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/susan-lerner 2017-10-19T09:27:43+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Cuomo Punts Voting Reform to ‘After the Budget’ 2017-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6823:cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32759812383_521a498159_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo press conference NYC" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo all but confirmed Tuesday that major voting reforms he’s proposed would not be part of the new state budget, which is due by April 1.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo outlined the “Democracy Project” as part of his 2017 State of the State agenda, and included its widely prized measures like early voting, same-day voter registration, and an enhanced form of automatic voter registration in one of his budget bills. But, on Tuesday Cuomo indicated that the push to modernize New York’s antiquated voting laws would be left for the April through June legislative session that follows budget adoption.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has proposed sweeping voting reforms before, and New York has watched as they have been implemented with successful results in dozens of other states, while paltry voter turnout continues here.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Cuomo appeared at a press conference in New York City, which the governor had called to criticize two Republican congressional representatives from New York for authoring amendments to the federal health plan that would shift certain Medicaid burdens in New York from the counties to the state. During the question-and-answer session, a WNYC reporter asked Cuomo how he would be able to persuade Senate Republicans to adopt his voting reform agenda during budget negotiations.</p> <p>“We are going to try like heck,” he said, but added, “It’s not necessarily a budget discussion,” conceding a point Cuomo is typically hesitant to make.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo continued. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>Between now and April 1, Cuomo and legislative leaders will negotiate the details of the new state budget. The Governor sets the stage for budget season with his Executive Budget in January, which is then followed by legislative hearings, one-house budget resolutions that respond to the Governor’s proposals, and closed-door negotiations. The spending and policy pieces that make it into the budget often depend upon how much priority agenda items are given by the Governor, the Senate Majority, and the Assembly Majority.</p> <p>Cuomo, as the most powerful of the “three men in the room,” can often push through his top priorities, as he did last year with $15 minimum wage and paid family leave programs.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo announced the Democracy Project in a press release amid his six-stop State of the State tour. The goal, Cuomo's announcement stated, was “modernizing voting in New York to increase participation in the democratic system.” The Democracy Project “will remove barriers to voter registration" and "make voting easier for New Yorkers.”</p> <p>“Early voting will shorten lines at the polls,” the announcement stated, “allow New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day.” It also promised that automatic and same-day voter registration “will increase voter participation.”</p> <p>While Democrats who control the Assembly appear <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open to the three voting reforms</a>, among others, they do not appear to be placing it especially high on their list of priorities. Republicans who control the state Senate are <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">opposed</a> to voting reform, worrying that greater turnout could spell the end of their paper-thin majority margin.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Two of the three reforms</a>, early voting and automatic registration, are widely implemented throughout the country, and would be easy to implement legislatively, but have stalled in the Senate. Along with the Assembly majority, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats who have a ruling coalition with Republicans, also support the measures. However, the IDC’s power to move the GOP conference in this case may be especially limited.</p> <p>Same-day voter registration, which would allow unregistered voters to register and vote on Election Day, would likely have to be implemented through a state constitutional amendment, which requires the approval of both legislative houses for two consecutive legislative cycles and then approval by the public through a ballot vote.</p> <p>Last week, representatives from advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Working Families Party, and Common Cause NY joined with female state lawmakers at the state Capitol to push for early voting and automatic registration to be included in the budget. The press conference, which coincided with Women’s History Month and framed voter inclusion as a women’s issue, was followed by a rally on Sunday in New York City’s Battery Park.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, who helped organized the press conference and the rally, criticized the governor’s Tuesday revelation.</p> <p>“It's not enough to ‘try like heck,’” Lerner said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve the same rights as voters in Alaska and Vermont. We need voting reform now, and that means including funding in the 2017 budget to ensure that the next election cycle is an example for the nation, not a national embarrassment."</p> <p>Lerner noted that New York ranked 41st in the nation for voter turnout (based on the 2016 presidential election), with less than a third of eligible voters participating. “Far from the progressive symbol the Governor likes to tout, we are out of step with 34 other states that have some form of early voting, and nowhere near California which also has Automatic Voter Registration,” Lerner said.</p> <p>On Tuesday Cuomo did not cast blame on anyone for what he was foreshadowing as a failure to move voting reform through the budget. At the press conference, however, he did tout how well he has been able to work with Republicans over the past six years. He did not indicate that he planned to try to convince Senate Republicans to back his voting reform agenda.</p> <p>A few days ago, Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/advocates-urge-state-lawmakers-budget-voting-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told WNYC radio</a>, "There are many bills out there which seek to boost voter participation. We'll take a look at all of them."</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32759812383_521a498159_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo press conference NYC" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo all but confirmed Tuesday that major voting reforms he’s proposed would not be part of the new state budget, which is due by April 1.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo outlined the “Democracy Project” as part of his 2017 State of the State agenda, and included its widely prized measures like early voting, same-day voter registration, and an enhanced form of automatic voter registration in one of his budget bills. But, on Tuesday Cuomo indicated that the push to modernize New York’s antiquated voting laws would be left for the April through June legislative session that follows budget adoption.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has proposed sweeping voting reforms before, and New York has watched as they have been implemented with successful results in dozens of other states, while paltry voter turnout continues here.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Cuomo appeared at a press conference in New York City, which the governor had called to criticize two Republican congressional representatives from New York for authoring amendments to the federal health plan that would shift certain Medicaid burdens in New York from the counties to the state. During the question-and-answer session, a WNYC reporter asked Cuomo how he would be able to persuade Senate Republicans to adopt his voting reform agenda during budget negotiations.</p> <p>“We are going to try like heck,” he said, but added, “It’s not necessarily a budget discussion,” conceding a point Cuomo is typically hesitant to make.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo continued. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>Between now and April 1, Cuomo and legislative leaders will negotiate the details of the new state budget. The Governor sets the stage for budget season with his Executive Budget in January, which is then followed by legislative hearings, one-house budget resolutions that respond to the Governor’s proposals, and closed-door negotiations. The spending and policy pieces that make it into the budget often depend upon how much priority agenda items are given by the Governor, the Senate Majority, and the Assembly Majority.</p> <p>Cuomo, as the most powerful of the “three men in the room,” can often push through his top priorities, as he did last year with $15 minimum wage and paid family leave programs.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo announced the Democracy Project in a press release amid his six-stop State of the State tour. The goal, Cuomo's announcement stated, was “modernizing voting in New York to increase participation in the democratic system.” The Democracy Project “will remove barriers to voter registration" and "make voting easier for New Yorkers.”</p> <p>“Early voting will shorten lines at the polls,” the announcement stated, “allow New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day.” It also promised that automatic and same-day voter registration “will increase voter participation.”</p> <p>While Democrats who control the Assembly appear <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open to the three voting reforms</a>, among others, they do not appear to be placing it especially high on their list of priorities. Republicans who control the state Senate are <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">opposed</a> to voting reform, worrying that greater turnout could spell the end of their paper-thin majority margin.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Two of the three reforms</a>, early voting and automatic registration, are widely implemented throughout the country, and would be easy to implement legislatively, but have stalled in the Senate. Along with the Assembly majority, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats who have a ruling coalition with Republicans, also support the measures. However, the IDC’s power to move the GOP conference in this case may be especially limited.</p> <p>Same-day voter registration, which would allow unregistered voters to register and vote on Election Day, would likely have to be implemented through a state constitutional amendment, which requires the approval of both legislative houses for two consecutive legislative cycles and then approval by the public through a ballot vote.</p> <p>Last week, representatives from advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Working Families Party, and Common Cause NY joined with female state lawmakers at the state Capitol to push for early voting and automatic registration to be included in the budget. The press conference, which coincided with Women’s History Month and framed voter inclusion as a women’s issue, was followed by a rally on Sunday in New York City’s Battery Park.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, who helped organized the press conference and the rally, criticized the governor’s Tuesday revelation.</p> <p>“It's not enough to ‘try like heck,’” Lerner said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve the same rights as voters in Alaska and Vermont. We need voting reform now, and that means including funding in the 2017 budget to ensure that the next election cycle is an example for the nation, not a national embarrassment."</p> <p>Lerner noted that New York ranked 41st in the nation for voter turnout (based on the 2016 presidential election), with less than a third of eligible voters participating. “Far from the progressive symbol the Governor likes to tout, we are out of step with 34 other states that have some form of early voting, and nowhere near California which also has Automatic Voter Registration,” Lerner said.</p> <p>On Tuesday Cuomo did not cast blame on anyone for what he was foreshadowing as a failure to move voting reform through the budget. At the press conference, however, he did tout how well he has been able to work with Republicans over the past six years. He did not indicate that he planned to try to convince Senate Republicans to back his voting reform agenda.</p> <p>A few days ago, Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/advocates-urge-state-lawmakers-budget-voting-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told WNYC radio</a>, "There are many bills out there which seek to boost voter participation. We'll take a look at all of them."</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Embraces Voting Reform Agenda, But Implementation Poses Challenges 2017-01-22T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-22T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6724:cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/22126244744_93e85a2a46_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>During his State of the State tour early this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of major reforms hailed as important steps toward modernizing New York’s antiquated electoral system and increasing the state’s paltry voter turnout. While they are long-called for proposals that many are pleased to see Cuomo promote, implementing these goals could be more complicated than it may seem.</p> <p>Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic voter registration, were outlined in Cuomo’s 2016 agenda, but the initiatives failed to move through the Legislature last year due to opposition from Senate Republicans, who control that chamber. It is a power structure that continues into the 2017 session, meaning the road to passage is uphill, and steeply so.</p> <p>New York is one of only about a dozen states without some semblance of early voting. While the state already has a form of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Cuomo’s proposal is to streamline and expand the practice. If passed, it would amount to more widespread automatic registration, but not universal.</p> <p>The third electoral proposal from Cuomo, same-day registration, will likely require a constitutional amendment -- meaning approval from two consecutive classes of the state Legislature, then voters via ballot referendum -- a process that would take at least three years. There is some debate among constitutional law experts over whether such an amendment is required for any form of same-day registration, which would allow voters to show up at the polls to both register and vote on the same day.</p> <p>The three reforms are almost universally seen as long overdue in New York. Voter turnout in New York is especially poor: in 2014, the state ranked 49th of the country’s 50 states. While <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">New York has watched many other states change voting laws</a> to increase access to the ballot, the voter turnout deficit here is growing progressively worse, with just 19.7 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries. Turnout numbers have also consistently declined during gubernatorial elections and, in New York City, during mayoral election years.</p> <p>“New York is so far behind the curve on election administration that almost anything is an improvement,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of government reform group Common Cause New York. “I think the governor has picked issues that are very good places to start.”</p> <p>Those with high praise for Cuomo’s 2017 electoral agenda include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who, after monitoring the state’s four election days of 2016, issued an exhaustive report with areas for reform at the end of the year.</p> <p>"I commend Governor Cuomo for proposing common sense reforms to our voting system. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and everyday New Yorkers across our state to address the systemic problems in New York's voting laws,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New York must become a national leader in voting rights by expanding and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to cast their vote.”</p> <p>In the statement, Schneiderman also recommended consolidating New York's exhausting voting schedule into a single primary. In 2016, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6081-concerns-of-voter-fatigue-as-new-york-schedules-four-2016-election-days" target="_blank">there were three</a>: in April for the presidential race; in June for congressional races; and in September for state legislative races.</p> <p>While it is still early to speculate exactly how the Legislature will respond to Cuomo’s electoral reform agenda, there are key early markers, process details, and implementation questions ahead of whatever policy debate may occur.</p> <p>One thing is certain: Democrats in the Assembly, where they have the majority, and in the Senate, where they do not, will be behind the election and voting modernization efforts -- including and beyond Cuomo’s three main proposals. What is less clear is whether the governor will fully push for early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration in budget negotiations, which are just beginning; and whether there is any room for passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, perhaps with the help of the Independent Democratic Conference -- the seven-member body that has formed a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP.</p> <p><strong>Early Voting</strong><br />When it comes to early voting, New York is one of just 13 states without some window wherein voters can cast ballots before Election Day.</p> <p>For several years running, an early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s3813/amendment/b" target="_blank">bill</a> has passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate.</p> <p>According to Gov. Cuomo’s 2017 proposal, every county would offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters would be guaranteed eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots, and bipartisan county boards of elections would determine locations of the early poll sites.</p> <p>While high voter participation would ideally be a bipartisan issue, New York Republicans -- who cling to control of the state Senate by a tiny margin -- have calculated that better ballot access and more participation is likely to turn out Democratic voters, according Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens and outspoken proponent of voting reform.</p> <p>“These reforms are more necessary than ever and I’m glad they were included in the governor’s presentation, but the problem is Senate Republicans seem to have a personal interest in keeping people from voting,” said Gianaris, a co-sponsor of several packages of electoral legislation. “That's been the biggest hurdle to overcome, because voter restrictions tend to benefit them.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not return multiple requests for comment.</p> <p>A natural partner of early voting is absentee voting. In his State of the State <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6710-all-of-governor-cuomo-s-2017-state-of-the-state-proposals" target="_blank">policy book</a>, Gov. Cuomo, a second term Democrat, also cited the requirement for absentee ballot voters to provide an excuse, which is written into the state constitution and its removal would require a constitutional amendment.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s4456/amendment/a" target="_blank">A bill</a> to remove this requirement from the constitution has passed the Assembly and is, like other voting reforms, awaiting Senate approval.</p> <p>Senator Joseph Addabbo, who co-sponsored the bill and served as chair of the Senate Election Committee in 2009, said his staff has not looked closely at the governor’s plan yet but expressed hopeful optimism about the governor’s electoral reform agenda.</p> <p>“I’ll say I can embrace a lot of what he’s proposing and now our legal counsel might look at whether and how it can be implemented,” said Addabbo, a Democrat from Queens. “This is a lot of what we’ve worked on and proposed in 2009. We really go through painstaking measures to determine what is going to get voters to vote.”</p> <p>In addition to persuading the Senate majority, Cuomo and Assembly Democrats will have to hash out the details with counties, which, while supportive of early voting, want the governor to include a provision for who would foot the bill -- approximately $3 million per year, according to one estimate -- for the additional polling options.</p> <p>"Despite principled visions on the issue, on the fiscal nature of the cost shift it's unconscionable for the state to be shifting and enacting policies these days in the property-tax-cap era. It should be dead on arrival." Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties, <a href="http://www.app.com/story/news/politics/blogs/vote-up/2016/01/25/early-voting-cuomo-wants-counties-have-concerns/79319216/" target="_blank">told the USA Today Network</a>.</p> <p><strong>Automatic Voter Registration</strong><br />Automatically registering voters when they become eligible or when they come into contact with government agencies is a fairly new concept. Since 2015, automatic voter registration -- which can have different forms and meanings short of universal automatic registration of voters once they become eligible -- has been approved in six states with strong bipartisan support and is taking off across the country, <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/automatic-voter-registration" target="_blank">according to</a> the Brennan Center for Justice.</p> <p>The idea is to shift the onus of registering from the individual to the government. In addition to increasing voter registration in other states, automatic voter registration has been shown to have significant benefits for administrators, reduce costs, and improve the accuracy of electronic poll books.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposal, recycled from last year, would automatically register anyone who comes into contact with a state Department of Motor Vehicles, unless the person chooses to opt out. Currently, eligible voters can register through the DMV, but they must provide additional voting information as they apply for DMV services.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposed version of automatic registration is preferable to similar bills passed in Oregon and California, which only registers eligible citizens who apply for or renew a driver’s license. However, Cuomo’s plan is not as inclusive as say, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5963-as-new-yorkers-go-to-the-polls-activists-launch-vote-better-campaign" target="_blank">that which is outlined</a> in New York’s Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, which would enable a variety government agencies to automatically register voters.</p> <p>The Brennan Center <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/Automatic_Permanent_Voter_Registration_How_It_Works.pdf" target="_blank">outlines four ways</a> that states can modernize their electoral systems with automatic registration. The first, of course, is by automatically registering anyone who interacts with government offices, unless the person declines registration. The second is portability, which ensures that registered voters remain on the voter rolls even after they move within the state. The third, online access, allows voters to register, check, and update their registration records through a web portal. And fourth, the state should provide a “safety net,” that allows citizens to correct errors on the voter rolls or register before and on Election Day.</p> <p>Ideally, automatic registration would occur through many different state-run agencies, reaching well beyond the DMV to the the widest possible segment of eligible voters. There is a sizeable population, especially in urban centers like New York City, that does not drive or interact with the DMV. Broader automatic registration would include:</p> <p>DMVs;&nbsp;Medicaid and public assistance offices; colleges and high schools; military recruiters and other military offices; unemployment and other public benefit offices; firearm licensing agencies; immigration offices; government-funded job-training centers; law enforcement and corrections agencies that interact with people who regain their voting rights after a criminal conviction.</p> <p>Some community groups have raised concerns that tying automatic voter registration to the DMV alone may skew registration number in favor of areas with high rates of car ownership, disproportionality impacting upstate voters over New York City, for example.</p> <p>Researchers at the Brennan Center are exploring whether data can shed light on the concern that automatic registration through the DMV advantages some groups over others.</p> <p>“We recognize that this is a serious concern for some important groups and we want to take a close look at this question,” said Chisun Lee, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We are hopeful that the net benefits for increasing the franchise, and reaching voters who otherwise wouldn't be enrolled, will be positive for all.”</p> <p><strong>Same-Day Voter Registration</strong><br />Same-day voter registration, perhaps the boldest of Cuomo’s proposals, would allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day.</p> <p>Currently, New Yorkers must register to vote 25 days prior to an election, though the state constitution's requirement is only ten days. Depending on how it would be implemented, same-day registration may require a constitutional amendment. However, if early voting is passed, there are legal experts who argue that the constitution would allow same-day registration for those who vote prior to ten days before Election Day.</p> <p>Again, a constitutional amendment is typically at minimum a three-year process which would require two “yes” votes from consecutive Legislatures and the passage of referendum on the following year’s general election ballot.</p> <p>Alternately, a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention referendum, which will be on the ballot this November, could provide another avenue to remove restrictions and institute reforms like same-day registration.</p> <p>At this point, 13 states and the District of Columbia have same-day voter registration, and California, Vermont, and Hawaii have approved the provision, though it has not yet been implemented, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>The upcoming opportunity to amend the state constitution via constitutional convention, which, for New Yorkers, appears as a ballot referendum every 20 years will be&nbsp;November 7, 2017. A constitutional convention is a four-year public <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/859-constitutional-convention" target="_blank">process</a> that could result significant changes to the entire document and laws of the state. If New Yorkers say “yes” to a convention on this year’s ballot, a year later, voters will select delegates to participate in the convention; the following year, in 2019, the convention will convene; and voters will be able to vote on any proposed changes the following Election Day.</p> <p>Like with the electoral and voting reforms Gov. Cuomo has proposed, he <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6720-constitutional-convention-absent-from-cuomo-s-2017-agenda" target="_blank">has expressed varying degrees of support</a> for a "yes" vote on a constitutional convention, but whether the governor <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6720-constitutional-convention-absent-from-cuomo-s-2017-agenda" target="_blank">takes significant action</a>&nbsp;will go a long way toward determining the outcome.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/22126244744_93e85a2a46_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>During his State of the State tour early this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of major reforms hailed as important steps toward modernizing New York’s antiquated electoral system and increasing the state’s paltry voter turnout. While they are long-called for proposals that many are pleased to see Cuomo promote, implementing these goals could be more complicated than it may seem.</p> <p>Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic voter registration, were outlined in Cuomo’s 2016 agenda, but the initiatives failed to move through the Legislature last year due to opposition from Senate Republicans, who control that chamber. It is a power structure that continues into the 2017 session, meaning the road to passage is uphill, and steeply so.</p> <p>New York is one of only about a dozen states without some semblance of early voting. While the state already has a form of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Cuomo’s proposal is to streamline and expand the practice. If passed, it would amount to more widespread automatic registration, but not universal.</p> <p>The third electoral proposal from Cuomo, same-day registration, will likely require a constitutional amendment -- meaning approval from two consecutive classes of the state Legislature, then voters via ballot referendum -- a process that would take at least three years. There is some debate among constitutional law experts over whether such an amendment is required for any form of same-day registration, which would allow voters to show up at the polls to both register and vote on the same day.</p> <p>The three reforms are almost universally seen as long overdue in New York. Voter turnout in New York is especially poor: in 2014, the state ranked 49th of the country’s 50 states. While <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">New York has watched many other states change voting laws</a> to increase access to the ballot, the voter turnout deficit here is growing progressively worse, with just 19.7 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries. Turnout numbers have also consistently declined during gubernatorial elections and, in New York City, during mayoral election years.</p> <p>“New York is so far behind the curve on election administration that almost anything is an improvement,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of government reform group Common Cause New York. “I think the governor has picked issues that are very good places to start.”</p> <p>Those with high praise for Cuomo’s 2017 electoral agenda include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who, after monitoring the state’s four election days of 2016, issued an exhaustive report with areas for reform at the end of the year.</p> <p>"I commend Governor Cuomo for proposing common sense reforms to our voting system. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and everyday New Yorkers across our state to address the systemic problems in New York's voting laws,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New York must become a national leader in voting rights by expanding and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to cast their vote.”</p> <p>In the statement, Schneiderman also recommended consolidating New York's exhausting voting schedule into a single primary. In 2016, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6081-concerns-of-voter-fatigue-as-new-york-schedules-four-2016-election-days" target="_blank">there were three</a>: in April for the presidential race; in June for congressional races; and in September for state legislative races.</p> <p>While it is still early to speculate exactly how the Legislature will respond to Cuomo’s electoral reform agenda, there are key early markers, process details, and implementation questions ahead of whatever policy debate may occur.</p> <p>One thing is certain: Democrats in the Assembly, where they have the majority, and in the Senate, where they do not, will be behind the election and voting modernization efforts -- including and beyond Cuomo’s three main proposals. What is less clear is whether the governor will fully push for early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration in budget negotiations, which are just beginning; and whether there is any room for passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, perhaps with the help of the Independent Democratic Conference -- the seven-member body that has formed a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP.</p> <p><strong>Early Voting</strong><br />When it comes to early voting, New York is one of just 13 states without some window wherein voters can cast ballots before Election Day.</p> <p>For several years running, an early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s3813/amendment/b" target="_blank">bill</a> has passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate.</p> <p>According to Gov. Cuomo’s 2017 proposal, every county would offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters would be guaranteed eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots, and bipartisan county boards of elections would determine locations of the early poll sites.</p> <p>While high voter participation would ideally be a bipartisan issue, New York Republicans -- who cling to control of the state Senate by a tiny margin -- have calculated that better ballot access and more participation is likely to turn out Democratic voters, according Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens and outspoken proponent of voting reform.</p> <p>“These reforms are more necessary than ever and I’m glad they were included in the governor’s presentation, but the problem is Senate Republicans seem to have a personal interest in keeping people from voting,” said Gianaris, a co-sponsor of several packages of electoral legislation. “That's been the biggest hurdle to overcome, because voter restrictions tend to benefit them.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not return multiple requests for comment.</p> <p>A natural partner of early voting is absentee voting. In his State of the State <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6710-all-of-governor-cuomo-s-2017-state-of-the-state-proposals" target="_blank">policy book</a>, Gov. Cuomo, a second term Democrat, also cited the requirement for absentee ballot voters to provide an excuse, which is written into the state constitution and its removal would require a constitutional amendment.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s4456/amendment/a" target="_blank">A bill</a> to remove this requirement from the constitution has passed the Assembly and is, like other voting reforms, awaiting Senate approval.</p> <p>Senator Joseph Addabbo, who co-sponsored the bill and served as chair of the Senate Election Committee in 2009, said his staff has not looked closely at the governor’s plan yet but expressed hopeful optimism about the governor’s electoral reform agenda.</p> <p>“I’ll say I can embrace a lot of what he’s proposing and now our legal counsel might look at whether and how it can be implemented,” said Addabbo, a Democrat from Queens. “This is a lot of what we’ve worked on and proposed in 2009. We really go through painstaking measures to determine what is going to get voters to vote.”</p> <p>In addition to persuading the Senate majority, Cuomo and Assembly Democrats will have to hash out the details with counties, which, while supportive of early voting, want the governor to include a provision for who would foot the bill -- approximately $3 million per year, according to one estimate -- for the additional polling options.</p> <p>"Despite principled visions on the issue, on the fiscal nature of the cost shift it's unconscionable for the state to be shifting and enacting policies these days in the property-tax-cap era. It should be dead on arrival." Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties, <a href="http://www.app.com/story/news/politics/blogs/vote-up/2016/01/25/early-voting-cuomo-wants-counties-have-concerns/79319216/" target="_blank">told the USA Today Network</a>.</p> <p><strong>Automatic Voter Registration</strong><br />Automatically registering voters when they become eligible or when they come into contact with government agencies is a fairly new concept. Since 2015, automatic voter registration -- which can have different forms and meanings short of universal automatic registration of voters once they become eligible -- has been approved in six states with strong bipartisan support and is taking off across the country, <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/automatic-voter-registration" target="_blank">according to</a> the Brennan Center for Justice.</p> <p>The idea is to shift the onus of registering from the individual to the government. In addition to increasing voter registration in other states, automatic voter registration has been shown to have significant benefits for administrators, reduce costs, and improve the accuracy of electronic poll books.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposal, recycled from last year, would automatically register anyone who comes into contact with a state Department of Motor Vehicles, unless the person chooses to opt out. Currently, eligible voters can register through the DMV, but they must provide additional voting information as they apply for DMV services.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposed version of automatic registration is preferable to similar bills passed in Oregon and California, which only registers eligible citizens who apply for or renew a driver’s license. However, Cuomo’s plan is not as inclusive as say, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5963-as-new-yorkers-go-to-the-polls-activists-launch-vote-better-campaign" target="_blank">that which is outlined</a> in New York’s Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, which would enable a variety government agencies to automatically register voters.</p> <p>The Brennan Center <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/Automatic_Permanent_Voter_Registration_How_It_Works.pdf" target="_blank">outlines four ways</a> that states can modernize their electoral systems with automatic registration. The first, of course, is by automatically registering anyone who interacts with government offices, unless the person declines registration. The second is portability, which ensures that registered voters remain on the voter rolls even after they move within the state. The third, online access, allows voters to register, check, and update their registration records through a web portal. And fourth, the state should provide a “safety net,” that allows citizens to correct errors on the voter rolls or register before and on Election Day.</p> <p>Ideally, automatic registration would occur through many different state-run agencies, reaching well beyond the DMV to the the widest possible segment of eligible voters. There is a sizeable population, especially in urban centers like New York City, that does not drive or interact with the DMV. Broader automatic registration would include:</p> <p>DMVs;&nbsp;Medicaid and public assistance offices; colleges and high schools; military recruiters and other military offices; unemployment and other public benefit offices; firearm licensing agencies; immigration offices; government-funded job-training centers; law enforcement and corrections agencies that interact with people who regain their voting rights after a criminal conviction.</p> <p>Some community groups have raised concerns that tying automatic voter registration to the DMV alone may skew registration number in favor of areas with high rates of car ownership, disproportionality impacting upstate voters over New York City, for example.</p> <p>Researchers at the Brennan Center are exploring whether data can shed light on the concern that automatic registration through the DMV advantages some groups over others.</p> <p>“We recognize that this is a serious concern for some important groups and we want to take a close look at this question,” said Chisun Lee, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We are hopeful that the net benefits for increasing the franchise, and reaching voters who otherwise wouldn't be enrolled, will be positive for all.”</p> <p><strong>Same-Day Voter Registration</strong><br />Same-day voter registration, perhaps the boldest of Cuomo’s proposals, would allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day.</p> <p>Currently, New Yorkers must register to vote 25 days prior to an election, though the state constitution's requirement is only ten days. Depending on how it would be implemented, same-day registration may require a constitutional amendment. However, if early voting is passed, there are legal experts who argue that the constitution would allow same-day registration for those who vote prior to ten days before Election Day.</p> <p>Again, a constitutional amendment is typically at minimum a three-year process which would require two “yes” votes from consecutive Legislatures and the passage of referendum on the following year’s general election ballot.</p> <p>Alternately, a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention referendum, which will be on the ballot this November, could provide another avenue to remove restrictions and institute reforms like same-day registration.</p> <p>At this point, 13 states and the District of Columbia have same-day voter registration, and California, Vermont, and Hawaii have approved the provision, though it has not yet been implemented, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>The upcoming opportunity to amend the state constitution via constitutional convention, which, for New Yorkers, appears as a ballot referendum every 20 years will be&nbsp;November 7, 2017. A constitutional convention is a four-year public <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/859-constitutional-convention" target="_blank">process</a> that could result significant changes to the entire document and laws of the state. If New Yorkers say “yes” to a convention on this year’s ballot, a year later, voters will select delegates to participate in the convention; the following year, in 2019, the convention will convene; and voters will be able to vote on any proposed changes the following Election Day.</p> <p>Like with the electoral and voting reforms Gov. Cuomo has proposed, he <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6720-constitutional-convention-absent-from-cuomo-s-2017-agenda" target="_blank">has expressed varying degrees of support</a> for a "yes" vote on a constitutional convention, but whether the governor <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6720-constitutional-convention-absent-from-cuomo-s-2017-agenda" target="_blank">takes significant action</a>&nbsp;will go a long way toward determining the outcome.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Undermines Own ‘Highest Standards' Claim 2016-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6655:de-blasio-undermines-own-claim-of-highest-standards Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/30273519456_42bc0e6616_z.jpg" alt="de blasio panel mayors" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In a surprise move on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared during a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank">NY1 television appearance</a> that going forward his communications with five outside advisors would be subject to public disclosure. In doing so, the mayor betrayed his own rhetoric from a week prior when he vigorously defended his actions in keeping those communications confidential and maintained that “the highest standards were adhered to” in his dealings with unpaid consultants, some of whom have clients with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the last several months, the mayor has pushed back against allegations of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall stemming from his close relationships with multiple consultants that have clients with city business and the mayor’s political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, for which some of those consultants also worked. Much of de Blasio’s explanation around the Campaign for One New York and his relationship with outside consultants has indicated a bare adherence to legal and ethical guidelines, not to the “highest standards.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Campaign for One New York, which de Blasio has repeatedly said was OK’d by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, raised unlimited funds from wealthy donors who have business with the city, including labor unions and real estate developers. The now-defunct group, which voluntarily disclosed its donors, is under federal and state investigation to determine whether donors were offered or received political favors from City Hall. No one has been charged with wrongdoing and the mayor has insisted that he and his allies sought proper guidance and conducted themselves ethically and legally. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration has sought to keep the communications with his unpaid consultants, termed “agents of the city,” exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law, inviting a lawsuit from the New York Post and NY1 for their release. Two weeks ago, the day before Thanksgiving, the administration released some of those communications, just over 1,500 emails dating back three years, exchanged with one of the consultants, Jonathan Rosen of the BerlinRosen firm.</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPc9toffYg" target="_blank">news conference</a> on November 29, de Blasio argued that his exchanges with Rosen were appropriate and did not present conflicts of interest. “I’m absolutely convinced that the highest standards were adhered to,” he told reporters. “Everything we did – I said it last night, I’ll say it again. Everything we did, we did with legal clearance for the way to approach things – in the case of Campaign for One New York, with pre-clearance from the Conflict of Interest Board. I am convinced everything was done appropriately.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s argument has not swayed good government groups who would like to see a higher standard of conduct and more transparency from a mayor who campaigned on that very promise.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It's common sense that you can't serve two masters,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in an email. “The Mayor's closest advisors, so called “Agents of the City,” represent private interests with business before the city, and they're not accountable to anyone other than their clients. They should not also have a prominent role in public policy.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, the mayor sought to make a move towards more openness, telling anchor Errol Louis on NY1’s Inside City Hall that he would no longer shield communications on government matters with outside consultants. He described the move as necessary since the email issue had “obviously become a distraction” to his administration, but in doing so, he effectively acknowledged a higher standard to follow.</p> <p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, earlier communications with those “agents” are still being held confidential and the lawsuit continues.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s hardly the highest standard when the response of the administration, in my opinion, is inconsistent with law,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which provides guidance on the state’s Freedom of Information law. “A consultant according to the state’s highest court refers to persons or entities retained by the city,” he added, pointing out that the mayor’s advisors are private citizens who are not on the city’s payroll, which is the basic requirement for shielding communications.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio similarly undermined his own argument about high standards when he shifted the policy of including Rosen in high-level government cabinet meetings, with a spokesperson telling Gotham Gazette Rosen is no longer attending such meetings (BerlinRosen is again running communications for de Blasio’s campaign) after de Blasio himself told Gotham Gazette at the Nov. 29 news conference that he is rarely talking with those termed “agents of the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, faults de Blasio for not matching his lofty rhetoric, but believes he hasn’t done anything untoward. “He should probably refrain from using superlatives in explaining what he’s done,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s been illegal or detrimental.” If there was any illegal conduct, Greer is confident that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is investigating the Campaign for One New York, would have found it by now.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though de Blasio never admitted that the Campaign for One New York was a mistake, he had it shuttered when it too had become a significant distraction. He said it had accomplished its goals, chiefly helping to secure state funding for pre-Kindergarten.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think [de Blasio] has an Obama problem,” Greer said. “He cares about the city, he has time constraints, and in his expedience to try and implement policy, he doesn’t necessarily explain how or why.” She said that approach creates two negative consequences: constituents are unaware of the positive changes the mayor is making and, because of the lack of transparency, they are skeptical of whether the mayor’s actions are “above board.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s bigger problem, Greer said, is that he faces different pressures than his predecessor, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I really do wonder if this is just the cost of doing business for someone who is not a billionaire and can’t finance his own projects,” she said, insisting that the mayor has to be able to make deals. “If he doesn’t get in bed with wealthy capitalists, how is he going to help poor people. That’s the question for American politics,” Greer said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Back when de Blasio was public advocate, he made a show of calling out city agencies for their lack of transparency. He issued a “<a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank">Transparency Report Card</a>” in which he gave failing grades to agencies that consistently failed to comply with the law. “The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” de Blasio said, in April 2013. “That’s the last thing New York City can afford right now. We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio is a far cry from that public advocate when it comes to transparency. “We’d like to believe that he is holding himself and others to the highest standard, but we don’t have any independent verification of that,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “When one is devising his own rules to shield people from public information, it raises questions about the validity of such claims. He cannot be the arbiter of whether he is doing so or not particularly when it involves protecting his closest associates.”</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/30273519456_42bc0e6616_z.jpg" alt="de blasio panel mayors" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In a surprise move on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared during a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank">NY1 television appearance</a> that going forward his communications with five outside advisors would be subject to public disclosure. In doing so, the mayor betrayed his own rhetoric from a week prior when he vigorously defended his actions in keeping those communications confidential and maintained that “the highest standards were adhered to” in his dealings with unpaid consultants, some of whom have clients with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the last several months, the mayor has pushed back against allegations of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall stemming from his close relationships with multiple consultants that have clients with city business and the mayor’s political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, for which some of those consultants also worked. Much of de Blasio’s explanation around the Campaign for One New York and his relationship with outside consultants has indicated a bare adherence to legal and ethical guidelines, not to the “highest standards.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Campaign for One New York, which de Blasio has repeatedly said was OK’d by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, raised unlimited funds from wealthy donors who have business with the city, including labor unions and real estate developers. The now-defunct group, which voluntarily disclosed its donors, is under federal and state investigation to determine whether donors were offered or received political favors from City Hall. No one has been charged with wrongdoing and the mayor has insisted that he and his allies sought proper guidance and conducted themselves ethically and legally. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration has sought to keep the communications with his unpaid consultants, termed “agents of the city,” exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law, inviting a lawsuit from the New York Post and NY1 for their release. Two weeks ago, the day before Thanksgiving, the administration released some of those communications, just over 1,500 emails dating back three years, exchanged with one of the consultants, Jonathan Rosen of the BerlinRosen firm.