The Reformer | June 2013 Newsletter
FROM DICK DADEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
With the state legislature having concluded one of the least productive and corruption-ridden sessions in recent history, we are disappointed but not surprised that they left Albany without acting to cure the culture of corruption that pervades in Albany. With continued inaction against corruption, the legislature is enabling a few bad apples to grow into a bushel.
Though the era of Tammany Hall may be part of our state’s history – and one which Citizens Union was formed to banish – its spirit clearly lives on with legislature that is unwilling to find common ground and pass meaningful campaign finance reform and anti-corruption measures. Shame on them for having failed to act, boxed in by favors owed to narrow interests, uncompromising requests for perfect solutions, and a disregard for the public interest.
Read on to read about what CU has done to cure the culture of corruption and read about the few bright spots that we were able to create regarding elections and the fun we had with Spring for Reform.
And then stay tuned to CU’s work this summer as we engage in a busy season of evaluating candidates for city office, representing the biggest turnover in local government since 2001.
Corruption is pervasive as ever in Albany. After the arrests of four legislators and forced departure of another two this session alone for a total of six legislators violating the public trust, the failure of the legislature to enact any new measures to fight this crime wave of public corruption is a willful disregard for the public interest.
Over the past few months, Citizens Union has provided leadership in presenting solutions honing in on the most important reforms needed to fix Albany: comprehensive campaign finance reform, enactment of tougher anti-corruption laws, reforming and strengthening enforcement at the Board of Elections, and giving the Attorney General the tools need to pursue instances of corruption, among other items. These proposals are part of our larger platform, the Ten Point Plan to Cure the Culture of Corruption.
Citizens Union has also been monitoring the first test case regarding the state’s new ethics oversight structure. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) released in May its first-ever report on a sitting legislator, former Assemblymember Vito Lopez, and Citizens Union importantly focused the press’s attention on the fact that JCOPE did not make a determination regarding whether the Assembly staff violated the Public Officers Law in their handling of the sexual harassment charges against Lopez. CU’s analysis of the issue shaped the news coverage importantly called into question the Assembly’s handling of the matter. Lopez has since resigned, and additional lawsuits have been filed against the Assembly and Lopez in state and federal court.
Citizens Union in May also issued recommendations to change the voting structure and improve transparency of the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) to ensure that a minority of members of the commission is not able to block investigations from proceeding, and that the public has more information about the deliberations of JCOPE.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM
Citizens Union has been working with our coalition partners to promote comprehensive campaign finance reform in the waning days of the legislative session as part of our Campaign to Cure the Culture of Corruption. Most recently, Citizens Union attended a cabinet meeting of Governor Cuomo’s at which he unveiled his comprehensive Program Bill #11, which includes public financing, lower contribution limits, limits on party transfers and restrictions on the use of campaign funds for personal purposes, among other reforms. Citizens Union supports many of the bill’s elements and has provided the Governor’s office with specific recommendations for improvement.
With the 2013 city elections approaching, Citizens Union has been championing enactment of a number of bills at the state level to improve the administration of elections and encourage voter participation and working to ensure that they are passed before the end of the legislative session. Chief among these initiatives are allowing for 16- and 17-year olds to pre-register to vote, facilitated by local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices and school boards. Governor Cuomo has similarly supported pre-registration, as it was a component of his Election Reform Program Bill #3 as we have called on our CU members to help push this measure.
Citizens Union has also been working to advance legislation to modernize the way in which unofficial results for elections are tallied at the end of the night in order to put an end to the “cut and add” process used in New York City. For more information about this process, see Citizens Union’s legal analysis of this issue. Like pre-registration of young voters, Citizens Union is pushing legislators to enact this legislation before the end of the legislative session.
STATE BUDGET REFORM
Prior to passage of the state’s budget, Citizens Union provided an analysis of ups and downs of the state’s budget process, highlighting the need for further reforms. Specifically, Citizens Union applauded that no messages of necessity were used to pass the budget, that the budget was passed early, and that the Governor created an Open Budget website to provide for increased transparency of the state’s budget. Among the low points were that conference committees were largely perfunctory, meaning that rank-and-file members had little role in the budget process, and that the Executive Budget documents have little detail regarding specific agency programs and budget lines.
