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About Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation

Citizens Union of the City of New York is an independent, non-partisan force dedicated to promoting good government and political reform in the city and state of New York. For more than a century, Citizens Union has served as a watchdog for the public interest and an advocate for the common good. We work to ensure fair elections, clean campaigns, and open, effective government that is accountable to the citizens of New York. We do so by informing the policy debate and influencing the policy outcomes that affect the lives of all New Yorkers. Believing that an informed citizenry is the cornerstone of a thriving local democracy, Citizens Union Foundation – the non profit research, education, and advocacy organization affiliated with CU – publishes Gotham Gazette, a front row seat to New York City policies and politics.

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from Dick Dadey, Executive Director

In just six short weeks, government reform efforts have reached a high in New York City, and we fear, a disappointing low in Albany.

The City Council under Speaker Quinn’s leadership passed and Mayor Bloomberg signed into law a campaign finance measure that takes several significant steps forward in tightening and reforming New York’s city program. Though no solution is perfect, and the effort leaves room for further improvement, the new law strengthens an already admired campaign finance program. The city’s leaders are to be commended for their efforts that included a collaborative and consultative approach in drawing up the legislation. This success comes on the heels last year of a successful effort to tighten the regulation and oversight of local lobbying. Taken together, this is all part of an effort that CU supports to make the operation of city government and the running of local campaigns more transparent and accountable to New York’s citizens. More details are below.

Unfortunately, our state government had a dizzying and unproductive end to its regularly scheduled legislative session that left many issues close to being resolved, but still on the table. Not the least of which was campaign finance reform, though Governor Spitzer did announce two weeks ago that an agreement has been reached to tighten the state’s woefully lax laws. No bill has yet been produced, but if the effort proves successful, it will be the first time since the Watergate era that New York State has enacted legislation governing campaign contributions, which in and of itself is an accomplishment given that over thirty years have passed since that low water mark.

Complicating how other important, unaddressed issues will be resolved is the shadow that has been cast over the state Capitol with news the Governor Spitzer’s administration used inappropriate means to learn about the travel practices of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Spitzer’s team was trying to undermine Bruno, who had used the state’s overly permissive travel policy to use state aircraft to take him to political events in which he raised money for his party.

The unethical scheme’s backfiring has dealt an unfortunate blow to Spitzer’s reputation as a leader working to change the way business is done in Albany – though we hope it will not undermine for long efforts to bring needed reform to state government. The chances for meaningful reform, however, depend in part on how he and his administration respond to the State Ethics Commission’s review and possible investigation. We hope, and would like to believe, that a second thorough and complete investigation will bring a quick end to this unfortunate and distracting development.

Read below what CU has done both regarding the state’s lax travel policy and the Governor’s cooperation with the State Ethics Commission.

We are sending you a summer edition of The Reformer covering months July and August. Look for the September edition in mid month. Enjoy both this hiatus and the rest of the summer.

 

CITY UPDATES

Significant Campaign Finance Reforms Enacted


Photo Caption: Dick Dadey is shown here to the right of Mayor Bloomberg as he signs the campaign finance bill into law. Also pictured from left to right are Councilmembers David Weprin and Simcha Felder, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Campaign Finance Board Executive Director Amy Loperest.

Photo credit: William Alatriste, New York City Council

On July 3, Mayor Bloomberg signed into law Intro 586-A, a far-reaching and historic campaign finance bill. The new law will increase the significance of smaller contributions, lessen the impact of restricted contributions from those who do business with the city, known as “pay to play”, make the program more candidate-friendly, and stiffen the requirements of incumbents’ eligibility to receive public funds when faced by seemingly minimal opposition. It also will likely shift the focus of influence from those who give money to those who raise money, a consequence that will require greater disclosure from those who do raise money for candidates.

Citizens Union, along with its good government partners and the Campaign Finance Board were on hand at the bill signing to show support for this bill that the organization helped shape as it made its way though a collaborative and consultative process. For a complete analysis of what the bill will do and will not do click here

At the heart of the bill was a measure to limit the size of contributions to candidates for local office that are made by individuals and entities with City contracts, concessions, and franchises, or contracts and grants totaling $100,000 or more, lobbyists, and those seeking land use decisions. However, as the city develops the databases necessary to track such contributions and contracts, candidates will continue to operate under the old rules, a clear advantage to those candidates who have decided to run and are ahead of the fundraising curve.

The bill also expands the ban on corporate contributions to include limited liability corporations (LLC’s) and limited liability partnerships (LLP’s). However, many candidates have already received substantial sums from these entities during this election cycle that they will not have to return

 

2009 Campaign Fundraising Begins

Citizens Union Foundation conducted an analysis of the latest campaign finance filings and found that the fundraising pace for the 2009 city-wide and borough-wide races is way ahead when compared with four years ago. Together, presumed and declared citywide candidates for Mayor, have amassed over $8.9 million dollars in their campaign accounts and have spent more than $1.5 million. During the same filing period for the 2005 mayoral election, only $1.9 million dollars in contributions had been reported and $435,567 spent.