</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPc9toffYg" target="_blank">news conference</a> on November 29, de Blasio argued that his exchanges with Rosen were appropriate and did not present conflicts of interest. “I’m absolutely convinced that the highest standards were adhered to,” he told reporters. “Everything we did – I said it last night, I’ll say it again. Everything we did, we did with legal clearance for the way to approach things – in the case of Campaign for One New York, with pre-clearance from the Conflict of Interest Board. I am convinced everything was done appropriately.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s argument has not swayed good government groups who would like to see a higher standard of conduct and more transparency from a mayor who campaigned on that very promise.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It's common sense that you can't serve two masters,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in an email. “The Mayor's closest advisors, so called “Agents of the City,” represent private interests with business before the city, and they're not accountable to anyone other than their clients. They should not also have a prominent role in public policy.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, the mayor sought to make a move towards more openness, telling anchor Errol Louis on NY1’s Inside City Hall that he would no longer shield communications on government matters with outside consultants. He described the move as necessary since the email issue had “obviously become a distraction” to his administration, but in doing so, he effectively acknowledged a higher standard to follow.</p> <p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, earlier communications with those “agents” are still being held confidential and the lawsuit continues.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s hardly the highest standard when the response of the administration, in my opinion, is inconsistent with law,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which provides guidance on the state’s Freedom of Information law. “A consultant according to the state’s highest court refers to persons or entities retained by the city,” he added, pointing out that the mayor’s advisors are private citizens who are not on the city’s payroll, which is the basic requirement for shielding communications.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio similarly undermined his own argument about high standards when he shifted the policy of including Rosen in high-level government cabinet meetings, with a spokesperson telling Gotham Gazette Rosen is no longer attending such meetings (BerlinRosen is again running communications for de Blasio’s campaign) after de Blasio himself told Gotham Gazette at the Nov. 29 news conference that he is rarely talking with those termed “agents of the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, faults de Blasio for not matching his lofty rhetoric, but believes he hasn’t done anything untoward. “He should probably refrain from using superlatives in explaining what he’s done,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s been illegal or detrimental.” If there was any illegal conduct, Greer is confident that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is investigating the Campaign for One New York, would have found it by now.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though de Blasio never admitted that the Campaign for One New York was a mistake, he had it shuttered when it too had become a significant distraction. He said it had accomplished its goals, chiefly helping to secure state funding for pre-Kindergarten.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think [de Blasio] has an Obama problem,” Greer said. “He cares about the city, he has time constraints, and in his expedience to try and implement policy, he doesn’t necessarily explain how or why.” She said that approach creates two negative consequences: constituents are unaware of the positive changes the mayor is making and, because of the lack of transparency, they are skeptical of whether the mayor’s actions are “above board.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s bigger problem, Greer said, is that he faces different pressures than his predecessor, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I really do wonder if this is just the cost of doing business for someone who is not a billionaire and can’t finance his own projects,” she said, insisting that the mayor has to be able to make deals. “If he doesn’t get in bed with wealthy capitalists, how is he going to help poor people. That’s the question for American politics,” Greer said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Back when de Blasio was public advocate, he made a show of calling out city agencies for their lack of transparency. He issued a “<a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank">Transparency Report Card</a>” in which he gave failing grades to agencies that consistently failed to comply with the law. “The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” de Blasio said, in April 2013. “That’s the last thing New York City can afford right now. We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio is a far cry from that public advocate when it comes to transparency. “We’d like to believe that he is holding himself and others to the highest standard, but we don’t have any independent verification of that,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “When one is devising his own rules to shield people from public information, it raises questions about the validity of such claims. He cannot be the arbiter of whether he is doing so or not particularly when it involves protecting his closest associates.”</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>
22 Campaign Finance Bills to Move Through City Council 'Soon,' Speaker Says 2016-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6647:22-campaign-finance-bills-to-move-through-city-council-soon-speaker-says Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mmv_nypl.jpg" alt="mmv nypl" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>Within the next two months, the City Council is expected to vote on a large legislative package that would alter the city’s campaign finance system in a variety of ways and regulate donations to political nonprofits, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said this week. Some of the proposals and the timing of their likely passage have raised concerns, though, that the Council is weakening the city’s model campaign finance system, pushing some reforms through after too long a wait and rushing other, newer bills through just in time for the next municipal election.</p> <p>The Council has before it 22 bills relating to campaign finance law and elections, 14 of which <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6635-city-council-hears-legislative-package-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-campaign-finance" target="_blank">were heard</a> just last week by the Committee on Standards and Ethics. It was the first hearing on legislation for the committee under this Council, which took office in January 2014, owing to the fact that the main bill in that bundle deals with conflicts of interest. The 13 others relate to the campaign finance system.</p> <p>The other eight bills of the 22 were heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">in May</a> by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, and were introduced about one year ago. They have awaited a committee vote since, but have not moved.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, who largely controls which bills are heard and voted on, has promised that the two bundles of bills will be lumped and voted on together. “We will be moving ahead with an extensive package,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions about the concerns raised at last week’s hearing. “We’ve been going through a lot of deliberations, a lot of conversations with stakeholders and others, so I’m very confident about what it is that we will be presenting.”</p> <p>When asked when the vote could happen, she said, “It’s gonna be soon. Probably within the next month or so, without a doubt.”</p> <p>Although a common theme unites 21 of the 22 bills, they have taken vastly different trajectories in the Council’s legislative process. The first package was only heard six months after it was introduced and has since languished in committee. Those proposals came straight out of the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report, which recommended improvements to the campaign finance law. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">These proposals</a> mainly seek to tighten gaps in the campaign finance law, including the elimination of public matching funds for contributions bundled by people with city business, enhanced disclosure rules for entities that do business with the city, and a prohibition on contributions from non-registered political committees to candidates who don’t participate in the public matching program.</p> <p>The second package has not been as thoroughly vetted, it seems, including the 22nd and most high-profile 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>, which would limit donations to political nonprofits affiliated with elected officials.</p> <p>That bill is a direct response to the Campaign for One New York, a now-defunct nonprofit affiliated with Mayor Bill de Blasio that accepted large donations from people who have business with the city. Those activities have led to multiple investigations and allegations of a pay-to-play culture at City Hall, with federal authorities investigating whether government action was offered or done in exchange for donations to the Campaign for One New York. De Blasio has denied any wrongdoing and no one has been charged.&nbsp;</p> <p>Intro. 1345 and the accompanying 13 bills were introduced on November 16 and were heard just one week later. Although Intro. 1345 was embraced by the Campaign Finance Board, which is an independent city entity, the de Blasio administration, and government reform groups, the rest of the bills are seen as a bit more problematic. Even representatives of the city Conflicts of Interest Board, which would be tasked with implementing Intro. 1345, expressed doubts about COIB’s ability to do so and questioned whether it is the appropriate agency to be assigned the job. Meanwhile, representatives for the Campaign Finance Board critiqued several of the bills relevant to its operations and the city’s well-regarded public campaign finance system.</p> <p>In contrast with the first legislative package, some of <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the new bills</a> are more friendly to Council members and candidates in general, and would ease certain elements of campaign finance regulation including documentation requirements for contributions and the current restriction on the use of non-public campaign funds for official purposes.</p> <p>Government reform groups have questioned the overall approach the Council has taken with the most recent bills, which they say are being rushed along and are based on Council members’ personal experiences with the system rather than objective analysis that would usually be identified by the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>In written testimony submitted to the committee, Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, said it was “perplexing” that the 14 bills were heard by the Standards and Ethics committee when only one of them dealt with conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“These bills are, in major part, detailed technical changes that, unlike previous revisions, have not grown out of the Campaign Finance Board’s statutorily required reports and recommendations, which result in revisions of the system which are openly discussed, negotiated and considered far in advance of the City’s next election cycle,” Lerner wrote, stressing that they could inadvertently weaken the CFB’s independence.</p> <p>She also said the bills “appear to be on a fast track,” while the older bills based on recommendations in the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report have languished. Taking issue with the timing, right on the eve of a city election year, she said the Council should wait till after the 2017 elections to reconsider most of the campaign finance bills and do so through the appropriate committees.</p> <p>The CFB itself criticized the bills as hampering its ability to enforce the campaign finance law, calling them “poison pill” measures in testimony at the November 21 hearing.</p> <p>At a public meeting on December 1, CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn reiterated those concerns. “This legislation has been considered on an accelerated schedule,” she said, stressing that the “hastily drafted” proposals would undermine the board’s oversight of the campaign finance system. She specifically called on the Council to reject one of the bills, <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>, sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield, which allows candidates or their committees to complete or correct contribution cards. “The board believes this bill will enable fraud,” she said, “and remove a weapon for the CFB to detect and prevent it.” Council Member Greenfield was not made available for comment for this article.</p> <p>In urging the Council to delay the bills till after the 2017 elections, Hearn did promise to work with the Council on improving the campaign finance program and commended Council members for Intro. 1345, the political nonprofit donation limits bill. This bill is sponsored by Mark-Viverito, who was not present for the hearing on the bill, which was chaired by standards and ethics committee Chair Alan Maisel.&nbsp;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, stressed that the bills need more time to breathe. “We hope we have at least a month or two to make some needed changes to these bills that represent new ideas and are a marked shift in the management of the campaign finance board,” he told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Dadey said the new package “does feel rushed to us” and that “there’s some question as to whether these will actually strengthen or weaken the program and a much fuller discussion needs to be had before these move forward.” While he acknowledged that Council members should have a significant voice in improving the campaign finance system, he said they should avoid imposing solely their own concerns. “[The campaign finance law] needs to reflect the public’s interest in protecting taxpayer dollars while making it a workable program for the candidates themselves,” Dadey said.</p> <p>Council Member Maisel said the timeline of these newer bills, from drafting to hearing to a possible vote, may be short but is necessary. “There’s an effort to try to get these bills voted on sooner than later because the election is next year,” he said in a phone interview, adding that he was not given a specific timeline to push through the bills. “Whether it’s done before December 31 or the first week of January, I can’t tell you,” he said. Maisel is meeting this week with Council staff to review feedback from the hearing to amend and tweak the bills, he said.</p> <p>Maisel also pushed back against the criticism that the bills might weaken the CFB’s authority, insisting that they’re aimed at making the system more reasonable to encourage participation. “They’re protecting their turf,” he said of the CFB. “If these bills are passed, their powers are intact. I don’t see how [the bills] undermine their authority.”</p> <p>When asked if his committee was the appropriate venue for the campaign finance bills, he said it was the speaker’s office that made the decision. “I have no experience with campaign finance bills, I deal with ethics issues,” he said, in a sense echoing the critique made by others who’ve questioned why campaign finance bills were heard in his committee as opposed to their typical place, government operations, the committee chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p>The proposals have created some degree of internal tension within the Council for multiple reasons, including the committee venue. Additionally, before the bills were introduced, Council Member Kallos was openly skeptical of the effect they might have, telling the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/02/nyregion/behind-closed-doors-measures-to-reform-citys-campaign-laws-raise-concerns.html?action=click&amp;contentCollection=nyregion&amp;region=rank&amp;module=package&amp;version=highlights&amp;contentPlacement=6&amp;pgtype=sectionfront" target="_blank">New York Times</a>, “I am concerned about undermining the best parts of a system that has worked for the people.”</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, sponsor of one of the new bills, disagrees. First, Lander told <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/11/after-campaign-for-one-new-york-fallout-council-seeks-to-regulate-political-groups-107012" target="_blank">Politico New York</a> that the Times report had mischaracterized the bills under consideration. On Tuesday, shortly after the speaker’s news conference, Lander told Gotham Gazette the concerns over the bills would be addressed through amendments and that criticism of their timing was unfounded. That the bills were heard through the standards and ethics committee rather than the governmental operations committee made little difference, he said, since the same people and advocacy groups would testify even if there were separate hearings. He also noted that Kallos, the governmental operations chair, was present at the hearing as well.</p> <p>Lander also sought to dispel the notion that the bills were being expedited through the Council. “That’s a silly thing to say,” he said, noting that discussions on Intro. 1345 in particular have been in the works since the shutdown of The Campaign for One New York was announced months ago. And while there was not the same urgency with the eight campaign finance bills from last year, he said, “I think if we get a good package that combines a lot of good reform and sensible legislation, that’s a good legislative process.”</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/mmv_nypl.jpg" alt="mmv nypl" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>Within the next two months, the City Council is expected to vote on a large legislative package that would alter the city’s campaign finance system in a variety of ways and regulate donations to political nonprofits, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said this week. Some of the proposals and the timing of their likely passage have raised concerns, though, that the Council is weakening the city’s model campaign finance system, pushing some reforms through after too long a wait and rushing other, newer bills through just in time for the next municipal election.</p> <p>The Council has before it 22 bills relating to campaign finance law and elections, 14 of which <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6635-city-council-hears-legislative-package-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-campaign-finance" target="_blank">were heard</a> just last week by the Committee on Standards and Ethics. It was the first hearing on legislation for the committee under this Council, which took office in January 2014, owing to the fact that the main bill in that bundle deals with conflicts of interest. The 13 others relate to the campaign finance system.</p> <p>The other eight bills of the 22 were heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">in May</a> by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, and were introduced about one year ago. They have awaited a committee vote since, but have not moved.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, who largely controls which bills are heard and voted on, has promised that the two bundles of bills will be lumped and voted on together. “We will be moving ahead with an extensive package,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions about the concerns raised at last week’s hearing. “We’ve been going through a lot of deliberations, a lot of conversations with stakeholders and others, so I’m very confident about what it is that we will be presenting.”</p> <p>When asked when the vote could happen, she said, “It’s gonna be soon. Probably within the next month or so, without a doubt.”</p> <p>Although a common theme unites 21 of the 22 bills, they have taken vastly different trajectories in the Council’s legislative process. The first package was only heard six months after it was introduced and has since languished in committee. Those proposals came straight out of the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report, which recommended improvements to the campaign finance law. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">These proposals</a> mainly seek to tighten gaps in the campaign finance law, including the elimination of public matching funds for contributions bundled by people with city business, enhanced disclosure rules for entities that do business with the city, and a prohibition on contributions from non-registered political committees to candidates who don’t participate in the public matching program.</p> <p>The second package has not been as thoroughly vetted, it seems, including the 22nd and most high-profile 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>, which would limit donations to political nonprofits affiliated with elected officials.</p> <p>That bill is a direct response to the Campaign for One New York, a now-defunct nonprofit affiliated with Mayor Bill de Blasio that accepted large donations from people who have business with the city. Those activities have led to multiple investigations and allegations of a pay-to-play culture at City Hall, with federal authorities investigating whether government action was offered or done in exchange for donations to the Campaign for One New York. De Blasio has denied any wrongdoing and no one has been charged.&nbsp;</p> <p>Intro. 1345 and the accompanying 13 bills were introduced on November 16 and were heard just one week later. Although Intro. 1345 was embraced by the Campaign Finance Board, which is an independent city entity, the de Blasio administration, and government reform groups, the rest of the bills are seen as a bit more problematic. Even representatives of the city Conflicts of Interest Board, which would be tasked with implementing Intro. 1345, expressed doubts about COIB’s ability to do so and questioned whether it is the appropriate agency to be assigned the job. Meanwhile, representatives for the Campaign Finance Board critiqued several of the bills relevant to its operations and the city’s well-regarded public campaign finance system.</p> <p>In contrast with the first legislative package, some of <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the new bills</a> are more friendly to Council members and candidates in general, and would ease certain elements of campaign finance regulation including documentation requirements for contributions and the current restriction on the use of non-public campaign funds for official purposes.</p> <p>Government reform groups have questioned the overall approach the Council has taken with the most recent bills, which they say are being rushed along and are based on Council members’ personal experiences with the system rather than objective analysis that would usually be identified by the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>In written testimony submitted to the committee, Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, said it was “perplexing” that the 14 bills were heard by the Standards and Ethics committee when only one of them dealt with conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“These bills are, in major part, detailed technical changes that, unlike previous revisions, have not grown out of the Campaign Finance Board’s statutorily required reports and recommendations, which result in revisions of the system which are openly discussed, negotiated and considered far in advance of the City’s next election cycle,” Lerner wrote, stressing that they could inadvertently weaken the CFB’s independence.</p> <p>She also said the bills “appear to be on a fast track,” while the older bills based on recommendations in the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report have languished. Taking issue with the timing, right on the eve of a city election year, she said the Council should wait till after the 2017 elections to reconsider most of the campaign finance bills and do so through the appropriate committees.</p> <p>The CFB itself criticized the bills as hampering its ability to enforce the campaign finance law, calling them “poison pill” measures in testimony at the November 21 hearing.</p> <p>At a public meeting on December 1, CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn reiterated those concerns. “This legislation has been considered on an accelerated schedule,” she said, stressing that the “hastily drafted” proposals would undermine the board’s oversight of the campaign finance system. She specifically called on the Council to reject one of the bills, <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>, sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield, which allows candidates or their committees to complete or correct contribution cards. “The board believes this bill will enable fraud,” she said, “and remove a weapon for the CFB to detect and prevent it.” Council Member Greenfield was not made available for comment for this article.</p> <p>In urging the Council to delay the bills till after the 2017 elections, Hearn did promise to work with the Council on improving the campaign finance program and commended Council members for Intro. 1345, the political nonprofit donation limits bill. This bill is sponsored by Mark-Viverito, who was not present for the hearing on the bill, which was chaired by standards and ethics committee Chair Alan Maisel.&nbsp;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, stressed that the bills need more time to breathe. “We hope we have at least a month or two to make some needed changes to these bills that represent new ideas and are a marked shift in the management of the campaign finance board,” he told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Dadey said the new package “does feel rushed to us” and that “there’s some question as to whether these will actually strengthen or weaken the program and a much fuller discussion needs to be had before these move forward.” While he acknowledged that Council members should have a significant voice in improving the campaign finance system, he said they should avoid imposing solely their own concerns. “[The campaign finance law] needs to reflect the public’s interest in protecting taxpayer dollars while making it a workable program for the candidates themselves,” Dadey said.</p> <p>Council Member Maisel said the timeline of these newer bills, from drafting to hearing to a possible vote, may be short but is necessary. “There’s an effort to try to get these bills voted on sooner than later because the election is next year,” he said in a phone interview, adding that he was not given a specific timeline to push through the bills. “Whether it’s done before December 31 or the first week of January, I can’t tell you,” he said. Maisel is meeting this week with Council staff to review feedback from the hearing to amend and tweak the bills, he said.</p> <p>Maisel also pushed back against the criticism that the bills might weaken the CFB’s authority, insisting that they’re aimed at making the system more reasonable to encourage participation. “They’re protecting their turf,” he said of the CFB. “If these bills are passed, their powers are intact. I don’t see how [the bills] undermine their authority.”</p> <p>When asked if his committee was the appropriate venue for the campaign finance bills, he said it was the speaker’s office that made the decision. “I have no experience with campaign finance bills, I deal with ethics issues,” he said, in a sense echoing the critique made by others who’ve questioned why campaign finance bills were heard in his committee as opposed to their typical place, government operations, the committee chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p>The proposals have created some degree of internal tension within the Council for multiple reasons, including the committee venue. Additionally, before the bills were introduced, Council Member Kallos was openly skeptical of the effect they might have, telling the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/02/nyregion/behind-closed-doors-measures-to-reform-citys-campaign-laws-raise-concerns.html?action=click&amp;contentCollection=nyregion&amp;region=rank&amp;module=package&amp;version=highlights&amp;contentPlacement=6&amp;pgtype=sectionfront" target="_blank">New York Times</a>, “I am concerned about undermining the best parts of a system that has worked for the people.”</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, sponsor of one of the new bills, disagrees. First, Lander told <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/11/after-campaign-for-one-new-york-fallout-council-seeks-to-regulate-political-groups-107012" target="_blank">Politico New York</a> that the Times report had mischaracterized the bills under consideration. On Tuesday, shortly after the speaker’s news conference, Lander told Gotham Gazette the concerns over the bills would be addressed through amendments and that criticism of their timing was unfounded. That the bills were heard through the standards and ethics committee rather than the governmental operations committee made little difference, he said, since the same people and advocacy groups would testify even if there were separate hearings. He also noted that Kallos, the governmental operations chair, was present at the hearing as well.</p> <p>Lander also sought to dispel the notion that the bills were being expedited through the Council. “That’s a silly thing to say,” he said, noting that discussions on Intro. 1345 in particular have been in the works since the shutdown of The Campaign for One New York was announced months ago. And while there was not the same urgency with the eight campaign finance bills from last year, he said, “I think if we get a good package that combines a lot of good reform and sensible legislation, that’s a good legislative process.”</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>