ADDRESSING THE RUNOFF ELECTION & OPPOSING RETURN TO LEVER MACHINES
The Board of Elections in the City of New York sounded the alarm earlier this year that it believes it will not be able to implement a run-off election with the procedures required for the new voting machines that were put into place in New York in 2010. State law currently requires that a run-off election occur between the top two finishers if no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote. Citizens Union has worked to organize our good government partners, along with disabilities and civil rights advocates, to oppose the return to lever machines, and Citizens Union had recommended that the state legislature pass legislation implementing instant runoff voting (IRV) to replace the run-off election. In spite of our efforts, however, the state legislature has reached an agreement to use the old lever machines to conduct the elections which Governor Cuomo has disappointingly pledged to sign.
Citizens Union was able to mitigate the return to lever machines, however, as it appears that the legislation will be limited to this year only, be further restricted only to the primary and runoff elections, and include language providing more specific guidance to the City Board on the use of the old lever machines rather than granting the agency a blank check for administration using the lever machines. These limitations were singularly championed and successfully achieved as a result of Citizens Union’s constructive and adroit advocacy.
CITY ELECTIONS REFORM
In 2012, Citizens Union advocated for a package of election-related bills in the City Council. The provisions of two of the six bills are now being implemented administratively by the impacted agencies. Int. No. 613 (sponsored by Councilmember Dickens) would have required the Campaign Finance Board to notify registered voters of important election dates and deadlines via email. In June, the State Board of Elections voted to change the state voter registration form to include a slot for voters to provide their email addresses. Now, the CFB will be able to reach more voters with electronic voting communications as a result of our advocacy on Int. No. 613.
Int. No. 778 (sponsored by Councilmember Brad Lander) would have required the board of elections to report its performance to the City Council, which could provide the data to the mayor for inclusion in the Mayor’s Preliminary and Management Reports (PMMR and MMR). At the urging of Citizens Union, the board has since dramatically expanded its annual report and has indicated a willingness to establish performance targets in subsequent reports. A bill (A4600/S4478) has also been introduced in the state legislature that mirrors this approach.
NYC 2013 ELECTION DEBATES
Citizens Union has been selected as a co-sponsor of the official Debate Program for the 2013 elections, along with media and civi partners NY1, NY1 Noticias, Citizens Committee of NYC, Gothamist, Hispanic Federation, Transportation Alternatives and WNYC. Citizens Union will be a co-sponsoring the Democratic Primary debates for Public Advocate on Thursday, August 15, at 7 p.m. and for Mayor on Wednesday, August 21 at 7 p.m. The full debate schedule can be found here. This will be the fifth citywide election cycle for the Debate Program. The 2013 election cycle promises to be pivotal in determining the direction of city government going forward. We believe that informing voters about the candidates running for office and where they stand on important policy issues is crucial to ensuring that New Yorkers are empowered to make decisions and hold elected officials accountable.
EVENTS & PUBLIC AFFAIRS
SPRING FOR REFORM – THANK YOU
Thanks to all who supported and attended Spring For Reform 2013 in May at Studio 450, helping Citizens Union celebrate the work of honorees Sayu Bhojwani, Angela Diaz, Make the Road NY and Grace Lyu Volckhausen. The crowd was lively, the venue bright and the moon over Manhattan nearly full. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer expertly moderated a panel discussion that was both topical and local, surfacing strategies for strengthening immigrant civic participation in the face of pending reforms. Click here for more pictures of the event.
Imagine a state and local government that values citizens, functions effectively and delivers services efficiently. Make it more than idle fantasy and help Citizens Union cure the culture of corruption with a generous contribution today. As a financial supporter, you help Citizens Union evaluate candidates running for office and produce our primary and general election Voter Guides. What could be more important than electing reform-minded candidates, then holding their feet to the fire? Donate to Citizens Union and be part of the change you seek.
CITIZENS UNION IN THE NEWS
To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.
Cuomo Creates Panel to Investigate Legislature – Associated Press
Cuomo: Get Ready to Meet Your Moreland – Albany Times Union
Ethics panel refuses document request in Lopez probe – Albany Times Union
Weiner’s Record in House: Intensity, Publicity and Limited Results – New York Times
Quinn Defends Event Reimbursment by PAC – Wall Street Journal
New York City Wants to Revive Old Voting Machines – New York Times
Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation