaller donors after nonprofits spend smaller amounts of total money on lobbying. The MCCEJ&rsquo;s donations appear to mostly have come in large sums. But, it will be impossible to know until the MCCEJ&rsquo;s final disclosure documents are made public by the state regulatory agency they must report to: JCOPE, the Joint Committee on Public Ethics.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>New York&rsquo;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&rsquo; personal information. The MCCEJ is expected to have spent around $2 million from January to July.</p> <p>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&rsquo;s final filing should be available in September.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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&rsquo;s lobbying efforts.</p> <p>&ldquo;The problem becomes when the law applies to groups that are not sponsored and created by the chief executive of the state,&rdquo; said Perry.</p> <p>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. &ldquo;This will have a chilling effect,&rdquo; said Perry. &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>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&rsquo;s organization, a national nonprofit, is still reviewing what, if any, impact the new regulations will have on it.</p> <p>Durant said he is concerned about the new laws and how they might affect dissent and perhaps earn political retribution. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s always been a concern with any governor, but with this governor it&rsquo;s a bit heightened,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Kellogg noted that JCOPE can set exemptions for certain groups. &ldquo;They get to determine whether a donor has legitimate fear of retaliation, and thus does not have to have their name released,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;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&rsquo;s definitely going to be ugly.&rdquo;</p> <p>JCOPE approved <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Sparks-fly-at-JCOPE-over-donor-disclosure-rule-9132991.php" target="_blank">a set of regulations</a> having to do with the law earlier this month. Many groups are anxiously waiting to see how the new regulations are actually enforced.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>&ldquo;As you know, non-profit charities are already tightly regulated by the Internal Revenue Service,&rdquo; the groups wrote Cuomo in a letter urging him to veto the bill. &ldquo;These organizations, known as 501(c)(3)s have strict limits on their lobbying involvement &ndash; 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.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked whether Cuomo had evidence there was corruption or malfeasance among these groups, Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever forwarded <a href="http://m.timesunion.com/tuplus-local/article/Who-funds-New-York-s-watchdogs-at-Capitol-6764182.php" target="_blank">a Times Union article</a> titled &ldquo;Who Funds New York&rsquo;s Good Government Groups?&rdquo; 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.</p> <p>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: &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Asked about the new ethics laws on Thursday, Cuomo <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/08/cuomo-says-ethics-is-a-work-in-progress/" target="_blank">told reporters</a> that it wasn&rsquo;t everything he was hoping for, but still important. &ldquo;The ethics bill is a major step forward,&rdquo; Cuomo said, according to State of Politics. &ldquo;Is it everything? No. Ethics in many ways is like other activities in life, right? That old line &mdash; 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.&rdquo;</p> <p>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&rsquo;s economic development projects. &ldquo;This is classic Albany misdirection,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization fo Citizens Union.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25143676952_dfea2735b1_z.jpg" alt="mario cuomo campaign for economic justice bus capitol" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>photos via The Governor's Office on Flickr</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>In a complicated confluence of relationships, Cuomo&rsquo;s government office notified the press about the events and streamed the governor&rsquo;s appearances at rallies organized by the group; while his reelection campaign spokesperson served in that role for MCCEJ. Cuomo&rsquo;s office and the MCCEJ at times appeared to be one.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Later in the legislative session, in June, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6476-for-cuomo-passing-ethics-bill-was-urgent-signing-it-is-not" target="_blank">created and won passage</a> 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.</p> <p>Cuomo calls the bill an historic stand against dark money, the influence of Super PACs, and the Supreme Court&rsquo;s Citizens United decision that opened up the floodgates for major, secretive political donations.</p> <p>&ldquo;New York is taking aggressive action to restore the people&rsquo;s faith in government and increase accountability and transparency in the electoral process,&rdquo; Cuomo said in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. &ldquo;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 &ndash; and now it&rsquo;s time for the rest of the nation to follow suit.&rdquo;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>&ldquo;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,&rdquo; said Perry. &ldquo;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&rsquo;t even involved in lobbying, but pure issue advocacy. This bill will have a chilling impact on their donors.