State Pay Commission Implodes as Cuomo Appointees Effectively Kill Salary Increases 2016-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6625:state-pay-commission-implodes-as-cuomo-appointees-effectively-kill-salary-increases Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/pay_commission_shot_nov_15_2016.png" alt="pay commission shot nov 15 2016" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>State pay commission panelists at final meeting, Nov. 15, 2016</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The final meeting of the state commission tasked with recommending pay raises for executive branch employees and state legislators was marred by disagreement and accusations, and failed to produce any results on Tuesday. It appears that the panel will be disbanded without taking any substantive action.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a chamber at the New York City Bar Association in midtown, members of the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, &amp; Executive Compensation met on Tuesday to discuss recommendations on increasing salaries for members of the state Senate and Assembly and state agency heads and commissioners. It was the last public meeting of the commission, which was under a November 15 deadline to make its recommendations as mandated under the April 2015 statute that create it.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the six members of the committee who were present could not find common ground and the meeting devolved into significant disagreement about the role of the commission and whether it should even take a vote on the one set of recommendations put forward. A vote was taken on whether pay should be increased by about 2 percent per year since the last increases, in 1999, and resulted in two yays and three abstentions among the five voting-eligible panelists. There was even a dispute over whether commissioners could simply not vote or if they were considered abstaining from the vote by doing so.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the two commissioners appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo who refused to record any vote at all while the chair was not given a vote under the <a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/1%20Legislation%20Chapter%2060%20(Part%20E).pdf">statute</a> establishing the commission. The two appointees by legislative leaders voted in favor of raises, and the representative of the judicial branch abstained.</p> <p dir="ltr">The executive appointees, Fran Reiter and Robert Megna, said they would not approve any raises unless they were accompanied by substantive ethics reform in Albany, particularly a severe limit on the outside income of legislators. (Megna was recently appointed by the governor after another appointee, Gary Johnson, resigned from the commission. The third executive appointee, Mitra Hormozi, was out of the country, the chair said.) Reiter said the commission should not vote on any proposal and stay open in the hopes of lawmakers convening a special session in Albany to vote through such outside income limits.</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioners also took issue with the fact that members of the state Legislature did not appear before the commission to make their case for a raise and to answer the commission’s questions. The legislative appointees, on the other hand, argued that the commission was charged with making an independent decision that should not be unduly politicized, expressing disappointment that the executive appointees were effectively parroting Governor Cuomo’s position to force reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">That the vote would fail was made clear right at the start of the hearing by Reiter, who began by saying that the executive appointees would refuse to vote on any proposal increasing pay for state legislators, while generally agreeing that employees of the executive, such as agency heads, deserved much needed pay raises. She insisted that legislators should first establish a cap on outside income, essentially making their jobs full-time, and follow the lead of other elected bodies that have done so including the United States Congress and the New York City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is unfortunate that the good legislators who work full-time, ably and honestly represent their constituents and most assuredly deserve a raise will suffer because there is refusal to right systemic wrongs,” Reiter said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Roman Hedges, an appointee of State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, refuted Reiters argument with a thinly veiled barb aimed at the governor. “I don’t know exactly where to begin,” he said, “except to say that the reason there is a Legislature is to resist the King and that’s why it was first created, that’s why it exists and that’s what I just think I heard, ‘Do it my way or don’t do it at all.’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Insisting that pay raises for the Legislature -- where the base annual salary has been $79,500 since 1999 -- are necessary to attract “good people” to state government, Hedges instead proposed a 2.154 percent per year cost-of-living increase across the board, even suggesting that it include the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, positions outside the commission’s jurisdiction.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It doesn’t change the relative status of anyone...it doesn’t change the balance of power,” he said. “The balance of power is part of the question and it needs to be incorporated in whatever it is we recommend.” Hedges’ proposal, which would raise salaries for state legislators from $79,500 to roughly $114,500, was later voted on but failed to garner the necessary majority.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reiter and Megna were visibly exasperated as Hedges spoke. Reiter sighed deeply, threw her hands up from time to time and audibly scoffed when Hedges said, “I think it’s awful that the governor wants to be King. I think it’s awful that the governor’s representatives here think that he should be King.” Reiter later hit back at Hedges’ for questioning her independence. “I reject that notion and frankly, I’m insulted by it,” she said, announcing that she had not spoken to the governor since well before being named to the panel.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hedges found support from James Lack, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I think [the percentages are] certainly fair and represent only an inflationary increase brought about of course by the political impossibility of having to vote for an increase yourself,” Lack said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission members also debated whether they could effectively continue their work after Tuesday, without a statutory mandate. Reiter posited that if they were to adjourn without putting any proposal to a vote, it would afford the state Legislature time to pass the reforms she was demanding before the end of the year and the commission could reconvene to move ahead with raises. But judicial appointees Barry Cozier and Chair Sheila Birnbaum both disagreed, as did Lack, saying that the commission would no longer have statutory authority and would have to be reauthorized by the state Legislature. Megna released a statement hours after the panel adjourned, saying that he believes the commission can still act before the end of the year and that he hopes the Legislature will enact outside income limits so that he and the commission will feel justified to vote through significant raises. He also said that he was open to small raises without such reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the 2015 law creating the commission, its recommendations would become law for the new year unless voted down by the Legislature. A commission is set to convene every four years according to the law, which sought to put the Legislature and Governor at some distance from ostensibly giving themselves pay raises.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission’s failure to make any recommendations did not sit well with legislative leaders in Albany. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, said in a joint statement that it was “unfortunate” that the governor’s appointees demanded legislation in exchange for approving pay raises. “This is completely unacceptable,” they said, “and far exceeds the mandate of the Commission, which was to evaluate the need for an increase in compensation based primarily on economic factors.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But Governor Cuomo, who legislators say has been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/11/legislators-angry-at-cuomo-as-pay-commission-meets-107350" target="_blank">interfering</a> in the commission’s work, seemed indifferent to the lack of a decision, telling reporters at an upstate event, “They have till December 31 to see if they come up with any reconciliation but the public of this state is decidedly against any pay raises for the Legislature.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo is in favor of raises, but has argued for months that lawmakers should also cap outside income. Heastie made the argument in October that legislators deserve a pay raise and his chamber has been open to some cap on outside income. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any cap, citing the importance of a part-time Legislature and the ability for legislators to hold other jobs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Good government groups also decried the commission’s decision, or lack thereof, but with a key difference. “No action is not an acceptable resolution,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in a statement. “While we believe that any raise should be accompanied by a limit or ban on outside income, we also believe that the Commission must do its job and make a recommendation, just as the NYC Quadrennial Advisory Commission for the Review of Compensation Levels for Elected Officials did last year. Continued government dysfunction is not functioning for New Yorkers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York City Council recently passed pay increases for its members and citywide elected officials, while banning outside income and declaring the Council member position full-time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union said, however, that the pay raises should have been recommended without any caveats. “Elected official pay decisions should not be subject to a quid-pro-quo negotiation,” he said, while reiterating support for new ethics reforms in Albany. “It appears that political interference played more of a role in this decision than the law provided for...The pay commission should have offered a modest salary increase based on the length of time lawmakers have not received a raise and increased it even more had the Legislature returned later this year to address the issue of outside compensation.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/pay_commission_shot_nov_15_2016.png" alt="pay commission shot nov 15 2016" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>State pay commission panelists at final meeting, Nov. 15, 2016</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The final meeting of the state commission tasked with recommending pay raises for executive branch employees and state legislators was marred by disagreement and accusations, and failed to produce any results on Tuesday. It appears that the panel will be disbanded without taking any substantive action.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a chamber at the New York City Bar Association in midtown, members of the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, &amp; Executive Compensation met on Tuesday to discuss recommendations on increasing salaries for members of the state Senate and Assembly and state agency heads and commissioners. It was the last public meeting of the commission, which was under a November 15 deadline to make its recommendations as mandated under the April 2015 statute that create it.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the six members of the committee who were present could not find common ground and the meeting devolved into significant disagreement about the role of the commission and whether it should even take a vote on the one set of recommendations put forward. A vote was taken on whether pay should be increased by about 2 percent per year since the last increases, in 1999, and resulted in two yays and three abstentions among the five voting-eligible panelists. There was even a dispute over whether commissioners could simply not vote or if they were considered abstaining from the vote by doing so.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the two commissioners appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo who refused to record any vote at all while the chair was not given a vote under the <a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/1%20Legislation%20Chapter%2060%20(Part%20E).pdf">statute</a> establishing the commission. The two appointees by legislative leaders voted in favor of raises, and the representative of the judicial branch abstained.</p> <p dir="ltr">The executive appointees, Fran Reiter and Robert Megna, said they would not approve any raises unless they were accompanied by substantive ethics reform in Albany, particularly a severe limit on the outside income of legislators. (Megna was recently appointed by the governor after another appointee, Gary Johnson, resigned from the commission. The third executive appointee, Mitra Hormozi, was out of the country, the chair said.) Reiter said the commission should not vote on any proposal and stay open in the hopes of lawmakers convening a special session in Albany to vote through such outside income limits.</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioners also took issue with the fact that members of the state Legislature did not appear before the commission to make their case for a raise and to answer the commission’s questions. The legislative appointees, on the other hand, argued that the commission was charged with making an independent decision that should not be unduly politicized, expressing disappointment that the executive appointees were effectively parroting Governor Cuomo’s position to force reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">That the vote would fail was made clear right at the start of the hearing by Reiter, who began by saying that the executive appointees would refuse to vote on any proposal increasing pay for state legislators, while generally agreeing that employees of the executive, such as agency heads, deserved much needed pay raises. She insisted that legislators should first establish a cap on outside income, essentially making their jobs full-time, and follow the lead of other elected bodies that have done so including the United States Congress and the New York City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is unfortunate that the good legislators who work full-time, ably and honestly represent their constituents and most assuredly deserve a raise will suffer because there is refusal to right systemic wrongs,” Reiter said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Roman Hedges, an appointee of State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, refuted Reiters argument with a thinly veiled barb aimed at the governor. “I don’t know exactly where to begin,” he said, “except to say that the reason there is a Legislature is to resist the King and that’s why it was first created, that’s why it exists and that’s what I just think I heard, ‘Do it my way or don’t do it at all.’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Insisting that pay raises for the Legislature -- where the base annual salary has been $79,500 since 1999 -- are necessary to attract “good people” to state government, Hedges instead proposed a 2.154 percent per year cost-of-living increase across the board, even suggesting that it include the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, positions outside the commission’s jurisdiction.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It doesn’t change the relative status of anyone...it doesn’t change the balance of power,” he said. “The balance of power is part of the question and it needs to be incorporated in whatever it is we recommend.” Hedges’ proposal, which would raise salaries for state legislators from $79,500 to roughly $114,500, was later voted on but failed to garner the necessary majority.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reiter and Megna were visibly exasperated as Hedges spoke. Reiter sighed deeply, threw her hands up from time to time and audibly scoffed when Hedges said, “I think it’s awful that the governor wants to be King. I think it’s awful that the governor’s representatives here think that he should be King.” Reiter later hit back at Hedges’ for questioning her independence. “I reject that notion and frankly, I’m insulted by it,” she said, announcing that she had not spoken to the governor since well before being named to the panel.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hedges found support from James Lack, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I think [the percentages are] certainly fair and represent only an inflationary increase brought about of course by the political impossibility of having to vote for an increase yourself,” Lack said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission members also debated whether they could effectively continue their work after Tuesday, without a statutory mandate. Reiter posited that if they were to adjourn without putting any proposal to a vote, it would afford the state Legislature time to pass the reforms she was demanding before the end of the year and the commission could reconvene to move ahead with raises. But judicial appointees Barry Cozier and Chair Sheila Birnbaum both disagreed, as did Lack, saying that the commission would no longer have statutory authority and would have to be reauthorized by the state Legislature. Megna released a statement hours after the panel adjourned, saying that he believes the commission can still act before the end of the year and that he hopes the Legislature will enact outside income limits so that he and the commission will feel justified to vote through significant raises. He also said that he was open to small raises without such reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the 2015 law creating the commission, its recommendations would become law for the new year unless voted down by the Legislature. A commission is set to convene every four years according to the law, which sought to put the Legislature and Governor at some distance from ostensibly giving themselves pay raises.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission’s failure to make any recommendations did not sit well with legislative leaders in Albany. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, said in a joint statement that it was “unfortunate” that the governor’s appointees demanded legislation in exchange for approving pay raises. “This is completely unacceptable,” they said, “and far exceeds the mandate of the Commission, which was to evaluate the need for an increase in compensation based primarily on economic factors.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But Governor Cuomo, who legislators say has been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/11/legislators-angry-at-cuomo-as-pay-commission-meets-107350" target="_blank">interfering</a> in the commission’s work, seemed indifferent to the lack of a decision, telling reporters at an upstate event, “They have till December 31 to see if they come up with any reconciliation but the public of this state is decidedly against any pay raises for the Legislature.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo is in favor of raises, but has argued for months that lawmakers should also cap outside income. Heastie made the argument in October that legislators deserve a pay raise and his chamber has been open to some cap on outside income. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any cap, citing the importance of a part-time Legislature and the ability for legislators to hold other jobs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Good government groups also decried the commission’s decision, or lack thereof, but with a key difference. “No action is not an acceptable resolution,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in a statement. “While we believe that any raise should be accompanied by a limit or ban on outside income, we also believe that the Commission must do its job and make a recommendation, just as the NYC Quadrennial Advisory Commission for the Review of Compensation Levels for Elected Officials did last year. Continued government dysfunction is not functioning for New Yorkers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York City Council recently passed pay increases for its members and citywide elected officials, while banning outside income and declaring the Council member position full-time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union said, however, that the pay raises should have been recommended without any caveats. “Elected official pay decisions should not be subject to a quid-pro-quo negotiation,” he said, while reiterating support for new ethics reforms in Albany. “It appears that political interference played more of a role in this decision than the law provided for...The pay commission should have offered a modest salary increase based on the length of time lawmakers have not received a raise and increased it even more had the Legislature returned later this year to address the issue of outside compensation.”</p> <p>

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

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</p>
