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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

Tis the season for campaign finance reform as both the city and the state take up the need for important reforms during the month of June. The Council is already holding hearings and considering a bill proposed by both Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn that CU helped shape and supports. Meanwhile the state is mired in negotiations over what, if any, significant reforms can be accomplished this year. CU’s hope is that many good reforms can be achieved as the first step toward a needed and major overhaul of the state’s byzantine campaign finance program.

Read below to learn about the specific proposals as well as some of the other activities CU and CUF are engaged in this month.


“Pay-to-Play” Legislation Introduced at City Hall

Flanked by over a dozen council members and leaders of good government organizations and the Campaign Finance Board, Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn in the first week of June announced the introduction of a bill to strengthen the city’s nationally respected city campaign finance program. At the heart of the proposal is a plan to restrict so called “pay-to-play” campaign contributions limiting the size of contributions to candidates for local office that are made by individuals and entities with City contracts, concessions, and franchises, or grants totaling $100,000 or more, lobbyists, and those seeking land use decisions. To the credit of the Mayor and the Speaker, Citizens Union, its good government partners, and other stakeholders, were all consulted on numerous occasions and played an instrumental role in shaping the content of the proposal. We believe that the bill is stronger because of the collaborative and consultative style used in its development. Citizens Union also favors its passage as it would mark some of the most, if not the most, sweeping improvements to the program in years.

The contribution caps on those that “do business” with the city would be $250 for Council races, $320 for borough-wide races and $400 for city-wide races, which is a 90% reduction in the current allowances for such individuals. In addition, these contributions would no longer be eligible for any matching funds. (Currently, the first $250 given by a New York City resident triggers an additional $1,000 in public matching funds.) To track which individuals and entities fall into this restricted category, the City would be required to develop databases for the Campaign Finance Board to determine who is doing business with the City, and to ensure contribution limits are being followed.

The proposal would also:

• Widen the existing ban on corporate contributions to include Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) and other forms of non-incorporated businesses;
• Broaden the definition of a fundraising intermediary or “bundler” to include anyone who solicits a contribution for a campaign, requiring those who solicit contributions to be listed as bundlers;

• Adjust the matching fund rate from 4-to-1 for the first $250 received from a contributor to 6-to-1 for the first $175 received; which would give the gifts of average New Yorkers or small contributors greater value and strengthening their voices in the process of electing local representatives.

• Strengthen the law by limiting the amount of matching funds distributed to incumbents in “noncompetitive elections” by requiring greater proof of the strength of the challenger’s campaign;

• Increase the spending limit of participating candidates by 7.5% while closing exemption loopholes that permitted campaigns to spend excessively outside their limits by claiming the spending was related to compliance or petitioning;

• Expedite campaign audits by requiring completion dates of eight months for draft audits and 16 months for final audits for Council and borough-wide campaigns, and ten months and 18 months for city-wide campaigns and for those who take part in the Campaign Finance Board’s audit training sessions, the time limits for final audits can be reduced by two months;

• Establish a clear separation between those who investigate (Campaign Finance Board staff) and those who adjudicate (Campaign Finance Board members) and establish due process for Board hearings.

The Council has already held one public hearing on this bill and will hold another on Thursday, June 21st at 1 p.m. in the Council Chambers. To read Citizens Union’s public testimony that Policy Director Doug Israel delivered on June 12th, click here.


State Updates

Ongoing Campaign Finance Reform Discussions

As mentioned in the previous issue of The Reformer, Governor Eliot Spitzer and both houses of the State Legislature are negotiating a package of proposals to reform how campaigns are funded in New York State. As of the second week of June, there has yet to be agreement on the issues, though talks continue. Citizens Union and its good government partners have continued to push for passage of the proposal, hailing it as a good first step to reform the process, with public financing as the ultimate goal for campaign finance reform.

The Governor’s evolving proposal would:

a. Dramatically lower individual contribution limits to candidates, parties, and PACS;

b. Ban institutional contributions from entities like LLCs;

c. Close the loopholes that allow corporations to donate large amounts through subsidiaries and LLCs;

d. Put an cap on the aggregate amount a union or PAC could contribute in one year.

e. Increase reporting and disclosure requirements, most importantly for lobbyists that “bundle” campaign contributions;

f. Provide the New York State Board of Elections with the funding and authority necessary to investigate and punish violators;

g. Increase fines for those that break campaign finance laws; and

h. Expand the State Board of Elections to include a fifth, independent commissioner to offset the partisan gridlock that is a function of the two party structure of governance.

To help further the negotiations and raise public awareness, Citizens Union and NYPIRG sent out a candidate survey to all state legislators asking their position on the issue of campaign finance reform. A coalition consisting of ten organizations also sent a joint letterto all 212 legislators urging them to pass the current reform proposal. Citizens Union, along with its good government partners, has also written to the Senate Majority Leader to keep him to his promise of holding public hearings on the issue.


Competing Public Authorities Reform Proposals

As the Senate and Assembly debate draft legislation to make the state’s public authorities more transparent and accountable, the Governor introduced a competing proposal to bring the operations of what have come to be known as the government’s “fourth branch” to light. Legislative critics argue that the Governor’s proposal is weaker than their proposal, and weaker than the measures that the Governor has publicly supported in the past.