&rdquo;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>In Cuomo&rsquo;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&rsquo;s more recent Campaign for One New York, Cuomo&rsquo;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&rsquo;s group did not disclose its donors; de Blasio&rsquo;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.</p> <p>Critics have said that the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, like de Blasio&rsquo;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&rsquo;s campaign.</p> <p>&ldquo;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,&rdquo; Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/02/minimum-raise-push-blurs-lines-between-donors-apparatus-and-cuomos-031618" target="_blank">told Politico New York</a> in February. &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo appeared to criticize de Blasio&rsquo;s relationship with the Campaign for One New York while unveiling his reform plan in June. &ldquo;The collusion, the coordination, the subterfuge, the fraud in the current political system is rampant,&rdquo; Cuomo said, <a href="http://observer.com/2016/06/cuomo-plans-crackdown-on-de-blasio-style-political-organizations/" target="_blank">according to The Observer</a>, without naming de Blasio&rsquo;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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>&ldquo;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.&rdquo; 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.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24590614793_4c9b6e7477_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo mario cuomo campaign economic justice speech" width="300" height="200" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />Sources 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.</p> <p>Now, more disclosure is required of smaller donors after nonprofits spend smaller amounts of total money on lobbying. The MCCEJ&rsquo;s donations appear to mostly have come in large sums. But, it will be impossible to know until the MCCEJ&rsquo;s final disclosure documents are made public by the state regulatory agency they must report to: JCOPE, the Joint Committee on Public Ethics.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>New York&rsquo;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&rsquo; personal information. The MCCEJ is expected to have spent around $2 million from January to July.</p> <p>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&rsquo;s final filing should be available in September.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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&rsquo;s lobbying efforts.</p> <p>&ldquo;The problem becomes when the law applies to groups that are not sponsored and created by the chief executive of the state,&rdquo; said Perry.</p> <p>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. &ldquo;This will have a chilling effect,&rdquo; said Perry. &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>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&rsquo;s organization, a national nonprofit, is still reviewing what, if any, impact the new regulations will have on it.</p> <p>Durant said he is concerned about the new laws and how they might affect dissent and perhaps earn political retribution. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s always been a concern with any governor, but with this governor it&rsquo;s a bit heightened,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Kellogg noted that JCOPE can set exemptions for certain groups. &ldquo;They get to determine whether a donor has legitimate fear of retaliation, and thus does not have to have their name released,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;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&rsquo;s definitely going to be ugly.&rdquo;</p> <p>JCOPE approved <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Sparks-fly-at-JCOPE-over-donor-disclosure-rule-9132991.php" target="_blank">a set of regulations</a> having to do with the law earlier this month. Many groups are anxiously waiting to see how the new regulations are actually enforced.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>&ldquo;As you know, non-profit charities are already tightly regulated by the Internal Revenue Service,&rdquo; the groups wrote Cuomo in a letter urging him to veto the bill. &ldquo;These organizations, known as 501(c)(3)s have strict limits on their lobbying involvement &ndash; 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.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked whether Cuomo had evidence there was corruption or malfeasance among these groups, Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever forwarded <a href="http://m.timesunion.com/tuplus-local/article/Who-funds-New-York-s-watchdogs-at-Capitol-6764182.php" target="_blank">a Times Union article</a> titled &ldquo;Who Funds New York&rsquo;s Good Government Groups?&rdquo; 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.</p> <p>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: &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Asked about the new ethics laws on Thursday, Cuomo <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/08/cuomo-says-ethics-is-a-work-in-progress/" target="_blank">told reporters</a> that it wasn&rsquo;t everything he was hoping for, but still important. &ldquo;The ethics bill is a major step forward,&rdquo; Cuomo said, according to State of Politics. &ldquo;Is it everything? No. Ethics in many ways is like other activities in life, right? That old line &mdash; 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.&rdquo;</p> <p>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&rsquo;s economic development projects. &ldquo;This is classic Albany misdirection,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;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.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization fo Citizens Union.</p>