With No Clear Next Election, Council Speaker Raises and Spends 2016-08-22T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6491:with-no-clear-next-election-council-speaker-raises-and-spends Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25117701375_992510031c_z.jpg" alt="MMV CUNY J School" width="600" height="409" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">As the calendar hurtles toward 2017, one of the big New York City political questions is what the future holds for Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the City Council. Mark-Viverito will be term-limited out of office at the end of next year and while she has indicated that she may continue to be active in city politics, there is no clear next step for her, especially in terms of elected office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, told <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/melissa-mark-viverito-eyes-political-options-in-nyc-puerto-rico-1.12116704" target="_blank">Newsday</a> in an interview last month, &ldquo;I keep all my options open&rdquo; - a similar answer to the many other times she has been asked about her future. In keeping her options open, Mark-Viverito has continued to raise money in her city campaign account. She has also continued to spend it, though not directly on a run for office. Over the most recent six-month filing period, January through June, Mark-Viverito raised more than $185,000 and spent nearly $40,000. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the speaker has raised nearly $800,000 and spent about $460,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">She has not declared any intention to run for another office, like Manhattan Borough President, Public Advocate, or Mayor, all of which are held by Democratic incumbents all-but-certain to run for re-election in 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">For politicians to raise and spend money without a particular elected seat in mind is not unusual and does not violate campaign finance regulations, although it can matter if a candidate decides to eventually participate in the city&rsquo;s public matching funds program. Mark-Viverito will most likely not be participating since it&rsquo;s highly unlikely that she&rsquo;ll run for office in the city in 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">While she has been coy about any next job, speculation has been rife that Mark-Viverito could either run for Governor of Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised, or take a post in a possible Hillary Clinton administration. She may also return to labor organizing or run a not-for-profit. There has been some talk of her running for Congress. Mark-Viverito has answered repeated questions about her future with little detail, though with the presidential race heating up she has been traveling the country as a Clinton supporter, leading to increasing discussion of a federal post if the Democrat wins.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaign spokesperson Eric Koch declined to comment on which, if any, potential future election the speaker would participate in.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Mark-Viverito has been actively raising money and using it for non-campaign related expenditures, including multiple trips around the country. Between January 12 and July 11, the last disclosure period, she spent $39,048. Much of that, nearly $24,000, went to fundraising consultants. Over the same period, she received $186,580 in campaign contributions. Her overall 2017 <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=743&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Mark-Viverito,%20Melissa&amp;office=Undeclared&amp;report=summ" target="_blank">campaign account balance</a> is $319,911 - after $779,996 received and $460,085 spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">The speaker has two bundlers who raised funds for her campaign committee. The first, Joe Cayre, raised $19,800 from four donors, who all share the surname Escava, in November last year. The second bundler, Arthur Goldstein, a lawyer with Davidoff, Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP, packaged 22 separate donations totaling $7,100, mostly between May and July 2015. When asked by phone why he raised money for Mark-Viverito even though she isn&rsquo;t running for a seat, Goldstein said, &ldquo;I believe she&rsquo;s been a good speaker and apparently people we know thought so too.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Since 2014, Mark-Viverito has spent around $8,500 on flights and hotels to attend political events and rallies. She has gone on trips organized by the <a href="http://observer.com/2015/11/nyc-speakers-latino-victory-fund-backs-congressional-candidates-across-america/" target="_blank">Latino Victory Fund</a>, a super PAC that she co-chairs, to promote Latino candidates in elections across the country; she travelled to Arizona for the Netroots Nation conference in July of last year, which was her second trip there. She went to the Somos conference in Puerto Rico in November, and will probably do so again this year. She travelled to Puerto Rico with Governor Andrew Cuomo as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito has also campaigned in four states -- New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Florida -- &nbsp;for Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee. In March, Mark-Viverito was an official surrogate for Clinton in the spin room outside the Miami debate, following which she travelled through Puerto Rican areas for two days. The speaker&rsquo;s campaign said all the trips were cleared with the city Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p dir="ltr">While good government groups don&rsquo;t see anything wrong with politicians using their campaign funds liberally, they would like to see certain changes in the rules by which funds can be spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;To us the solution is the creation of what we call an office-holder account,&rdquo; said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. &ldquo;There should be a mechanism to do the sort of things the speaker is doing with her campaign money. It&rsquo;s a perfectly appropriate thing for an elected official to do.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lerner said that the separate account could help clearly demarcate which funds are spent on broader political activities and which ones are directly related to a candidate campaign. Cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland, California have such systems. &ldquo;We would urge the City Council to look into setting those up,&rdquo; Lerner added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gene Russianoff from New York Public Interest Research Group agreed that Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s spending hasn&rsquo;t been inappropriate. But he said it would be better if any and all campaign money spending came later in the election cycle. &ldquo;We would prefer that the spending start much later,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There should be no spending the first three years of the campaign cycle.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">If the speaker doesn&rsquo;t end up running in a city race, her campaign accounts must then abide by State Board of Elections regulations, which are much more permissive, rather than being audited by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. She would also have to decide what to do with those remaining funds. She could give money to other candidates or political committees. Mark-Viverito could also keep money around for a 2021 run for city-wide office.</p> <p>&ldquo;We advocate for a campaign fund to be closed within a reasonable time after an official leaves office or doesn&rsquo;t run again,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;The money should either be returned to donors or donated to charity.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25117701375_992510031c_z.jpg" alt="MMV CUNY J School" width="600" height="409" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">As the calendar hurtles toward 2017, one of the big New York City political questions is what the future holds for Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the City Council. Mark-Viverito will be term-limited out of office at the end of next year and while she has indicated that she may continue to be active in city politics, there is no clear next step for her, especially in terms of elected office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, told <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/melissa-mark-viverito-eyes-political-options-in-nyc-puerto-rico-1.12116704" target="_blank">Newsday</a> in an interview last month, &ldquo;I keep all my options open&rdquo; - a similar answer to the many other times she has been asked about her future. In keeping her options open, Mark-Viverito has continued to raise money in her city campaign account. She has also continued to spend it, though not directly on a run for office. Over the most recent six-month filing period, January through June, Mark-Viverito raised more than $185,000 and spent nearly $40,000. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the speaker has raised nearly $800,000 and spent about $460,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">She has not declared any intention to run for another office, like Manhattan Borough President, Public Advocate, or Mayor, all of which are held by Democratic incumbents all-but-certain to run for re-election in 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">For politicians to raise and spend money without a particular elected seat in mind is not unusual and does not violate campaign finance regulations, although it can matter if a candidate decides to eventually participate in the city&rsquo;s public matching funds program. Mark-Viverito will most likely not be participating since it&rsquo;s highly unlikely that she&rsquo;ll run for office in the city in 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">While she has been coy about any next job, speculation has been rife that Mark-Viverito could either run for Governor of Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised, or take a post in a possible Hillary Clinton administration. She may also return to labor organizing or run a not-for-profit. There has been some talk of her running for Congress. Mark-Viverito has answered repeated questions about her future with little detail, though with the presidential race heating up she has been traveling the country as a Clinton supporter, leading to increasing discussion of a federal post if the Democrat wins.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaign spokesperson Eric Koch declined to comment on which, if any, potential future election the speaker would participate in.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Mark-Viverito has been actively raising money and using it for non-campaign related expenditures, including multiple trips around the country. Between January 12 and July 11, the last disclosure period, she spent $39,048. Much of that, nearly $24,000, went to fundraising consultants. Over the same period, she received $186,580 in campaign contributions. Her overall 2017 <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=743&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Mark-Viverito,%20Melissa&amp;office=Undeclared&amp;report=summ" target="_blank">campaign account balance</a> is $319,911 - after $779,996 received and $460,085 spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">The speaker has two bundlers who raised funds for her campaign committee. The first, Joe Cayre, raised $19,800 from four donors, who all share the surname Escava, in November last year. The second bundler, Arthur Goldstein, a lawyer with Davidoff, Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP, packaged 22 separate donations totaling $7,100, mostly between May and July 2015. When asked by phone why he raised money for Mark-Viverito even though she isn&rsquo;t running for a seat, Goldstein said, &ldquo;I believe she&rsquo;s been a good speaker and apparently people we know thought so too.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Since 2014, Mark-Viverito has spent around $8,500 on flights and hotels to attend political events and rallies. She has gone on trips organized by the <a href="http://observer.com/2015/11/nyc-speakers-latino-victory-fund-backs-congressional-candidates-across-america/" target="_blank">Latino Victory Fund</a>, a super PAC that she co-chairs, to promote Latino candidates in elections across the country; she travelled to Arizona for the Netroots Nation conference in July of last year, which was her second trip there. She went to the Somos conference in Puerto Rico in November, and will probably do so again this year. She travelled to Puerto Rico with Governor Andrew Cuomo as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito has also campaigned in four states -- New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Florida -- &nbsp;for Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee. In March, Mark-Viverito was an official surrogate for Clinton in the spin room outside the Miami debate, following which she travelled through Puerto Rican areas for two days. The speaker&rsquo;s campaign said all the trips were cleared with the city Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p dir="ltr">While good government groups don&rsquo;t see anything wrong with politicians using their campaign funds liberally, they would like to see certain changes in the rules by which funds can be spent.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;To us the solution is the creation of what we call an office-holder account,&rdquo; said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. &ldquo;There should be a mechanism to do the sort of things the speaker is doing with her campaign money. It&rsquo;s a perfectly appropriate thing for an elected official to do.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lerner said that the separate account could help clearly demarcate which funds are spent on broader political activities and which ones are directly related to a candidate campaign. Cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland, California have such systems. &ldquo;We would urge the City Council to look into setting those up,&rdquo; Lerner added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gene Russianoff from New York Public Interest Research Group agreed that Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s spending hasn&rsquo;t been inappropriate. But he said it would be better if any and all campaign money spending came later in the election cycle. &ldquo;We would prefer that the spending start much later,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There should be no spending the first three years of the campaign cycle.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">If the speaker doesn&rsquo;t end up running in a city race, her campaign accounts must then abide by State Board of Elections regulations, which are much more permissive, rather than being audited by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. She would also have to decide what to do with those remaining funds. She could give money to other candidates or political committees. Mark-Viverito could also keep money around for a 2021 run for city-wide office.</p> <p>&ldquo;We advocate for a campaign fund to be closed within a reasonable time after an official leaves office or doesn&rsquo;t run again,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;The money should either be returned to donors or donated to charity.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
For 2017 Effect, Time Running Out for Campaign Finance Bills in Limbo 2016-08-21T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6489:time-running-out-for-campaign-finance-bills-in-limbo Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12526250094_b17a4d52a4_z.jpg" alt="MMV hearing flag mic" width="600" height="426" /></p> <p>above: Melissa Mark-Viverito; below: Ben Kallos (photos by William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City&rsquo;s campaign finance system, particularly its public matching funds program, is considered a national model, and it stays that way by being regularly updated and modernized. The Campaign Finance Board issues reports following each election analyzing ways to plug holes in the system and bolster the already-robust provisions of the relevant law.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, the next city election cycle, in 2017, may come and go without any improvements made to the system as a package of legislation aimed at doing just that continue to languish in the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s been more than three months since the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Governmental Operations held <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">a hearing</a> to consider eight bills related to the city&rsquo;s campaign finance laws. The most significant of the proposals would prohibit contributions from being matched with public funds if they are bundled by people with business before the city (there already significant limits on the contributions those people can make themselves).</p> <p dir="ltr">Another key bill would provide public matching funds to candidates at an earlier stage in the election, while other proposals enhance disclosure rules for individuals and firms that own entities with business before the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">These bills were introduced November 10, 2015 and have barely budged, save for the one hearing, despite having broad support from government reform groups and even the backing of the de Blasio administration. At the hearing on May 2, Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support, suggesting only a few technical changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Tuesday, Gotham Gazette asked City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito why the bills hadn&rsquo;t been prioritized with time running out for them to take effect and be effective in the 2017 cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito would only say that the Council&rsquo;s legislative process was continuing. &ldquo;Sponsors of the bill, I&rsquo;ve already engaged in conversation with them, we&rsquo;ve had hearings on all the bills,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a process internally, have those conversations and decide what we move forward. So conversations have happened with some of the sponsors of those bills.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In the past, the Council has expedited bills to a vote even if they weren&rsquo;t time sensitive, unlike the campaign finance bills. Case in point, when the Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms" target="_blank">approved large pay raises</a> for its members earlier this year, the proposal was introduced, heard and voted on within the span of eight days even though the pay raises would have been retroactive to January 1 regardless of when they passed.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although it&rsquo;s not definitively too late now for the Council to move on the campaign finance reform bills, it soon might be. &ldquo;It is getting late to change the rules of a four-year campaign cycle in what is essentially the third quarter of the game,&rdquo; said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. &ldquo;That we stand not to have any needed improvements to our campaign finance laws would be a black eye on this Council because it will have been the first time since the law was enacted 25 years ago that quadrennial changes have not been made.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The reforms under consideration were first recommended by the CFB in its 2013 <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/per/2013_PER/2013_PER.pdf" target="_blank">post-election report</a>, issued September 2014, and the board has continued to push the Council to adopt the changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;With so much attention on campaign finance reform in the presidential election,&rdquo; said Matt Sollars, director of public relations at the CFB, &ldquo;there is no better time and no better way to demonstrate that New York City&rsquo;s public financing system is the strongest in the country than by passing legislation to make it even stronger.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12526248684_b0a5bae3a0_z.jpg" alt="kallos hearing flag" width="300" height="227" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the government operations committee, is prime sponsor on four of the bills in the package. Right <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">after the May 2 hearing</a>, he said to Gotham Gazette, &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a matter of the public, who want their voices to be louder than those of special interests, to let their elected officials know that they need to sign on to this bill and they need to bring it to the floor of the Council.&rdquo; Kallos did not provide comment for this article. Of the other bills, two were introduced by Council Member Jumaane Williams, one by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, and one by Council Member Andy King.</p> <p dir="ltr">On June 6, the campaign finance board made another campaign finance-related recommendation when ruling on the matter of Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s fundraising for the Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit group set up by his allies to promote universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing. The CFB ruled in the mayor&rsquo;s favor but also took the opportunity to question the methods. They urged the Council &ldquo;to strengthen the city&rsquo;s protections against influence-seeking by wealthy interests, and pass legislation to more closely regulate fundraising solicitations by elected officials for non-profit organizations, especially 501(c)(4) entities,&rdquo; referring to the IRS&rsquo; designation for issue advocacy organizations like Campaign for One New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, another good government group, also believes the Council could still make changes to the law if it moves quickly. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re definitely approaching the point at which it&rsquo;ll become difficult to implement these bills for the coming election cycle,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;The delay is a matter of concern and is unnecessary.&rdquo;</p> <p>The bills are well within the public policy goals of the campaign finance system, Lerner said, and none of them could be considered controversial, although she suspects the bill related to bundlers could be holding up the process. &ldquo;I think voters and constituents need to know that officials are on the side of the public,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;and not lobbyists who want to use bundling as a way to gain influence.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</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/2014/03/12526250094_b17a4d52a4_z.jpg" alt="MMV hearing flag mic" width="600" height="426" /></p> <p>above: Melissa Mark-Viverito; below: Ben Kallos (photos by William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City&rsquo;s campaign finance system, particularly its public matching funds program, is considered a national model, and it stays that way by being regularly updated and modernized. The Campaign Finance Board issues reports following each election analyzing ways to plug holes in the system and bolster the already-robust provisions of the relevant law.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, the next city election cycle, in 2017, may come and go without any improvements made to the system as a package of legislation aimed at doing just that continue to languish in the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s been more than three months since the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Governmental Operations held <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">a hearing</a> to consider eight bills related to the city&rsquo;s campaign finance laws. The most significant of the proposals would prohibit contributions from being matched with public funds if they are bundled by people with business before the city (there already significant limits on the contributions those people can make themselves).</p> <p dir="ltr">Another key bill would provide public matching funds to candidates at an earlier stage in the election, while other proposals enhance disclosure rules for individuals and firms that own entities with business before the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">These bills were introduced November 10, 2015 and have barely budged, save for the one hearing, despite having broad support from government reform groups and even the backing of the de Blasio administration. At the hearing on May 2, Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support, suggesting only a few technical changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Tuesday, Gotham Gazette asked City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito why the bills hadn&rsquo;t been prioritized with time running out for them to take effect and be effective in the 2017 cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito would only say that the Council&rsquo;s legislative process was continuing. &ldquo;Sponsors of the bill, I&rsquo;ve already engaged in conversation with them, we&rsquo;ve had hearings on all the bills,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a process internally, have those conversations and decide what we move forward. So conversations have happened with some of the sponsors of those bills.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In the past, the Council has expedited bills to a vote even if they weren&rsquo;t time sensitive, unlike the campaign finance bills. Case in point, when the Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms" target="_blank">approved large pay raises</a> for its members earlier this year, the proposal was introduced, heard and voted on within the span of eight days even though the pay raises would have been retroactive to January 1 regardless of when they passed.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although it&rsquo;s not definitively too late now for the Council to move on the campaign finance reform bills, it soon might be. &ldquo;It is getting late to change the rules of a four-year campaign cycle in what is essentially the third quarter of the game,&rdquo; said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. &ldquo;That we stand not to have any needed improvements to our campaign finance laws would be a black eye on this Council because it will have been the first time since the law was enacted 25 years ago that quadrennial changes have not been made.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The reforms under consideration were first recommended by the CFB in its 2013 <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/per/2013_PER/2013_PER.pdf" target="_blank">post-election report</a>, issued September 2014, and the board has continued to push the Council to adopt the changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;With so much attention on campaign finance reform in the presidential election,&rdquo; said Matt Sollars, director of public relations at the CFB, &ldquo;there is no better time and no better way to demonstrate that New York City&rsquo;s public financing system is the strongest in the country than by passing legislation to make it even stronger.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12526248684_b0a5bae3a0_z.jpg" alt="kallos hearing flag" width="300" height="227" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the government operations committee, is prime sponsor on four of the bills in the package. Right <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">after the May 2 hearing</a>, he said to Gotham Gazette, &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a matter of the public, who want their voices to be louder than those of special interests, to let their elected officials know that they need to sign on to this bill and they need to bring it to the floor of the Council.&rdquo; Kallos did not provide comment for this article. Of the other bills, two were introduced by Council Member Jumaane Williams, one by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, and one by Council Member Andy King.</p> <p dir="ltr">On June 6, the campaign finance board made another campaign finance-related recommendation when ruling on the matter of Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s fundraising for the Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit group set up by his allies to promote universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing. The CFB ruled in the mayor&rsquo;s favor but also took the opportunity to question the methods. They urged the Council &ldquo;to strengthen the city&rsquo;s protections against influence-seeking by wealthy interests, and pass legislation to more closely regulate fundraising solicitations by elected officials for non-profit organizations, especially 501(c)(4) entities,&rdquo; referring to the IRS&rsquo; designation for issue advocacy organizations like Campaign for One New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, another good government group, also believes the Council could still make changes to the law if it moves quickly. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re definitely approaching the point at which it&rsquo;ll become difficult to implement these bills for the coming election cycle,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;The delay is a matter of concern and is unnecessary.&rdquo;</p> <p>The bills are well within the public policy goals of the campaign finance system, Lerner said, and none of them could be considered controversial, although she suspects the bill related to bundlers could be holding up the process. &ldquo;I think voters and constituents need to know that officials are on the side of the public,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;and not lobbyists who want to use bundling as a way to gain influence.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