Senate Flanagan, who sponsored the bill, said, the governor’s bill does not actually make the authority budget office independent because it moves it within the Department of State, denies the comptroller the right to review and pre-approve authority contracts, excludes protections for whistle-blowers, does not require legislative approval of subsidiaries created by the authorities, does not place controls of rising public authority debt and does not grant the authority budget office subpoena power.

The legislative bills in the Assembly, A. 57611B, and the Senate would: give subpoena power to the Authority Budget Office; require authorities to submit some contracts to the comptroller for review ; limit borrowing and seek legislative approval before creating subsidiaries. None of those provisions are in Spitzer’s legislation.

The Governor’s bill would: expand the Public Authorities Control Board to include an additional member appointed by the state comptroller and permit it to act on a majority vote to:

a. Convert the “Authority Budget Office,” an oversight office located within the Division of Budget, into the “Independent Office of Public Authority Accountability” (the Authority Office) to be headed by a director appointed by the Governor;

b. Require the Authority Office to report authority-related misconduct to the State Inspector General or, for local authorities, to a local District Attorney or appropriate investigative body;

c. Require all authorities to comply with state contracting requirements regarding women and minority-owned businesses;

d. Mandate greater reporting by authorities to the new oversight office, including four-year budgets, lists of assets sold without competitive bidding, and the names of all subsidiaries.

Citizens Union supported passage of the 2005 Public Authorities Accountability Act and has argued for additional needed reforms.


Election Issues

65th Assembly District Special Election

A special election was held on June 5th to fill the vacant State Assembly seat in the 65th district of Manhattan. The seat was vacated by former Assemblymember Alexander “Pete” Grannis when he resigned to become the New York State Environmental Commissioner. The Democratic candidate, Micah Kellner, worked as a community representative for the office of New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. and was formerly an aide to Representative Carolyn Maloney.

Kellner received 64% of the vote and thus became the new Assemblyman for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island. Kellner has been an advocate for the disabled community, having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy himself as an infant, and as a member of the Democratic State Committee for the 65th Assembly District has also advocated for affordable housing and increased accountability and transparency of government authorities among other issues.

Kellner ran against Greg Camp, the Republican candidate. Camp was the former Deputy Director of Criminal Justice for the State of New York and assistant District Attorney, and also worked as an investment banker. Citizens Union evaluated both candidates running for the open seat and issued an endorsement for Camp citing his lack of close ties to the political establishment and broad career experience. We wish Assemblyman Kellner much success in representing the constituents of the 65th Assembly district for the remainder of Grannis’ term.

Civics Education Initiative Launches

Citizens Union Foundation has begun a partnership with Teachers Network and the Urban Assembly to encourage middle and high school teachers in New York City public schools to use Gotham Gazette as an instructional tool for lessons on local government and civic issues. The first phase of this effort includes small grants to teachers who propose ways to use Gotham Gazette in their classrooms. The grants support classroom activities and documentation of the curriculum in a form that can be used by other teachers. Teachers Network will publish the lesson plans and other documentation online and promote them to their extensive network of teachers. Urban Assembly is a network of twenty new schools in New York City dedicated to preparing students from under-resourced neighborhoods for success in four-year colleges. Most of the Urban Assembly Schools have a focus on civic issues.

Our first two grants were made in April and more will be made in July for the fall semester. The spring grants both went to high school teachers: the first to a teacher at the New York Harbor School in Brooklyn to use Gotham Gazette as a resource for teaching debate and the second to a math teacher in Manhattan to use data from Gotham Gazette articles to create charts and graphs about local issues.

Lauren Davenport, who teaches 10th grade English and Humanities at the New York Harbor School, developed the curriculum unit using Gotham Gazette articles. The students debated a resolution about waterfront land use and development in their community from the points of view of various interest groups. “I like to use Gotham Gazette because it has a lot of local information relating to our topic. My goals with this project were to develop public speaking skills, teach debating techniques including rebuttal arguments, build self-confidence, develop the capacity to synthesize information from multiple diverse sources…” One student said, “I like the project because people are debating on both sides…. And maybe some of our ideas will get put into action!” When the students presented their work, leaders from local community organizations as well as Congresswoman Nydia Valazquez attended and joined the debate. To watch a video about the debate on water front development, click here and look for the link near the bottom of the page.

If you, or teachers you know, might be interested in receiving a grant to use Gotham Gazette, please visit the Teachers Network website grant section.

Who is Citizens Union?

Gail Erickson, Vice Chair of Citizens Union

“I have been a member of Citizens Union for decades because of my interest in local government and desire to support a non-partisan watchdog group. I joined the board in 1996, and I have enjoyed an active participation in the Local Candidates Committee and the State Affairs Committee. There is nothing like getting out in the field and interviewing candidates for elective office to make you appreciate the complexities of a functioning democracy. Trying to create and effect a reform legislative agenda is also a challenge.”