Cuomo Appears to Give Up on Legislature Closing LLC Loophole 2016-06-21T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6409:cuomo-appears-to-give-up-on-legislature-closing-llc-loophole Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25889995980_b337036ff1_z.jpg" alt="cuomo budget mujica" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; his budget director, Robert Mujica (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to have given up on the state Legislature taking action to close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy donors to subvert campaign finance laws by creating multiple limited liability corporations that can each give more than $60,000 to a candidate&rsquo;s campaign.</p> <p>According to The New York Times, Cuomo said this weekend that it would be up to the public to close the loophole through a constitutional convention.</p> <p>In January, the governor made closing the LLC loophole a key plank of his government ethics reform package. He and his representatives have said repeatedly that Cuomo wants the loophole closed. In late May, after months without mentioning the loophole unless prompted by reporters, the governor unveiled &ldquo;a menu&rdquo; of eight bills that would partially close the loophole for various combinations of campaigns for elected positions -- all of the bills would have impacted gubernatorial candidates, including the incumbent governor, who has been the biggest beneficiary of LLC giving.</p> <p>&ldquo;The people of New York are demanding change and it&rsquo;s time we took action to restore the public trust by closing the LLC loophole and bringing fairness to our campaign finance system,&rdquo; Cuomo said in the May 24 statement announcing his <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/05/cuomo-proposes-a-la-carte-menu-of-llc-loophole-bills-102117" target="_blank">bill menu</a> aimed at closing the loophole that has allowed <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/state/big-money-flows-to-politicians-through-states-llc-loophole-20150323" target="_blank">tens of millions of dollars</a> into campaign accounts. &ldquo;For years, I have proposed closing the LLC loophole &ndash; one of the most egregious flaws in our campaign finance system &ndash; and every year the bill has stalled.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Cuomo, Senate Republicans are unwilling to act on the loophole because they rely on corporate money. The legislative session ended with what many reform advocates see as minimal ethics reforms, highlighted by a move toward stripping pensions from officials convicted of corruption. In his first post-session remarks, the governor told The Times that there is no path to closing the LLC loophole through the Legislature and that it must be done through a constitutional convention.</p> <p>&ldquo;There has to be a dose of reality in the assessment,&rdquo; Cuomo <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0" target="_blank">told The Times</a>. &ldquo;It is tantamount to political suicide for the Republican Party in this state because they believe it ends corporate money, and only union money would come into the system, which would help the Democrats.&rdquo;</p> <p>He added: &ldquo;The people are going to have to do it,&rdquo; referring, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0" target="_blank">according to The Times</a>, to a constitutional convention.</p> <p>A number of reform advocates and legislators who support closing the loophole were taken aback by Cuomo&rsquo;s comments and their meaning in terms of his pursuit of reform. Cuomo made little public effort to move the multi-faceted reform agenda he proposed in January and instead appeared to move the goalposts for reform toward the end of session <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">when he announced</a> he wanted to tackle independent expenditure campaigns, something Senate Republicans found much more appealing than restricting legislators&rsquo; outside income or closing the LLC loophole.</p> <p>&ldquo;It sounds like the governor is saying he can't get it done,&rdquo; said Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who is party to a lawsuit brought by reform groups and current and former legislators against the State Board of Elections to close the loophole. &ldquo;It sounds like the governor is saying &lsquo;I'm incapable of reforming Albany and we have to leave it up to a constitutional convention,&rsquo; and I don't know that he is wrong.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said he is unwilling to wait for a convention to address the loophole. &ldquo;His comments personify his frustration not being able close the loophole and point to a goal too far in the future to accept,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t rely on a convention that we don&rsquo;t know will be called.&rdquo;</p> <p>Voters have the ability to approve a constitutional convention every 20 years. The next vote is scheduled for November 2017. If voters were to approve it, they would vote again the following November to select delegates to represent them at the convention, which would <a href="http://www.newyorkconcon.info/" target="_blank">actually get underway</a> in April 2019. Delegates would meet to debate reforms to the constitution that could focus on anything from money in politics to the state&rsquo;s civil rights mandates. Voters wouldn&rsquo;t get to vote on proposed changes from the convention until November 2019.</p> <p>There is no guarantee that closing the LLC loophole would come up during a constitutional convention or make it to a final vote.</p> <p>&ldquo;The Board of Elections created this loophole and they can fix it,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to the state BOE&rsquo;s 1996 ruling that opened the loophole. &ldquo;These LLCs have been at the center of major corruption scandals so it isn't like this is an academic problem,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a real problem.