Fixing City's 'Non-Functioning' Board of Elections Relies on State 2016-06-26T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6414:fix-for-city-s-non-functioning-board-of-elections-relies-on-state Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/26253307060_9101faf4b4_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="de Blasio voting 2016" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio votes (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Many eyes will be on the New York City Board of Elections come Tuesday as New Yorkers head to the polls for the second time this year, casting their&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6380-new-yorkers-vote-in-congressional-primaries-june-28" target="_blank">votes in congressional primaries</a>. The first election, April&rsquo;s presidential primaries, was so problematic it prompted multiple city and state authorities to launch investigations into the city BOE and caused Mayor Bill de Blasio to offer an extra $20 million in funding for the agency, conditional upon the enactment of certain reforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because of the structure of the law, the Mayor cannot make structural reforms at the BOE. &ldquo;We need a state law change,&rdquo; de Blasio said during a June 23 <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-bill-de-blasio-brooklyn-voter-purge" target="_blank">appearance on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show</a> when asked by a caller how to get rid of the &ldquo;corrupt system&rdquo; at the BOE. &ldquo;We can no longer have a BOE that is run unprofessionally and in an outdated way&hellip;this is a non-functioning part of our democracy.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE is comprised of ten commissioners, five from each of the two major political parties, two from each borough, who are (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5324-now-in-control-city-council-opens-boe-appointment-process">traditionally</a>) appointed by the county party chairs and approved by the City Council. The commissioners then appoint staff to the city&rsquo;s BOE and have authority over all city BOE employees, including the executive director, currently Michael Ryan.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I wish it was a pure city agency. If it was under my power, I would tear it down the current reality and start over,&rdquo; de Blasio added on WNYC, calling the failures of the April 19 primary &ldquo;pure incompetence&rdquo; on the part of the BOE. &ldquo;We literally need to make the BOE closer to other city agencies so the executive director should run it and have the power to put in modern management approaches and have accountability.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As of June 7, the 120,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn who were mistakenly purged from the voter rolls&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/board-elections-returns-purged-brooklyn-voters-rolls/" target="_blank">have been restored</a> in an attempt to avoid again disenfranchising those who had been turned away or forced to sign affidavit ballots during the primary (90,000 of 121,000&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">affidavit ballots were rejected</a> and will not be counted). Two employees at the Brooklyn BOE office have been&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/second-brooklyn-elex-official-suspended-after-primary-foul/" target="_blank">suspended without pay</a> pending an investigation into why the names were incorrectly removed from the voter rolls in the first place.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE has yet to accept de Blasio&rsquo;s $20 million offer, likely out of reluctance to adopt the reform plan attached to the funds, which includes improving poll worker training and hiring an outside consultant. The BOE did not respond to requests for comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Given all of what&rsquo;s swirling around this particular election event, our singular focus is making sure that the votes are counted and that the certification is accurate, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">said</a> BOE executive director Michael Ryan at an April 27 BOE meeting, one day after the mayor announced his offer. &ldquo;Once we complete that process, I&rsquo;m sure we&rsquo;re going to have time to pick our heads up and focus in other areas and we will get to that at the appropriate time. We&rsquo;re just not in a position to speak either intelligently or publicly on any proposals that are made by anyone right now because we have to, like a laser, focus on getting this election certified and certified properly.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor and the City Council&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6385-de-blasio-city-council-shake-on-82-billion-budget" target="_blank">reached a deal</a> on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year June 8 - one that did not include added funding for the BOE - which de Blasio addressed after announcing the deal by&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/523-16/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-fiscal-year-2017-budget-agreement-speaker-melissa" target="_blank">saying</a>, &ldquo;that discussion is not over, to be fair. I am not thrilled that it hasn&rsquo;t been agreed to&hellip;I would have thought that answer would have been a very fast yes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We can restart that conversation any time,&rdquo; de Blasio added, though it&rsquo;s a conversation the city BOE seems unlikely to &ldquo;restart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As evidence of BOE incompetence, cronyism, and corruption has mounted over the years, few seem to know where to direct their ire. The changes in state law that de Blasio referenced were not part of the discussion in Albany as state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo negotiated end-of-session deals earlier this month.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the presidential primaries, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into the BOE and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has launched an audit into the agency&rsquo;s operations and management,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">calling</a> the BOE &ldquo;consistently disorganized, chaotic, and ineffective.&rdquo; City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Council&rsquo;s government operations committee, has promised to hold an oversight hearing on the BOE, though he also&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">grilled BOE officials</a> at the agency&rsquo;s executive budget hearing May 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Hope springs eternal,&rdquo; Kallos replied dryly when asked if he believed the heightened scrutiny the BOE is currently facing would help to bring about any changes to the way the agency operates. &ldquo;I hope that by bringing the commissioners to the City Council to be held personally accountable, we may get the change we are seeking,&rdquo; Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Tensions have remained high since April's primaries, with voters consistently attending weekly meetings held by the BOE to express their frustrations and demand answers. Dozens of angry voters showed up at the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee&rsquo;s May 17&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/videos/vaac-meeting-public-hearing" target="_blank">hearing</a> on issues with the primaries, and many who testified were livid, speaking in loud and frustrated tones about the obstacles they encountered trying to cast their votes, as well as the treatment they faced from BOE officials during a hearing held by the BOE on May 3.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many who testified were irate that they had been forced to sign affidavit ballots - they knew they were registered to vote, having previously voted in New York city and state elections, they said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Issues at the BOE aren&rsquo;t just about the recent Brooklyn voter purge, which was <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/democratic-voter-rolls-drop-more-60000-brooklyn-presidential-primary/" target="_blank">discovered by WNYC</a>. Other primary day problems were indicative of long-standing BOE problems: missing ballots, missing voter rolls, broken ballot machines, poll workers showing up late or giving incorrect instructions. The BOE also sent tens of thousands of newly registered voters&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/nyregion/citys-elections-board-corrects-primary-gaffe-with-another-postcard.html" target="_blank">notices with the incorrect date</a> for upcoming state and local primary elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE performance around the April primaries reinforced its reputation for dysfunction. Key questions now linger more forcefully ahead of Tuesday&rsquo;s congressional primaries, September&rsquo;s state-level primaries, November&rsquo;s Election Day, and the 2017 city-level elections. Chief among them are who actually holds the BOE accountable and how must the BOE be reformed?</p> <p dir="ltr">Before Michael Ryan was <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/08/staten_islander_mike_ryan_to_t.html" target="_blank">just barely appointed</a> in 2013, the city BOE went without an executive director for three years, as the party-split commissioners were unable to agree upon a replacement for the former executive director, George Gonzalez, who was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/nyregion/27board.html?_r=0" target="_blank">fired</a> after a series of failures administering the 2010 September primary and additional mistakes leading up to the general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">A number of city and state agencies and offices have some authority over the New York City Board of Elections, yet ultimately, the power to change it lies with the state Legislature. &ldquo;The most important decisions about the Board of Elections occur in Albany,&rdquo; de Blasio said, speaking with press after announcing the budget deal. &ldquo;We need fundamental change, and one of the things we most need from Albany is legislation that will empower the executive director and the professional staff of the Board of Elections, rather than what is the traditional power structure.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The Mayor can use his budget powers to try to force change at the BOE. The City Council can hold oversight hearings examining how the BOE operates. The city&rsquo;s Department of Investigation can investigate the BOE and recommend reforms, which it did in 2013 when it issued a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2013/dec%2013/BOE%20Unit%20Report12-30-2013.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> identifying fundamental flaws and recommending over 40 reforms to improve the agency (which the BOE largely&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank">ignored</a>). The city&rsquo;s Conflicts of Interest Board also has some oversight, and has fined BOE employees for hiring members of their own family in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, the city Comptroller&rsquo;s office has the power to audit and investigate the BOE, which can make the agency&rsquo;s operations and finances more transparent and accountable, since the BOE is funded by the city (though the laws that mandate its structure and duties are controlled by the state). Stringer&rsquo;s office released an audit on June 6 of&nbsp;<a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit/?r=06-06-16_SR15-127A" target="_blank">BOE inventory practices</a> for office equipment and voting machines, and is currently conducting another audit of BOE operations and management. The June 6 audit revealed that the BOE's inventory records for both voting and office equipment "were incomplete and inaccurate," as well as "numerous instances of noncompliance" with other inventory practices, including "the existence of duplicate serial numbers" and "more than 1,000 items" on-site that had been omitted from the BOE's inventory records.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Assistance Advisory Commission, which advises the city&rsquo;s Campaign Finance Board on voter engagement efforts and recommends changes to improve elections, passed a resolution at its May 17 hearing to compile election irregularities and systemic problems and relay them to BOE, to everyone currently investigating the agency, and to the City Council. Yet, true to it&rsquo;s name, VAAC can only serve in an advisory capacity, and can take actions to facilitate voter registration, but, like the DOI and other agencies with oversight capacities, is essentially powerless to bring about any meaningful structural reform at the BOE.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;At the end of the day, what really has to change is state law,&rdquo; said Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs at the CFB.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The problem is, it&rsquo;s all reactive,&rdquo; State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Something has gone wrong, and then the appropriate government agencies act - entities that fund the board can try to extract reforms.&rdquo; Yet &ldquo;what is really needed is to reform the structure of the board,&rdquo; Gianaris added, referring to the patronage system at the BOE through which employees are appointed by the board&rsquo;s ten commissioners, who themselves are selected based on their affiliation with the two major political parties (one Democratic commissioner and one Republican commissioner from each borough, appointed by the county party chairs).</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been asking them to end patronage since I got into office,&rdquo; Kallos said.&ldquo;State lawmakers need to amend the state law that allows BOE to have a patronage system and replace it with a civil service system - the same system that we used to root out patronage from Tammany Hall."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Having patronage codified in the law is the problem,&rdquo; Kallos added. The State Senate and Assembly have &ldquo;created the laws governing the BOE in every county, and many of these reforms could happen there quite easily.&rdquo; &nbsp;For example, the <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/law/2015NYElectionLaw.pdf" target="_blank">New York State Constitution</a> currently mandates that &ldquo;Party recommendations for election commissioner shall be made by the county committee or by such other committee as the rules of the party may provide, by a majority of the votes cast at a meeting of the members of such committee at which a quorum is present.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But it&rsquo;s not all that easy to bring about this sort of change in Albany, says Susan Lerner, executive director of the government reform group Common Cause NY, because &ldquo;the people who could make change are our state representatives, some of whom are actually county chairs&hellip;so long as the county chairs regard the BOE as a place to park people who couldn&rsquo;t get jobs otherwise and who are party loyalists, we will continue to have a problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">What&rsquo;s needed, Lerner says, is a system that chooses people to administer elections based on their experience administering elections or managing complex systems, not a system in which local political parties use patronage to reward party loyalists.</p> <p dir="ltr">BOE commissioners, Kallos says ruefully, are &ldquo;accountable to the county party chairs who appoint them under state law.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Ultimately, one would hope that the executive director would be where the buck stops,&rdquo; Kallos said. Yet, at an executive budget hearing in May, Kallos was &ldquo;disappointed to learn that the executive director can&rsquo;t fire his employees, and despite the problems of the last election,&rdquo; two of the people who were responsible &ldquo;remain suspended without pay, but not terminated.&rdquo; Since the executive director doesn&rsquo;t have the power to terminate employees, the &ldquo;ten commissioners need to be held accountable, if they refuse, then it goes to the County Chair who appointed them,&rdquo; Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">While Kallos sees &ldquo;overlapping responsibility for the BOE,&rdquo; Lerner believes &ldquo;there isn&rsquo;t actually any real authority,&rdquo; as &ldquo;the BOE is a highly politicized body and election law has deliberately set it up so that it really isn&rsquo;t clear who it is answerable to.&rdquo; The chairs of the election law committees in the Senate and the Assembly are Senator Fred Ashkar and Assemblymember Michael Cusick, neither of whom responded to requests for comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It appears that the party county chairs could hold their appointees accountable, but there isn&rsquo;t any clear line of authority in that regard,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;From a taxpayer's point of view, from good election administration point of view, this is not a good system - there should not be any agency which does not have clear oversight, and certainly you should not have a taxpayer-funded entity that doesn&rsquo;t have to be responsive to the taxpayers.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio, Gianaris, Kallos, Lerner, and others view the patronage system as the root of the problem and the cause of the BOE&rsquo;s persistent failures when it comes to administering elections and performing its other duties. There is a strong sense among those who spoke with Gotham Gazette that the city BOE is not accountable to the voters; that it is accountable to the county party chairs; and that the people who could improve the structure of the BOE don&rsquo;t have any incentive to do so. A number of city officials and agencies, like the City Council and the DOI, have repeatedly recommended replacing this patronage system with merit-based employees, which would require changing state election laws and amending the state constitution.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the meantime, people like Gianaris, Friedman, Kallos, and others are looking to get other changes to state law passed that would also improve the way elections are administered.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">Bills have been introduced</a> in the Senate and the Assembly to make voter registration automatic, expand online voter registration, allow early voting, extend registration deadlines, consolidate the state and federal primary election dates, improve New York&rsquo;s confusing ballot design, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">more</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the more comprehensive pieces of voting reform legislation currently introduced in Albany is the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S2538" target="_blank">Voter Empowerment Act</a> (introduced by Gianaris in the Senate and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh in the Assembly (Kavanagh was not made available for comment). Kallos has introduced a&nbsp;<a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/t-2015-2726/" target="_blank">resolution</a> in the City Council calling on the state to pass the act). The Voter Empowerment Act seeks to update New York&rsquo;s registration process by expanding online registration and modernizing the way voter information is collected, processed, stored, and shared.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gianaris calls the VEA an attempt to improve the way elections are administered, &ldquo;getting at it from the point of view of not really tackling the structure - which is a huge can of worms - but just trying to get at some of the specific ways we can change the laws to make it easier&rdquo; to register to vote and to maintain accurate voter rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The Voter Empowerment Act would actually address a lot of the problems that people were talking about from the April 19 primary,&rdquo; said Friedman, of the CFB. &ldquo;It would create universal online registration, so that voters could literally take ownership of their voter registration in a way that is impossible with the current pen and paper system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Should the Voter Empowerment Act pass, the legislation would improve the accuracy of New York&rsquo;s voter rolls by reducing the number of outdated or duplicate registration records. Ryan has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/brooklyn-voter-purge-hit-hispanics-hardest/" target="_blank">said</a> that the purge carried out by the Brooklyn BOE office was a response to the DOI&rsquo;s 2013 report slamming the board for failing to remove ineligible voters from the rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Better elections start with better election laws,&rdquo; says Friedman, who&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank">traveled to Albany in May</a> along with other members of the CFB and VAAC for the third year in a row to persuade lawmakers to pass the VEA and two other voting reforms:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank">better ballot design and early voting</a>. &ldquo;The Voter Empowerment Act would make a real difference - devolving power from the administrators to the voters by giving them ownership of the voter records through online registration would make a big difference.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">For now, Lerner, Friedman, and others say the voters should stay mad, keep attending BOE weekly meetings, and keep the pressure on those who have the ability to make a difference: the BOE commissioners and state lawmakers.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE could easily choose to improve its own operations by changing hiring policies or providing better training for poll workers. &ldquo;I think what we&rsquo;ve seen in practical, immediate terms, is that the BOE is responsive to public outrage,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;I think if the county chairs and members of the Legislature said to the BOE, &lsquo;you&rsquo;re making us all look bad,&rsquo; there is more potential for the board to improve its procedures.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the last NYC Votes trip to Albany lobbying for better voting laws,<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/blog/vote-better-ny-advances-2015-16-state-legislative-session" target="_blank">19 more sponsors</a> have signed on to the VEA, and 17 new sponsors signed on to the Voter Friendly Ballot Act. Thirty-seven additional sponsors signed on to early voting bills, which have now passed in both the Senate and the Assembly election committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The fact that the BOE Brooklyn voter purge &ldquo;happened to begin with points out a fundamental reality,&rdquo; de Blasio said after the budget handshake. &ldquo;A managerial dynamic that is not modern, not up-to-date, not professional enough, and must be updated, or we&rsquo;ll just keep having this problem.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;New Yorkers should be pressing all of their leaders, including in Albany,&rdquo; de Blasio said. &rdquo;We call ourselves a progressive state but when it comes to electoral reform we are fundamentally backwards. I think the people are going to rise up on this one."</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/26253307060_9101faf4b4_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="de Blasio voting 2016" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio votes (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Many eyes will be on the New York City Board of Elections come Tuesday as New Yorkers head to the polls for the second time this year, casting their&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6380-new-yorkers-vote-in-congressional-primaries-june-28" target="_blank">votes in congressional primaries</a>. The first election, April&rsquo;s presidential primaries, was so problematic it prompted multiple city and state authorities to launch investigations into the city BOE and caused Mayor Bill de Blasio to offer an extra $20 million in funding for the agency, conditional upon the enactment of certain reforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because of the structure of the law, the Mayor cannot make structural reforms at the BOE. &ldquo;We need a state law change,&rdquo; de Blasio said during a June 23 <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-bill-de-blasio-brooklyn-voter-purge" target="_blank">appearance on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show</a> when asked by a caller how to get rid of the &ldquo;corrupt system&rdquo; at the BOE. &ldquo;We can no longer have a BOE that is run unprofessionally and in an outdated way&hellip;this is a non-functioning part of our democracy.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE is comprised of ten commissioners, five from each of the two major political parties, two from each borough, who are (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5324-now-in-control-city-council-opens-boe-appointment-process">traditionally</a>) appointed by the county party chairs and approved by the City Council. The commissioners then appoint staff to the city&rsquo;s BOE and have authority over all city BOE employees, including the executive director, currently Michael Ryan.