For a more complete analysis of campaign fundraising to date, including contributions from LLC’s, LLP’s and unions, read the latest Gotham Gazette Voting page article. To stay abreast of these and other election related issues, you may also want to subscribe to the monthly newsletter for the Gotham Gazette Voting page.

 

Franchise and Concession Review Commission Changes Expected

Next week, Citizens Union plans to testify on changes to the function and role of the city in the review and approval process for awarding franchises and concessions. Concern was expressed earlier this year by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Comptroller Bill Thompson over proposed changes by Mayor Bloomberg, but it appears a compromise approach has been reached that will bring greater efficiency to the review process without compromising too severely public input and oversight. Watch the next Reformer for more information about the outcome.

 

State Updates

New Voting Machines Postponed – Again!

Following pressure from the New York State Board of Elections and New York City Board of Elections to remove the September 1, 2007 deadline from legislation dictating the implementation of new voting machines, the state Senate and Assembly passed legislation last week allowing counties to use lever machines for the foreseeable future. New York State was unable to meet this year’s September 1 deadline, following a long string of delays resulting from Help America Vote Act requirements for certifying and procuring new voting machines. Without the passage of new legislation updating the law to reflect the state’s current situation, caused in part by the state having the strictest testing requirements in the nation for new machines, New Yorkers faced the threat of having to vote in this year’s election on paper ballots citywide, as lever voting machines would have been legally banned from usage. The current legislation also requires one location per county to be equipped with a Ballot Marking Device to assist disabled voters. Click here to read the Assembly bill.

 

Campaign Finance Agreement Announced… Legislation Still Pending

In mid-July, Governor Spitzer announced that an agreement had been reached with both state legislative leaders, Senate Majority Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, on a package of measures to strengthen the state’s campaign finance laws. While the agreement has been announced, a bill has not yet been formally introduced. Citizens Union and its good-government colleagues have advocated for strong and necessary reforms in regular and frequent meetings with state government leaders and their staffs and kept abreast of developments and we have offered preliminary support for the effort and reserved final judgment on the package until we are able to review draft language, which has yet to be publicly circulated.

The evolving proposal being discussed would lower individual contribution limits to candidates, party committees, and house keeping accounts known as “soft money” contributions. It would also ban contributions from corporate subsidiaries and “sham” LLC’s, certain entities, tighten enforcement mechanisms, and increase reporting and disclosure requirements for contributors and campaigns, among other measures. Governor Spitzer’s press release announcing agreement provides a more detailed description of the measures being discussed.

 

Citizens Union and Colleagues Call for Sensible State Travel Policy

In the early days of the flare up between Governor Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno over the Senator’s use of state aircraft and police escorts to attend functions, Citizens Union, along with its good-government colleagues, called for reform of the excessively lax travel policy to avoid confusion and the appearance of misuses of state resources. The groups outlined their position in a letter to the state ethics commission and legislative ethics committees in separate but similar letters on July 5th. Careful not to point fingers at those involved in the dispute without conclusive evidence or findings, the groups called for:

1. Establishment of a clear policy on the use of state resources that facilitate partisan activity;
2. Detailed disclosure of activity;
3. Commission or committee oversight of such uses;
4. A “bright-line” reimbursement policy requiring that the state will be compensated when partisan activities are directly or incidentally supported through the use of state resources (extending to circumstances where there is “mixed-use travel,” i.e., where partisan activity is but one part of an itinerary that includes official public business); and
5. Requirement that any fundraising activity must trigger full reimbursement.

The call for reform was covered in the press before the Cuomo investigation. To view the New York Times op-ed on the issue click here.

 

CU Calls Upon Governor To Ensure Full Compliance with State Ethics Commission Inquiry

In the interest of bringing transparency and openness to the actions that transpired in recent weeks in Albany, CU, along with its government reform partners, called upon Governor Spitzer to urge his staff to fully cooperate with and testify before the State Ethics Commission regarding his office’s review of Majority Leader Bruno’s use of state aircraft. The request was made in a letter sent to the Governor earlier this week, and is available here.

CU believes that the State Ethics Commission is best positioned because of its composition of two Spitzer appointees, two Pataki appointees, and one Hevesi appointee, to conduct an investigation that will hopefully answer any lingering questions to the public’s satisfaction. We will await the findings of the Commission before determining whether any further public investigation is needed.

 

Who is Citizens Union?

Judi Rappoport Blitzer, Vice President, Citizens Union Foundation

 “Since joining the Board in 2000, I have worked to expand CU’s reach to inform and engage our citizenry about local and state government and its affect on all our lives. I deeply care about CU’s mission to advance fair, honest and responsive government, and to offer information to and encourage participation by our city’s residents, media, students, and scholars in the democratic process by ensuring their voices reach our elected officials. In addition, participation in Citizens Union is a family tradition; since my husband’s uncle and his father before him served on CU’s board over generations, contributing to its vitality in the past!”