Gail Erickson is a retired corporate lawyer, formerly General Counsel of W.R. Grace & Co. In addition to serving on the board of Citizens Union, she is a member of the Boards of Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy, a choral and music school in Brooklyn, and the Appleseed Foundation, which sponsors public interest law centers across the United States, and Lemur Conservation Foundation, which promotes lemurs preservation and conservation with a reserve in Florida. She is a resident of Brooklyn Heights.


Gotham Reformers Reception”

You are invited to a Summer Sunset Reception for Citizens Union’s Gotham Reformers Committee with special guests: Daily News Columnist Errol Louis and Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey.

It will be held at the NYU Kimmel Center on Thursday June 28th from 6:30-8pm. Click here to purchase tickets and here to view the complete evite.

The Gotham Reformers Committee engages and involves young civic leaders and mid-career professionals in the work of Citizens Union to increase citizen participation, promote good government and advance political reform in the city and state of New York.



2007 Annual Awards Dinner

Save the Date: Tuesday, October 23rd at the Waldorf=Astoria for the Citizens Union Annual Awards Dinner where we will honor: Patricia Hynes and Roy Reardon, Alexandra Leventhal, and Diana Taylor.


Annual Members Meeting

Dan Doctoroff, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding for the City of New York, addressed over 125 CU members at the Citizens Union Annual Members Meeting on June 12. He presented PlaNYC, the Mayor’s bold strategic plan to address the challenges of population growth, aging infrastructure, energy needs, and the environment. Gotham Gazette has covered the plan extensively and launched a new, long-term series called. Sustainability Watch to follow the debate and progress of this initiative.

Deputy Mayor Doctoroff ended his presentation by reminding the audience of the controversies that surrounded many of the greatest visionary plans for New York. He asked the audience to “imagine” such past projects as: Central Park and Rockefeller Center. They would not have been possible if people had no “sense of future.” He continued, “The time is right to act now,” and, “We are the ones accountable.” He also emphasized the key role that Citizens Union and other civic groups have to play now and in the coming years to ensure New York City will meet the challenges that we know are ahead.

Gotham Gazette NEWS AND Highlights

Citizens Union Foundation is proud to announce that Gotham Gazette is one of only 30 winners of the Knight Foundation 21st Century News Challenge, a special competition for online journalism and community building projects. Our News Games proposal was chosen from more than 1,600 applicants. Thanks to this grant, we will develop six new games over the next two years. Look for our first game in the fall.

“With this project Gotham Gazette will reach many new readers with engaging informative games,” said Gail Robinson, Editor in Chief. “We look forward to the ‘conversation’ of the games, hearing the solutions and ideas our readers present as they play and become virtual policy makers.”

Gotham Gazette’s News Games will let our readers make policy on key issues facing New York City. What problems would you like to take on as a virtual policy-maker: The fate of the city’s garbage? The right way to balance civil liberties and security in an emergency? Developing a balanced land use plan for a neighborhood?

To tell us what you would like the next Gotham Gazette game to be by visiting our forum or emailing Amanda at Gothamgazette dot com. You may also wish to try some of our old news games, like our classic Voting Arcade, Judges Game and NYC Budget Game.

New Times for Old Getaways

Campaign Finance Reforms and the 2009 Elections

Fixing New York’s Middle Schools

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Join Citizens Union

Citizens Union’s strength and influence depends on its members. Please help us to recruit new members and add more voices to our call for good government. Please encourage your friends and colleagues to join. Click here to forward this newsletter, and click here to join Citizens Union or renew your membership.

Citizens Union In the News

• June 11, 2007, “How Special Elections Sidestep Democracy,” Newsday
• June 08, 2007, “Lobbyist Spending in City Doubled Since 2001,” The New York Sun
• June 08, 2007, “As the Local Economy Prospers, So Does the Lobbying Industry,” The New York Times
• June 06, 2007, “Campaign Finance Overhaul Would Rein in Major Donors,” The New York Times
• June 06, 2007, “Unions Spared in Campaign Finance Bill,” The New York Sun
• June 05, 2007, “Camp for Assembly,” The New York Sun
• June 05, 2007, “The Bosses’ Take Over of New York,” NY1.
• June 05, 2007, “Council Proposes Package of Finance Reform,” Staten Island Advance.
• June 04, 2007, “On Upper East Side, Two Seek Vacated Assembly Seat,” The New York Times
• June 02, 2007, “How Marty’s Cunard Cruise Made History,” The Brooklyn Paper
• June 02, 2007, “Council Seeks Sharp Curbs on Financing of Campaigns,” The New York Times
• June 01, 2007, “The Bosses’ Take Over of New York,” Socialist Worker Online
• May 30, 2007, “City Readies a New Cap on ‘Pay To Play’,” The New York Sun
• May 30, 2007, “GOP’s Camp Gets Backing of Citizens Union,” The New York Sun
• May 30, 2007, “2009 Comptroller Race Gets Widespread Early Attention,” The New York Sun
• May 25, 2007, “One Albany Lawmaker Isn’t Much for Making Law,” The New York Sun
• May 22, 2007, “Where Is David Paterson Going?,” The New York Observer
• May 22, 2007, “Mayor’s Fund Attracting Big Money From Business,” The New York Sun

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