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I wish it was a pure city agency. If it was under my power, I would tear it down the current reality and start over,&rdquo; de Blasio added on WNYC, calling the failures of the April 19 primary &ldquo;pure incompetence&rdquo; on the part of the BOE. &ldquo;We literally need to make the BOE closer to other city agencies so the executive director should run it and have the power to put in modern management approaches and have accountability.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As of June 7, the 120,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn who were mistakenly purged from the voter rolls&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/board-elections-returns-purged-brooklyn-voters-rolls/" target="_blank">have been restored</a> in an attempt to avoid again disenfranchising those who had been turned away or forced to sign affidavit ballots during the primary (90,000 of 121,000&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">affidavit ballots were rejected</a> and will not be counted). Two employees at the Brooklyn BOE office have been&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/second-brooklyn-elex-official-suspended-after-primary-foul/" target="_blank">suspended without pay</a> pending an investigation into why the names were incorrectly removed from the voter rolls in the first place.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE has yet to accept de Blasio&rsquo;s $20 million offer, likely out of reluctance to adopt the reform plan attached to the funds, which includes improving poll worker training and hiring an outside consultant. The BOE did not respond to requests for comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Given all of what&rsquo;s swirling around this particular election event, our singular focus is making sure that the votes are counted and that the certification is accurate, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">said</a> BOE executive director Michael Ryan at an April 27 BOE meeting, one day after the mayor announced his offer. &ldquo;Once we complete that process, I&rsquo;m sure we&rsquo;re going to have time to pick our heads up and focus in other areas and we will get to that at the appropriate time. We&rsquo;re just not in a position to speak either intelligently or publicly on any proposals that are made by anyone right now because we have to, like a laser, focus on getting this election certified and certified properly.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor and the City Council&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6385-de-blasio-city-council-shake-on-82-billion-budget" target="_blank">reached a deal</a> on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year June 8 - one that did not include added funding for the BOE - which de Blasio addressed after announcing the deal by&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/523-16/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-fiscal-year-2017-budget-agreement-speaker-melissa" target="_blank">saying</a>, &ldquo;that discussion is not over, to be fair. I am not thrilled that it hasn&rsquo;t been agreed to&hellip;I would have thought that answer would have been a very fast yes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We can restart that conversation any time,&rdquo; de Blasio added, though it&rsquo;s a conversation the city BOE seems unlikely to &ldquo;restart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As evidence of BOE incompetence, cronyism, and corruption has mounted over the years, few seem to know where to direct their ire. The changes in state law that de Blasio referenced were not part of the discussion in Albany as state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo negotiated end-of-session deals earlier this month.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the presidential primaries, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into the BOE and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has launched an audit into the agency&rsquo;s operations and management,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">calling</a> the BOE &ldquo;consistently disorganized, chaotic, and ineffective.&rdquo; City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Council&rsquo;s government operations committee, has promised to hold an oversight hearing on the BOE, though he also&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">grilled BOE officials</a> at the agency&rsquo;s executive budget hearing May 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Hope springs eternal,&rdquo; Kallos replied dryly when asked if he believed the heightened scrutiny the BOE is currently facing would help to bring about any changes to the way the agency operates. &ldquo;I hope that by bringing the commissioners to the City Council to be held personally accountable, we may get the change we are seeking,&rdquo; Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Tensions have remained high since April's primaries, with voters consistently attending weekly meetings held by the BOE to express their frustrations and demand answers. Dozens of angry voters showed up at the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee&rsquo;s May 17&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/videos/vaac-meeting-public-hearing" target="_blank">hearing</a> on issues with the primaries, and many who testified were livid, speaking in loud and frustrated tones about the obstacles they encountered trying to cast their votes, as well as the treatment they faced from BOE officials during a hearing held by the BOE on May 3.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many who testified were irate that they had been forced to sign affidavit ballots - they knew they were registered to vote, having previously voted in New York city and state elections, they said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Issues at the BOE aren&rsquo;t just about the recent Brooklyn voter purge, which was <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/democratic-voter-rolls-drop-more-60000-brooklyn-presidential-primary/" target="_blank">discovered by WNYC</a>. Other primary day problems were indicative of long-standing BOE problems: missing ballots, missing voter rolls, broken ballot machines, poll workers showing up late or giving incorrect instructions. The BOE also sent tens of thousands of newly registered voters&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/nyregion/citys-elections-board-corrects-primary-gaffe-with-another-postcard.html" target="_blank">notices with the incorrect date</a> for upcoming state and local primary elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE performance around the April primaries reinforced its reputation for dysfunction. Key questions now linger more forcefully ahead of Tuesday&rsquo;s congressional primaries, September&rsquo;s state-level primaries, November&rsquo;s Election Day, and the 2017 city-level elections. Chief among them are who actually holds the BOE accountable and how must the BOE be reformed?</p> <p dir="ltr">Before Michael Ryan was <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/08/staten_islander_mike_ryan_to_t.html" target="_blank">just barely appointed</a> in 2013, the city BOE went without an executive director for three years, as the party-split commissioners were unable to agree upon a replacement for the former executive director, George Gonzalez, who was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/nyregion/27board.html?_r=0" target="_blank">fired</a> after a series of failures administering the 2010 September primary and additional mistakes leading up to the general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">A number of city and state agencies and offices have some authority over the New York City Board of Elections, yet ultimately, the power to change it lies with the state Legislature. &ldquo;The most important decisions about the Board of Elections occur in Albany,&rdquo; de Blasio said, speaking with press after announcing the budget deal. &ldquo;We need fundamental change, and one of the things we most need from Albany is legislation that will empower the executive director and the professional staff of the Board of Elections, rather than what is the traditional power structure.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The Mayor can use his budget powers to try to force change at the BOE. The City Council can hold oversight hearings examining how the BOE operates. The city&rsquo;s Department of Investigation can investigate the BOE and recommend reforms, which it did in 2013 when it issued a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2013/dec%2013/BOE%20Unit%20Report12-30-2013.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> identifying fundamental flaws and recommending over 40 reforms to improve the agency (which the BOE largely&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank">ignored</a>). The city&rsquo;s Conflicts of Interest Board also has some oversight, and has fined BOE employees for hiring members of their own family in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, the city Comptroller&rsquo;s office has the power to audit and investigate the BOE, which can make the agency&rsquo;s operations and finances more transparent and accountable, since the BOE is funded by the city (though the laws that mandate its structure and duties are controlled by the state). Stringer&rsquo;s office released an audit on June 6 of&nbsp;<a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit/?r=06-06-16_SR15-127A" target="_blank">BOE inventory practices</a> for office equipment and voting machines, and is currently conducting another audit of BOE operations and management. The June 6 audit revealed that the BOE's inventory records for both voting and office equipment "were incomplete and inaccurate," as well as "numerous instances of noncompliance" with other inventory practices, including "the existence of duplicate serial numbers" and "more than 1,000 items" on-site that had been omitted from the BOE's inventory records.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Assistance Advisory Commission, which advises the city&rsquo;s Campaign Finance Board on voter engagement efforts and recommends changes to improve elections, passed a resolution at its May 17 hearing to compile election irregularities and systemic problems and relay them to BOE, to everyone currently investigating the agency, and to the City Council. Yet, true to it&rsquo;s name, VAAC can only serve in an advisory capacity, and can take actions to facilitate voter registration, but, like the DOI and other agencies with oversight capacities, is essentially powerless to bring about any meaningful structural reform at the BOE.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;At the end of the day, what really has to change is state law,&rdquo; said Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs at the CFB.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The problem is, it&rsquo;s all reactive,&rdquo; State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Something has gone wrong, and then the appropriate government agencies act - entities that fund the board can try to extract reforms.&rdquo; Yet &ldquo;what is really needed is to reform the structure of the board,&rdquo; Gianaris added, referring to the patronage system at the BOE through which employees are appointed by the board&rsquo;s ten commissioners, who themselves are selected based on their affiliation with the two major political parties (one Democratic commissioner and one Republican commissioner from each borough, appointed by the county party chairs).</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been asking them to end patronage since I got into office,&rdquo; Kallos said.&ldquo;State lawmakers need to amend the state law that allows BOE to have a patronage system and replace it with a civil service system - the same system that we used to root out patronage from Tammany Hall."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Having patronage codified in the law is the problem,&rdquo; Kallos added. The State Senate and Assembly have &ldquo;created the laws governing the BOE in every county, and many of these reforms could happen there quite easily.&rdquo; &nbsp;For example, the <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/law/2015NYElectionLaw.pdf" target="_blank">New York State Constitution</a> currently mandates that &ldquo;Party recommendations for election commissioner shall be made by the county committee or by such other committee as the rules of the party may provide, by a majority of the votes cast at a meeting of the members of such committee at which a quorum is present.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But it&rsquo;s not all that easy to bring about this sort of change in Albany, says Susan Lerner, executive director of the government reform group Common Cause NY, because &ldquo;the people who could make change are our state representatives, some of whom are actually county chairs&hellip;so long as the county chairs regard the BOE as a place to park people who couldn&rsquo;t get jobs otherwise and who are party loyalists, we will continue to have a problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">What&rsquo;s needed, Lerner says, is a system that chooses people to administer elections based on their experience administering elections or managing complex systems, not a system in which local political parties use patronage to reward party loyalists.</p> <p dir="ltr">BOE commissioners, Kallos says ruefully, are &ldquo;accountable to the county party chairs who appoint them under state law.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Ultimately, one would hope that the executive director would be where the buck stops,&rdquo; Kallos said. Yet, at an executive budget hearing in May, Kallos was &ldquo;disappointed to learn that the executive director can&rsquo;t fire his employees, and despite the problems of the last election,&rdquo; two of the people who were responsible &ldquo;remain suspended without pay, but not terminated.&rdquo; Since the executive director doesn&rsquo;t have the power to terminate employees, the &ldquo;ten commissioners need to be held accountable, if they refuse, then it goes to the County Chair who appointed them,&rdquo; Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">While Kallos sees &ldquo;overlapping responsibility for the BOE,&rdquo; Lerner believes &ldquo;there isn&rsquo;t actually any real authority,&rdquo; as &ldquo;the BOE is a highly politicized body and election law has deliberately set it up so that it really isn&rsquo;t clear who it is answerable to.&rdquo; The chairs of the election law committees in the Senate and the Assembly are Senator Fred Ashkar and Assemblymember Michael Cusick, neither of whom responded to requests for comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It appears that the party county chairs could hold their appointees accountable, but there isn&rsquo;t any clear line of authority in that regard,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;From a taxpayer's point of view, from good election administration point of view, this is not a good system - there should not be any agency which does not have clear oversight, and certainly you should not have a taxpayer-funded entity that doesn&rsquo;t have to be responsive to the taxpayers.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio, Gianaris, Kallos, Lerner, and others view the patronage system as the root of the problem and the cause of the BOE&rsquo;s persistent failures when it comes to administering elections and performing its other duties. There is a strong sense among those who spoke with Gotham Gazette that the city BOE is not accountable to the voters; that it is accountable to the county party chairs; and that the people who could improve the structure of the BOE don&rsquo;t have any incentive to do so. A number of city officials and agencies, like the City Council and the DOI, have repeatedly recommended replacing this patronage system with merit-based employees, which would require changing state election laws and amending the state constitution.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the meantime, people like Gianaris, Friedman, Kallos, and others are looking to get other changes to state law passed that would also improve the way elections are administered.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">Bills have been introduced</a> in the Senate and the Assembly to make voter registration automatic, expand online voter registration, allow early voting, extend registration deadlines, consolidate the state and federal primary election dates, improve New York&rsquo;s confusing ballot design, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">more</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the more comprehensive pieces of voting reform legislation currently introduced in Albany is the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S2538" target="_blank">Voter Empowerment Act</a> (introduced by Gianaris in the Senate and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh in the Assembly (Kavanagh was not made available for comment). Kallos has introduced a&nbsp;<a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/t-2015-2726/" target="_blank">resolution</a> in the City Council calling on the state to pass the act). The Voter Empowerment Act seeks to update New York&rsquo;s registration process by expanding online registration and modernizing the way voter information is collected, processed, stored, and shared.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gianaris calls the VEA an attempt to improve the way elections are administered, &ldquo;getting at it from the point of view of not really tackling the structure - which is a huge can of worms - but just trying to get at some of the specific ways we can change the laws to make it easier&rdquo; to register to vote and to maintain accurate voter rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The Voter Empowerment Act would actually address a lot of the problems that people were talking about from the April 19 primary,&rdquo; said Friedman, of the CFB. &ldquo;It would create universal online registration, so that voters could literally take ownership of their voter registration in a way that is impossible with the current pen and paper system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Should the Voter Empowerment Act pass, the legislation would improve the accuracy of New York&rsquo;s voter rolls by reducing the number of outdated or duplicate registration records. Ryan has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/brooklyn-voter-purge-hit-hispanics-hardest/" target="_blank">said</a> that the purge carried out by the Brooklyn BOE office was a response to the DOI&rsquo;s 2013 report slamming the board for failing to remove ineligible voters from the rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Better elections start with better election laws,&rdquo; says Friedman, who&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank">traveled to Albany in May</a> along with other members of the CFB and VAAC for the third year in a row to persuade lawmakers to pass the VEA and two other voting reforms:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank">better ballot design and early voting</a>. &ldquo;The Voter Empowerment Act would make a real difference - devolving power from the administrators to the voters by giving them ownership of the voter records through online registration would make a big difference.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">For now, Lerner, Friedman, and others say the voters should stay mad, keep attending BOE weekly meetings, and keep the pressure on those who have the ability to make a difference: the BOE commissioners and state lawmakers.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE could easily choose to improve its own operations by changing hiring policies or providing better training for poll workers. &ldquo;I think what we&rsquo;ve seen in practical, immediate terms, is that the BOE is responsive to public outrage,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;I think if the county chairs and members of the Legislature said to the BOE, &lsquo;you&rsquo;re making us all look bad,&rsquo; there is more potential for the board to improve its procedures.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the last NYC Votes trip to Albany lobbying for better voting laws,<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/blog/vote-better-ny-advances-2015-16-state-legislative-session" target="_blank">19 more sponsors</a> have signed on to the VEA, and 17 new sponsors signed on to the Voter Friendly Ballot Act. Thirty-seven additional sponsors signed on to early voting bills, which have now passed in both the Senate and the Assembly election committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The fact that the BOE Brooklyn voter purge &ldquo;happened to begin with points out a fundamental reality,&rdquo; de Blasio said after the budget handshake. &ldquo;A managerial dynamic that is not modern, not up-to-date, not professional enough, and must be updated, or we&rsquo;ll just keep having this problem.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;New Yorkers should be pressing all of their leaders, including in Albany,&rdquo; de Blasio said. &rdquo;We call ourselves a progressive state but when it comes to electoral reform we are fundamentally backwards. I think the people are going to rise up on this one."</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

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In Albany, Sunshine Week Starts with Darkness 2016-03-15T02:18:44+00:00 2016-03-15T02:18:44+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6223:in-albany-sunshine-week-starts-with-darkness Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/19131688266_b1bf3b40bb_z_1.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan 2015" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, &amp; Flanagan (l-r) in 2015 (photo via The Governor's Office)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>The first Sunshine Week following the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos got off to an inauspicious start Monday as representatives of the state's major good government groups gathered in Albany to give their evaluation of the ethics reforms put forward in the one-house budgets released by the Assembly and Senate majorities over the weekend.</p> <p>"Unfortunately with a late Friday release what we're seeing is what I've begun to call 'The Albany Shuffle,'" said Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY. "Issues addressed with bills that aren't quite strong enough, that have a low probability of making it into law. What we need now and what we've been saying quite consistently is there is a crisis of corruption, this is the moment for a robust ethics package, and that we need the governor to be asserting his leadership bringing both houses of the Legislature together on a strong comprehensive ethics package."</p> <p>Sunshine Week is supposed to be a celebration and examination of transparency and openness in government. It arrives in Albany this year for one of the most secretive and restrictive budget processes in recent memory. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan have carried out clandestine budget negotiations with an efficiency rarely seen. Usually reporters are tipped to budget meetings, proposals are floated in the press, and press conferences held to update the public on progress. This year the information has largely dried up and Cuomo hasn't held a second floor press conference since late June of last year.</p> <p>"It's as dark a process as I've ever seen," Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>While Cuomo included ethics reforms in his budget he hasn't mentioned reform since without direct provocation by reporters. The Assembly majority released an ethics reform plan on Friday and the Senate majority appears to have no interest in new reforms to prevent or punish corruption, other than a pension forfeiture measure.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration lashed out at good government groups last week after they called on the governor to hold public meetings with legislative leaders on ethics reform. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Advocates-Cuomo-not-doing-enough-on-ethics-6878498.php" target="_blank">said</a> that there would be further discussion of ethics reform while also looking at who funds good government groups and whether they are actually "shadow lobbyists."</p> <p>Horner said he believes that state leaders are working together to squash reform talk in hopes that public interest wanes. He also believes they are misjudging the impact of the Skelos and Silver convictions. "No public hearings, no public input around the biggest scandals that have rocked Albany in generations, and so it's sort of a stunning rebuke not only for the public's right to know, but also for Sunshine Week that this is what we are talking about - Albany being closed to public scrutiny and what may be a colossal failure by Albany's political establishment to deal with the biggest issues facing state government."</p> <p>On Monday, good government groups didn't have anything to evaluate when it came to the Senate's budget proposal because it does not contain any ethics reform proposals.</p> <p>"This week is Sunshine Week, which is the national celebration of openness in government," said Horner. "In Albany, unfortunately, the curtains are tightly drawn in terms of what the public can see in [government] deliberations."</p> <p>Horner, Lerner, and other government reform group representatives criticized the Assembly plan as having no particular logic. One measure included in the Assembly budget restricts legislators' outside income to 40 percent of a state Supreme Court judge's salary, which comes to about $70,000. Legislators currently earn $79,500 per year. Gov. Cuomo proposed a bill earlier this year restricting outside income to 15 percent of that salary - Cuomo's plan is drawn from the current Congressional model.</p> <p>The Assembly also proposed a law that would restrict lawyer-legislators from simply earning money by having their name at a law firm, requiring them to prove they actually do casework. Horner said that the language of the law is so vague it is hard to tell who would judge what was legitimate work for a law firm and how it would be enforced. Heastie told reporters on Friday that his conference hadn't quite figured out enforcement yet.</p> <p>Lerner and Horner both said they believe that the governor and legislative leaders will play the "blame game" on ethics, without reaching any consensus. Cuomo will blame the Legislature for proposing weaker measures than he did, or for not supporting reform at all, and both houses of the legislature will blame each other.</p> <p>Early Monday rank-and-file lawmakers were boning up on their house budgets as the majorities moved swiftly to vote on the plans. Many expect that a vote on the overall budget could come by the end of the week, delivering an early spending plan - the deadline is the end of the month. However, if that does come to pass many legislators expect contentious issues like ethics reform, a minimum wage hike, and paid family leave to be excluded, pushed to the legislative session to follow the budget.