Judi Rappoport Blitzer is retired from JPMorgan Chase, where she was a Managing Director responsible for Business Mergers and Acquisitions. She currently has a business and strategy consulting practice, JRB Advisors, LLC. She is on the Board and Executive Committee of Citizens Union Foundation and has serves on many committees, including Finance, Membership, Development and Marketing. In addition she is on the Board and serves as Treasurer of The Paper Bag Players, a children’s theater company. She resides in Manhattan and is a lifelong New Yorker.

EVENTS

Gotham Reformers Reception

On June 28th, the Citizens Union Gotham Reformers held their second Sunset Reception at the NYU Kimmel Center. It was a great evening with over a hundred young business, government, non-profit, and civic leaders attending. Our speakers were Daily News Civic Affairs Columnist Errol Louis and Deputy for Government Relations Mayor Kevin Sheekey. Click here to view clips from their comments.

Many thanks to our Gotham Reformer Co-Chairs, Helena Durst, Mark Foggin, Jennifer Mercurio and Edward Swenson, for helping to organize and lead this special evening and recruiting 75 new CU members. The Gotham Reformers are active in the work of Citizens Union by joining committees, organizing programs for members and providing opportunities for civic minded New Yorkers to network.

 

2007 Annual Awards Dinner

On the evening of Tuesday, October 23th at the Waldorf=Astoria, Citizens Union will honor four great New York City leaders at our Annual Dinner:

Diana L. Taylor, Managing Director at Wolfensohn & Company, will be presented with the Public Service Award for her extensive service to New Yorkers as the former Superintendent of New York State Banks, and former Deputy Secretary for Finance and Housing.

Alexandra Lebenthal, President and CEO of Alexandra & James, Co. will receive the Business Leadership Award for her many contributions to improving civic life in New York City.

Patricia Hynes and Roy L. Reardon will jointly receive the prestigious Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Award acknowledging their work making New York’s courts accessible and responsive. Pat is senior counsel with Allen & Overy and Roy is a partner with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

If you are interesting in supporting the Dinner by making a sponsorship level gift, please click here for Dinner Committee form. Click here to request an invitation and here to purchase tickets and make an online contribution to the Dinner.

Gotham Gazette NEWS AND Highlights

In Gotham Gazette’s summer reading special, Best Books about New York Part I and Part Two, experts on New York City and book professionals pick their favorite works, fact and fiction, about New York City .

The latest in our Measuring Up series, examines the grades parents, teachers and advocates are giving the Department of Education’s new contract for excellence.

Each month Gotham Gazette’s Immigrants section publishes articles from the ethnic media, with translations by our partner, Voices That Must Be Heard. This month our coverage includes an article about the growing political power of immigrants’ children, the lack of minorities in juries , and recent deportations of Polish immigrants.

 

Join Citizens Union

Now is a good time to spread the word about Citizens Union and to help build our membership. Please forward this newsletter to your friends and colleagues using our ‘Email a Friend‘ link and encourage them to become members. If your membership has lapsed, please renew your support for the oldest, active good government organization in the City and help us bring greater political reform to New York. If you would like to forward an html email membership invitation to people in your network, contact [email protected] for more information.

Because Citizens Union members have asked to receive our press releases and positions statement as they become public, we have set up a members’ press release email list. Please feel free to subscribe and stay abreast of our work.

Citizens Union In the News

• July 30, 2007, “Political World Focuses On Role Of State Ethics Commission,” NY1. Click here for video clip.
• July 29, 2007, “Get Off Your Bully Pulpit! Pals Tell Gov All Is Not Lost, Be Humble,” The Daily News
• July 27, 2007, “Early Positioning Begins In Race To Succeed Quinn,” The New York Sun
• July 26, 2007, “Reform Takes A Hit,” The Daily News
• July 24, 2007, “The Campaign Fundraising Begins,” Gotham Gazette
• July 24, 2007, “Plot To Discredit Bruno Emboldens State Republicans,” NY1. Click here for video clip.
• July 20, 2007, “Leaders Bowed by Compromise Governor, Mayor Forced To Live With Uncertainty,” The New York Sun
• July 20, 2007, “Legislature Completes NYC Traffic Agreement ,” The Ithaca Journal
• July 20, 2007, “Deals Announced on NYC Traffic And Campaign Finance Reform ,” Star-Gazette
• July 22, 2007, “Mike 08? Better Dust Off City’s Charter,” The New York Times
• July 19, 2007, “Behold the ‘Big Ugly’,” The Albany Project
• July 19, 2007, “Bruno’s Version of The Agreement,” Albany Watch
• July 15, 2007, “Air Albany on Your Dime,” The New York Times Editorial
• July 9, 2007, “An Ethics Policy With No Shade of Gray ,” Star-Gazette
• July 9, 2007, “The Odd Couple: Assessing the Mayors,” Newsday
• July 9, 2007, “Law Partners to Claim Bigger Tax Credits And Make Smaller Campaign Contributions,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle
• July 1, 2007, “The Daily News Candidate Challenge,” The Daily News
• June 16, 2007, “Council Budget Is Adopted, With Members’ Pet Projects Identified,” The New York Times
• June 14, 2007, “Bruno Attacks Spitzer’s Plan For Campaign Finance Reform,” NY1.

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