&rdquo;</p> <p>Not only does Cuomo&rsquo;s suggestion that a constitutional convention is the only way to close the loophole discount the lawsuit Krueger is involved in and mean that change couldn&rsquo;t possibly occur until November of 2019, but it also appears to fail to factor in the possibility of Democrats winning the Senate majority from Republicans this fall. Democrats in the Senate and Assembly both claim to support closing the LLC loophole. The Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, has voted a number of times to close the loophole while some Senate Democrats have tried to force a vote on closing the loophole in their chamber to no avail.</p> <p>&ldquo;I guess seeing the Senate Democrats take control of the Senate isn't a way he sees to get things done,&rdquo; said Krueger. Cuomo, a Democrat, has been criticized over several years for not doing enough to help Democrats take the chamber and for being too close to Republicans. Cuomo has touted his ability to productively work across the aisle.</p> <p>Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said closing the LLC loophole is at the top of their agenda. &ldquo;Senate Democrats have been fighting to close this loophole for years only to be rebuffed by our Republican colleagues. When we take the majority this will be one of the first things we pass. The people of New York deserve a government that they can trust.&rdquo;</p> <p>John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said at the most basic levels he sees Cuomo&rsquo;s comments as the governor giving up on reform, but he also sees it as Cuomo letting Senate Republicans off the hook on an issue that could be used to help Senate Democrats win control of the chamber.</p> <p>&ldquo;It means the governor is not going to use the LLC loophole as a campaign issue against Senate Republicans. He could beat the Republicans over the head with the LLC loophole because the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate Democrats support closing the loophole, as do all of the watchdog groups and independent experts and editorial boards,&rdquo; said Kaehny.</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s office did not respond to requests for comment around whether Cuomo did indeed mean that closing the LLC loophole would require a constitutional convention and whether he was discounting the possibility of Democratic control of the Senate.</p> <p>Many believe Cuomo prefers governing, as his father did, with a Democratic Assembly and Republican Senate, allowing him to pass more conservative fiscal measures when necessary.</p> <p>Dadey agreed that Cuomo&rsquo;s comments appear to ignore the possibility of change in the Legislature. &ldquo;The Governor&rsquo;s position does not take into account Senate control,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;This lets the Legislature off the hook.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25889995980_b337036ff1_z.jpg" alt="cuomo budget mujica" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; his budget director, Robert Mujica (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to have given up on the state Legislature taking action to close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy donors to subvert campaign finance laws by creating multiple limited liability corporations that can each give more than $60,000 to a candidate&rsquo;s campaign.</p> <p>According to The New York Times, Cuomo said this weekend that it would be up to the public to close the loophole through a constitutional convention.</p> <p>In January, the governor made closing the LLC loophole a key plank of his government ethics reform package. He and his representatives have said repeatedly that Cuomo wants the loophole closed. In late May, after months without mentioning the loophole unless prompted by reporters, the governor unveiled &ldquo;a menu&rdquo; of eight bills that would partially close the loophole for various combinations of campaigns for elected positions -- all of the bills would have impacted gubernatorial candidates, including the incumbent governor, who has been the biggest beneficiary of LLC giving.</p> <p>&ldquo;The people of New York are demanding change and it&rsquo;s time we took action to restore the public trust by closing the LLC loophole and bringing fairness to our campaign finance system,&rdquo; Cuomo said in the May 24 statement announcing his <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/05/cuomo-proposes-a-la-carte-menu-of-llc-loophole-bills-102117" target="_blank">bill menu</a> aimed at closing the loophole that has allowed <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/state/big-money-flows-to-politicians-through-states-llc-loophole-20150323" target="_blank">tens of millions of dollars</a> into campaign accounts. &ldquo;For years, I have proposed closing the LLC loophole &ndash; one of the most egregious flaws in our campaign finance system &ndash; and every year the bill has stalled.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Cuomo, Senate Republicans are unwilling to act on the loophole because they rely on corporate money. The legislative session ended with what many reform advocates see as minimal ethics reforms, highlighted by a move toward stripping pensions from officials convicted of corruption. In his first post-session remarks, the governor told The Times that there is no path to closing the LLC loophole through the Legislature and that it must be done through a constitutional convention.</p> <p>&ldquo;There has to be a dose of reality in the assessment,&rdquo; Cuomo <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0" target="_blank">told The Times</a>. &ldquo;It is tantamount to political suicide for the Republican Party in this state because they believe it ends corporate money, and only union money would come into the system, which would help the Democrats.