</p> <p>A deal by the end of the week would also mean that the "three men in a room" - Democrats Cuomo and Heastie and Flanagan, a Republican - would have quickly hammered out their differences in typical Albany fashion. Asked on Friday by Gotham Gazette about how many negotiation sessions the three had had, Heastie was evasive, saying there had been meetings, but only on broad strokes. He indicated that specific discussions would heat up once the two chambers passed their one-house budgets. Heastie did give a speech in New York City on Friday and take more than 45 minutes of questions from reporters.</p> <p>Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins criticized the budget process before her house voted on the Republican-crafted, one-house bill. "Today on the first day of Sunshine Week, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this year's budget process has taken a step back in transparency," she said. "The much maligned 'three men in the room' process seems to have been replaced by a more secretive format of covert meetings and phone calls shielded from the press and public. I hope that in the remaining time left we can open up this process and allow all New Yorkers to see what we are doing on their behalf."</p> <p>Assembly Republicans expressed horror that the Democrats' reform plans weren't stronger and didn't address a multitude of gripes they have with how power is allocated in the chamber. Senate Democrats decried the lack of any reforms in the Republican budget. Both majorities said there would be more discussion of ethics - Assembly Democrats say it will come during budget negotiations, Senate Republicans insist it will be after.</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/19131688266_b1bf3b40bb_z_1.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan 2015" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, &amp; Flanagan (l-r) in 2015 (photo via The Governor's Office)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>The first Sunshine Week following the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos got off to an inauspicious start Monday as representatives of the state's major good government groups gathered in Albany to give their evaluation of the ethics reforms put forward in the one-house budgets released by the Assembly and Senate majorities over the weekend.</p> <p>"Unfortunately with a late Friday release what we're seeing is what I've begun to call 'The Albany Shuffle,'" said Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY. "Issues addressed with bills that aren't quite strong enough, that have a low probability of making it into law. What we need now and what we've been saying quite consistently is there is a crisis of corruption, this is the moment for a robust ethics package, and that we need the governor to be asserting his leadership bringing both houses of the Legislature together on a strong comprehensive ethics package."</p> <p>Sunshine Week is supposed to be a celebration and examination of transparency and openness in government. It arrives in Albany this year for one of the most secretive and restrictive budget processes in recent memory. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan have carried out clandestine budget negotiations with an efficiency rarely seen. Usually reporters are tipped to budget meetings, proposals are floated in the press, and press conferences held to update the public on progress. This year the information has largely dried up and Cuomo hasn't held a second floor press conference since late June of last year.</p> <p>"It's as dark a process as I've ever seen," Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>While Cuomo included ethics reforms in his budget he hasn't mentioned reform since without direct provocation by reporters. The Assembly majority released an ethics reform plan on Friday and the Senate majority appears to have no interest in new reforms to prevent or punish corruption, other than a pension forfeiture measure.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration lashed out at good government groups last week after they called on the governor to hold public meetings with legislative leaders on ethics reform. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Advocates-Cuomo-not-doing-enough-on-ethics-6878498.php" target="_blank">said</a> that there would be further discussion of ethics reform while also looking at who funds good government groups and whether they are actually "shadow lobbyists."</p> <p>Horner said he believes that state leaders are working together to squash reform talk in hopes that public interest wanes. He also believes they are misjudging the impact of the Skelos and Silver convictions. "No public hearings, no public input around the biggest scandals that have rocked Albany in generations, and so it's sort of a stunning rebuke not only for the public's right to know, but also for Sunshine Week that this is what we are talking about - Albany being closed to public scrutiny and what may be a colossal failure by Albany's political establishment to deal with the biggest issues facing state government."</p> <p>On Monday, good government groups didn't have anything to evaluate when it came to the Senate's budget proposal because it does not contain any ethics reform proposals.</p> <p>"This week is Sunshine Week, which is the national celebration of openness in government," said Horner. "In Albany, unfortunately, the curtains are tightly drawn in terms of what the public can see in [government] deliberations."</p> <p>Horner, Lerner, and other government reform group representatives criticized the Assembly plan as having no particular logic. One measure included in the Assembly budget restricts legislators' outside income to 40 percent of a state Supreme Court judge's salary, which comes to about $70,000. Legislators currently earn $79,500 per year. Gov. Cuomo proposed a bill earlier this year restricting outside income to 15 percent of that salary - Cuomo's plan is drawn from the current Congressional model.</p> <p>The Assembly also proposed a law that would restrict lawyer-legislators from simply earning money by having their name at a law firm, requiring them to prove they actually do casework. Horner said that the language of the law is so vague it is hard to tell who would judge what was legitimate work for a law firm and how it would be enforced. Heastie told reporters on Friday that his conference hadn't quite figured out enforcement yet.</p> <p>Lerner and Horner both said they believe that the governor and legislative leaders will play the "blame game" on ethics, without reaching any consensus. Cuomo will blame the Legislature for proposing weaker measures than he did, or for not supporting reform at all, and both houses of the legislature will blame each other.</p> <p>Early Monday rank-and-file lawmakers were boning up on their house budgets as the majorities moved swiftly to vote on the plans. Many expect that a vote on the overall budget could come by the end of the week, delivering an early spending plan - the deadline is the end of the month. However, if that does come to pass many legislators expect contentious issues like ethics reform, a minimum wage hike, and paid family leave to be excluded, pushed to the legislative session to follow the budget.</p> <p>A deal by the end of the week would also mean that the "three men in a room" - Democrats Cuomo and Heastie and Flanagan, a Republican - would have quickly hammered out their differences in typical Albany fashion. Asked on Friday by Gotham Gazette about how many negotiation sessions the three had had, Heastie was evasive, saying there had been meetings, but only on broad strokes. He indicated that specific discussions would heat up once the two chambers passed their one-house budgets. Heastie did give a speech in New York City on Friday and take more than 45 minutes of questions from reporters.</p> <p>Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins criticized the budget process before her house voted on the Republican-crafted, one-house bill. "Today on the first day of Sunshine Week, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this year's budget process has taken a step back in transparency," she said. "The much maligned 'three men in the room' process seems to have been replaced by a more secretive format of covert meetings and phone calls shielded from the press and public. I hope that in the remaining time left we can open up this process and allow all New Yorkers to see what we are doing on their behalf."</p> <p>Assembly Republicans expressed horror that the Democrats' reform plans weren't stronger and didn't address a multitude of gripes they have with how power is allocated in the chamber. Senate Democrats decried the lack of any reforms in the Republican budget. Both majorities said there would be more discussion of ethics - Assembly Democrats say it will come during budget negotiations, Senate Republicans insist it will be after.</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York One Signature Away from Calling for Overturn of Citizens United 2016-01-11T18:11:32+00:00 2016-01-11T18:11:32+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6080:new-york-one-signature-away-from-calling-for-overturn-of-citizens-united kfan <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nys.jpg" alt="nys" height="298" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: nysenate.gov)</p> <hr /> <p>In a landmark year for corruption in the state legislature, 2015 saw the arrest and conviction of two of the most powerful political leaders in New York. A crescendo of voices across the state -- from good government watchdogs to lawmakers -- expressed outrage and demanded stronger ethics laws and campaign finance reforms. In one sense, Albany now has the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is -- and all it needs is one signature. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">New York is one signatory away from becoming the 17th state in the country to call for a constitutional amendment to negate the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which gave entities such as corporations and unions the same rights as individuals in contributing to electoral campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">A successful bipartisan appeal for a federal constitutional amendment in the State Assembly has yet to be replicated by the State Senate, where 31 senators -- one short of a majority -- support overturning Citizens United to minimize the role of money in politics. While agreement by a majority of each house from New York would only be advisory, like the other states that have reached consensus, a groundswell for negating Citizens United could influence Congress.</p> <p dir="ltr">"As we've seen again and again, Citizens United has opened the floodgate to unchecked and often opaque corporate political contributions, muscling real people out of the political process,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Squadron is leading the effort among the Senate Democratic Conference and has 23 co-signers on <a href="http://www.ny4democracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/NY-Senate-Citizens-United-Constitutional-Amendment-Letter-to-Congress.pdf" target="_blank">a letter</a> addressed to the United States Congress which calls for the constitutional amendment.</p> <p dir="ltr">(Squadron also said that the state legislature should support his Corporate Political Activity Accountability to Shareholders Act, which would increase transparency and accountability.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Senators Ruben Diaz Sr. and Simcha Felder are the only Democrats who have not joined their colleagues on the letter. The five members of the Independent Democratic Conference together signed an identical version of Squadron’s letter while Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins independently wrote to members of Congress. (Felder is elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans in the Senate, and Diaz Sr. is often difficult to pin down ideologically.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Stewart-Cousins, in her missive, said that the independent contributions made possible by Citizens United “represent a deliberate effort to unfairly influence the electorate and empower a small group of individuals and corporations. Elected officials are becoming more beholden to the interests facilitating these outside funds while the public’s trust in our democracy erodes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Stewart-Cousins is adamant about reforming the state’s campaign finance system and believes that Senate Democrats have led the fight on many fronts. She lays blame with the members on the other side of the aisle. “We need to restore the public’s trust in state government and that will only happen when the Senate Republicans agree to listen to the voters and take meaningful steps to clean up Albany,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the Democrats who support overturning Citizens United total 29 votes, only 2 Republican state senators have supported the effort -- Senators Phil Boyle and Kemp Hannon, albeit in language different from the Democrats’ letters (it, for example, <a href="http://www.citizen.org/documents/citizens-united-senator-boyle-sign-on-letter.pdf" target="_blank">decries</a> the massive potential outside spending to support Hillary Clinton's presidential bid). Sen. Boyle, who circulated his letter among his colleagues, refused to comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reluctance of New York Republicans to join the effort comes as a growing number of voters, including Republicans, oppose Citizens United. In a <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot">Bloomberg poll</a> from September, 78 percent of respondents said they wanted the decision overturned.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re at a crossroads in the movement where Democrats who hadn’t signed on are signing on, and where Republican voters are strongly in favor of a constitutional amendment, but we’re working to make that transition with Republican legislators,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been garnering a coalition to lobby state legislators for their support in the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senior attorney Gene Russianoff, from the New York Public Interest Research Group, is not surprised by the Republican legislators’ lack of support. Some of these state senators, he said, “feel teflon-proofed” and he applauded those who signed the petition. “Citizens United is the right target to fight the influence of money and political interests,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For good government groups like NYPIRG and Citizens Union of the City of New York, the Supreme Court’s decision to treat corporations as individuals in campaign finance has wreaked untold havoc on elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">“New York State is severely hampered by federal court decisions in terms of how it can address the corrosive role of money in politics,” said Rachael Fauss, director of public policy, Citizens Union. “Action by the New York State Legislature would help drive attention to this national problem, and put New York on the record as being against campaign money being considered free speech.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom many reformers look to be more of a leader on campaign finance reform in New York, recently made clear he thinks that as long Citizens United is around, his hands are largely tied. In an <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/governor-cuomo-says-its-time-pardon-one-time-youth-offenders/">interview</a> with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Dec. 21, the governor promised that he will advocate for campaign finance reform in 2016, but conceded that he could only do so much.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you say, 'Well, money influences,' then forget it, because [with] Citizens United you're not going to get the money out of the system until the federal government changes the court or the law or both,” he said. He was also dismissive of New York City’s public campaign financing system, calling it a “mockery” that independent committees can donate large sums of money to candidates as a result of Citizens United.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates and reform-minded legislators continue to push Cuomo to call for a statewide public campaign finance system, which he has given lukewarm support for in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just a few hours after Cuomo’s Dec. 21 WNYC remarks, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/966-15/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-hosts-media-roundtable-discuss-mid-term-accomplishments" target="_blank">roundtable</a> with members &nbsp;of the news media at which he also said passing a constitutional amendment was an “imperative” without which “we’re in an environment where a lot of very wealthy, powerful people will use their money to reinforce the status quo.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/opinion/who-will-heed-the-call/34136/" target="_blank">editorial</a> on Dec. 22, a day after Cuomo’s remarks on WNYC, the Albany Times Union called on the remaining state senators to take the bold step and join the growing call for an amendment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">On the surface, New York calling for a constitutional amendment may be symbolic in the absence of Congressional action. But, according to Common Cause NY executive director Susan Lerner, “In this instance, symbolism is especially potent.” She believes that owing to New York’s large congressional delegation, even symbolic measures carry significant weight.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Remember, New York is a donor state,” she said, referring to New York’s influence on elections all over the country. “Everybody running for office comes to New York for campaign contributions. When New York elected officials say the system has gotten out of control, it’s particularly applicable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a> &nbsp; &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nys.jpg" alt="nys" height="298" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: nysenate.gov)</p> <hr /> <p>In a landmark year for corruption in the state legislature, 2015 saw the arrest and conviction of two of the most powerful political leaders in New York. A crescendo of voices across the state -- from good government watchdogs to lawmakers -- expressed outrage and demanded stronger ethics laws and campaign finance reforms. In one sense, Albany now has the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is -- and all it needs is one signature. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">New York is one signatory away from becoming the 17th state in the country to call for a constitutional amendment to negate the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which gave entities such as corporations and unions the same rights as individuals in contributing to electoral campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">A successful bipartisan appeal for a federal constitutional amendment in the State Assembly has yet to be replicated by the State Senate, where 31 senators -- one short of a majority -- support overturning Citizens United to minimize the role of money in politics. While agreement by a majority of each house from New York would only be advisory, like the other states that have reached consensus, a groundswell for negating Citizens United could influence Congress.</p> <p dir="ltr">"As we've seen again and again, Citizens United has opened the floodgate to unchecked and often opaque corporate political contributions, muscling real people out of the political process,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Squadron is leading the effort among the Senate Democratic Conference and has 23 co-signers on <a href="http://www.ny4democracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/NY-Senate-Citizens-United-Constitutional-Amendment-Letter-to-Congress.pdf" target="_blank">a letter</a> addressed to the United States Congress which calls for the constitutional amendment.</p> <p dir="ltr">(Squadron also said that the state legislature should support his Corporate Political Activity Accountability to Shareholders Act, which would increase transparency and accountability.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Senators Ruben Diaz Sr. and Simcha Felder are the only Democrats who have not joined their colleagues on the letter. The five members of the Independent Democratic Conference together signed an identical version of Squadron’s letter while Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins independently wrote to members of Congress. (Felder is elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans in the Senate, and Diaz Sr. is often difficult to pin down ideologically.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Stewart-Cousins, in her missive, said that the independent contributions made possible by Citizens United “represent a deliberate effort to unfairly influence the electorate and empower a small group of individuals and corporations. Elected officials are becoming more beholden to the interests facilitating these outside funds while the public’s trust in our democracy erodes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Stewart-Cousins is adamant about reforming the state’s campaign finance system and believes that Senate Democrats have led the fight on many fronts. She lays blame with the members on the other side of the aisle. “We need to restore the public’s trust in state government and that will only happen when the Senate Republicans agree to listen to the voters and take meaningful steps to clean up Albany,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the Democrats who support overturning Citizens United total 29 votes, only 2 Republican state senators have supported the effort -- Senators Phil Boyle and Kemp Hannon, albeit in language different from the Democrats’ letters (it, for example, <a href="http://www.citizen.org/documents/citizens-united-senator-boyle-sign-on-letter.pdf" target="_blank">decries</a> the massive potential outside spending to support Hillary Clinton's presidential bid). Sen. Boyle, who circulated his letter among his colleagues, refused to comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reluctance of New York Republicans to join the effort comes as a growing number of voters, including Republicans, oppose Citizens United. In a <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot">Bloomberg poll</a> from September, 78 percent of respondents said they wanted the decision overturned.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re at a crossroads in the movement where Democrats who hadn’t signed on are signing on, and where Republican voters are strongly in favor of a constitutional amendment, but we’re working to make that transition with Republican legislators,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been garnering a coalition to lobby state legislators for their support in the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senior attorney Gene Russianoff, from the New York Public Interest Research Group, is not surprised by the Republican legislators’ lack of support. Some of these state senators, he said, “feel teflon-proofed” and he applauded those who signed the petition. “Citizens United is the right target to fight the influence of money and political interests,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For good government groups like NYPIRG and Citizens Union of the City of New York, the Supreme Court’s decision to treat corporations as individuals in campaign finance has wreaked untold havoc on elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">“New York State is severely hampered by federal court decisions in terms of how it can address the corrosive role of money in politics,” said Rachael Fauss, director of public policy, Citizens Union. “Action by the New York State Legislature would help drive attention to this national problem, and put New York on the record as being against campaign money being considered free speech.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom many reformers look to be more of a leader on campaign finance reform in New York, recently made clear he thinks that as long Citizens United is around, his hands are largely tied. In an <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/governor-cuomo-says-its-time-pardon-one-time-youth-offenders/">interview</a> with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Dec. 21, the governor promised that he will advocate for campaign finance reform in 2016, but conceded that he could only do so much.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you say, 'Well, money influences,' then forget it, because [with] Citizens United you're not going to get the money out of the system until the federal government changes the court or the law or both,” he said. He was also dismissive of New York City’s public campaign financing system, calling it a “mockery” that independent committees can donate large sums of money to candidates as a result of Citizens United.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates and reform-minded legislators continue to push Cuomo to call for a statewide public campaign finance system, which he has given lukewarm support for in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just a few hours after Cuomo’s Dec. 21 WNYC remarks, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/966-15/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-hosts-media-roundtable-discuss-mid-term-accomplishments" target="_blank">roundtable</a> with members &nbsp;of the news media at which he also said passing a constitutional amendment was an “imperative” without which “we’re in an environment where a lot of very wealthy, powerful people will use their money to reinforce the status quo.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/opinion/who-will-heed-the-call/34136/" target="_blank">editorial</a> on Dec. 22, a day after Cuomo’s remarks on WNYC, the Albany Times Union called on the remaining state senators to take the bold step and join the growing call for an amendment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">On the surface, New York calling for a constitutional amendment may be symbolic in the absence of Congressional action. But, according to Common Cause NY executive director Susan Lerner, “In this instance, symbolism is especially potent.” She believes that owing to New York’s large congressional delegation, even symbolic measures carry significant weight.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Remember, New York is a donor state,” she said, referring to New York’s influence on elections all over the country. “Everybody running for office comes to New York for campaign contributions. When New York elected officials say the system has gotten out of control, it’s particularly applicable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a> &nbsp; &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>