&rdquo;</p> <p>He added: &ldquo;The people are going to have to do it,&rdquo; referring, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0" target="_blank">according to The Times</a>, to a constitutional convention.</p> <p>A number of reform advocates and legislators who support closing the loophole were taken aback by Cuomo&rsquo;s comments and their meaning in terms of his pursuit of reform. Cuomo made little public effort to move the multi-faceted reform agenda he proposed in January and instead appeared to move the goalposts for reform toward the end of session <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">when he announced</a> he wanted to tackle independent expenditure campaigns, something Senate Republicans found much more appealing than restricting legislators&rsquo; outside income or closing the LLC loophole.</p> <p>&ldquo;It sounds like the governor is saying he can't get it done,&rdquo; said Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who is party to a lawsuit brought by reform groups and current and former legislators against the State Board of Elections to close the loophole. &ldquo;It sounds like the governor is saying &lsquo;I'm incapable of reforming Albany and we have to leave it up to a constitutional convention,&rsquo; and I don't know that he is wrong.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said he is unwilling to wait for a convention to address the loophole. &ldquo;His comments personify his frustration not being able close the loophole and point to a goal too far in the future to accept,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t rely on a convention that we don&rsquo;t know will be called.&rdquo;</p> <p>Voters have the ability to approve a constitutional convention every 20 years. The next vote is scheduled for November 2017. If voters were to approve it, they would vote again the following November to select delegates to represent them at the convention, which would <a href="http://www.newyorkconcon.info/" target="_blank">actually get underway</a> in April 2019. Delegates would meet to debate reforms to the constitution that could focus on anything from money in politics to the state&rsquo;s civil rights mandates. Voters wouldn&rsquo;t get to vote on proposed changes from the convention until November 2019.</p> <p>There is no guarantee that closing the LLC loophole would come up during a constitutional convention or make it to a final vote.</p> <p>&ldquo;The Board of Elections created this loophole and they can fix it,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to the state BOE&rsquo;s 1996 ruling that opened the loophole. &ldquo;These LLCs have been at the center of major corruption scandals so it isn't like this is an academic problem,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a real problem.&rdquo;</p> <p>Not only does Cuomo&rsquo;s suggestion that a constitutional convention is the only way to close the loophole discount the lawsuit Krueger is involved in and mean that change couldn&rsquo;t possibly occur until November of 2019, but it also appears to fail to factor in the possibility of Democrats winning the Senate majority from Republicans this fall. Democrats in the Senate and Assembly both claim to support closing the LLC loophole. The Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, has voted a number of times to close the loophole while some Senate Democrats have tried to force a vote on closing the loophole in their chamber to no avail.</p> <p>&ldquo;I guess seeing the Senate Democrats take control of the Senate isn't a way he sees to get things done,&rdquo; said Krueger. Cuomo, a Democrat, has been criticized over several years for not doing enough to help Democrats take the chamber and for being too close to Republicans. Cuomo has touted his ability to productively work across the aisle.</p> <p>Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said closing the LLC loophole is at the top of their agenda. &ldquo;Senate Democrats have been fighting to close this loophole for years only to be rebuffed by our Republican colleagues. When we take the majority this will be one of the first things we pass. The people of New York deserve a government that they can trust.&rdquo;</p> <p>John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said at the most basic levels he sees Cuomo&rsquo;s comments as the governor giving up on reform, but he also sees it as Cuomo letting Senate Republicans off the hook on an issue that could be used to help Senate Democrats win control of the chamber.</p> <p>&ldquo;It means the governor is not going to use the LLC loophole as a campaign issue against Senate Republicans. He could beat the Republicans over the head with the LLC loophole because the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate Democrats support closing the loophole, as do all of the watchdog groups and independent experts and editorial boards,&rdquo; said Kaehny.</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s office did not respond to requests for comment around whether Cuomo did indeed mean that closing the LLC loophole would require a constitutional convention and whether he was discounting the possibility of Democratic control of the Senate.</p> <p>Many believe Cuomo prefers governing, as his father did, with a Democratic Assembly and Republican Senate, allowing him to pass more conservative fiscal measures when necessary.</p> <p>Dadey agreed that Cuomo&rsquo;s comments appear to ignore the possibility of change in the Legislature. &ldquo;The Governor&rsquo;s position does not take into account Senate control,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;This lets the Legislature off the hook.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

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