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About Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation

Citizens Union is a nonpartisan good government group dedicated to making democracy work for all New Yorkers. Citizens Union serves as a civic watchdog, combating corruption and fighting for political reform. We work to ensure fair and open elections, honest and efficient government, and a civically-engaged public. Principled and pragmatic, Citizens Union is an independent force for constructive reform, driving policy and educating the public to achieve accountable government in the City and State of New York.

Believing an informed citizenry is the cornerstone of good government, Citizens Union Foundation publishes, an award-winning news and policy website, as a significant component of our public education program.

from Dick Dadey, Executive Director

Summer is almost here and with it half the year will be over, but as you read below about the number of reform issues Citizens Union has advanced, the year already seems full. Starting with successes like passage of a city bill making city government data available online, to passage of state redistricting reform, reform achievements continue in the areas of member items and whistleblower protection. All of these – along with others that are under consideration – will help to make our politics fairer and our government more transparent and accountable. Read on and enjoy the start of summer.

State Updates

Campaign Finance Reform

Citizens Union is participating in the Fair Elections campaign, an effort to bring about campaign finance reform in New York State. Having recently been given a grade of “D-” by the Center for Public Integrity, the state’s campaign finance laws are in dire need of reform. The campaign is seeking to establish a campaign finance system in New York State that mirrors the New York City system, which provides a 6 to 1 match of public dollars for small contributions ($175 or less). Change before the legislative session, which ends this week on June 21st, is unlikely to happen, but we hope to lay the groundwork for change next year. To that end, Citizens Union has been meeting with members in the Assembly and will be focusing on campaign finance reform this summer through our candidate evaluation process.


Redistricting Legal Challenges

Citizens Union has been actively monitoring legal challenges related to the district lines approved this spring by the state legislature. Two recent decisions point to the need for long-term reform, and support the need for second passage of the constitutional amendment approved by the legislature earlier this year (for more information on the reforms enacted earlier this year, see the   last edition  of the Reformer and our ” 10 Frequently Asked Questions on the Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Reform Redistricting “). The State Court of Appeals ruled that the state legislature’s plan to create a 63rd senate seat was constitutional. The U.S. Department of Justice – which is administered by a Democratic administration for the first time since the creation of the state’s redistricting task force in the 1980s – also pre-cleared the legislature’s plan. Citizens Union released a statement making the case that the rulings deferring to the legislature’s authority on redistricting issues affirms our own decision to support constitutional change even while the 2012 lines were not drawn as fairly as we would have liked. CU Executive Director Dick Dadey penned an op-ed that appeared in the Times Union further underscoring why this difficult choice was the correct one in light of these rulings.


Budget Reform

Following this year’s passage of the state budget, Citizens Union released its   2012 State Budget Reform Report Card  which evaluated the state’s budget process for 2012, as well as the last several years. Citizens Union gave the state a grade of “I” for “improved but incomplete.” The report card reviewed adherence to elements of the 2007 budget reforms, finding mixed results regarding implementation of major aspects of the 2007 reforms. The   report card  also pointed out where additional reforms are needed to improve accountability, integrity and transparency. The Associated Press picked up the report card, noting that the while the state did not use “messages of necessity” to allow for immediate votes on budget bills (they normally must age 3 days before being voted on) as has been used in past years, the process remained flawed.


Technology and Transparency

Citizens Union attended a hearing in May held by the Assembly, providing   testimony on ways that state government can better utilize Information Technology  to improve transparency in government. The testimony followed the release of a report endorsed by Citizens Union and its good government colleagues,   A New Transparency for NY State . Citizens Union called for the state to enact an Open Data policy similar to what New York City adopted earlier this spring, for the legislature to make increased legislative information available for free (including LRS, an advanced legislative search tool which requires a paid subscription), and for state government to provide better video coverage of government proceedings, among other reforms.


New State Ethics Regulations

With the passage of the Public Integrity Reform Act last year – in which Citizens Union played a key role – the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) is now developing regulations to implement various components of the new law. Citizens Union was invited to submit commentary regarding disclosure of lobbying organizations’ sources of income, as well as public officials’ business relationships with lobbyists before the rules are drafted. Citizens Union   testified  regarding these issues at a hearing in June. Citizens Union focused on a number of areas in its testimony, including the following:

  1. ensuring that names of donors are uniformly reported;
  2. providing strict criteria to limit the granting of exemptions for organizations in disclosing their donors;
  3. recommending donations from related entities be treated as a “single source” in tallying contributions; and
  4. ensuring that the rules go into effect prospectively rather than retroactively to ensure fairness.

Read more about Citizens Union’s recommendations in our   full commentary   which was provided to JCOPE in advance of the public hearing.

City Updates

Discretionary Funding Report

Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced her support for a number of member item reforms after Citizens Union on May 1  released  a comprehensive report on discretionary funding in New York City,  Creating a More Equitable and Objective Discretionary Funding Process in NYC . The report detailed “who got what” of the City Council’s capital and expense discretionary funds (also called “member items”) over the last four years, and showed that funding decisions lack objective measures with politics playing too large a role. The report also found that there is little correlation between a district’s socioeconomic status and the amount of Council discretionary funding it receives. Citizens Union made a number of recommendations to improve transparency, objectivity, and equitability of discretionary funding for both the City Council and the Borough Presidents.

The reforms Quinn committed to support include creating greater transparency of capital funding by expanding its online database of member items to include capital funds, and posting the list of member items in “Schedule C” online further in advance of any Council vote to approve them. The report was widely covered by the press, including WNYC, the Daily News, the New York Post, and others.


New Whistleblower Protections

The city earlier this month enacted important new whistleblower protections for city government projects, providing for the first time protection of contractors. It extended the protections to subcontrators after Citizens Union specifically urged their inclusion in  testimony we delivered before the City Council Governmental Operations committee in support of providing greater oversight and enhanced whistleblower protection. In the wake of scandals such as CityTime, providing whistleblower protections for contractors and subcontractors is essential to ensuring that public funds – whether spent by government or on behalf of it – are used appropriately. Citizens Union applauded the passage of the legislation because it provides for greater accountability regarding the use of city resources by protecting employees of contractors or subcontractors who report corruption or misuse of public funds, and providing greater incentives for individuals to come forward regarding false claims under the False Claims Act.


Reports & Advisory Board Review Commission

The Reports and Advisory Board Review Commission (Commission) was formed earlier this year and is charged with examining the city’s current reporting requirements – such as data reported to the City Council about city agency programs and activities – and city advisory boards, which provide guidance on policies or monitor issues related to city government. The Commission held its first public meeting on February 28th, voting on the process for moving forward and receiving public comment on a list of 14 reporting requirements and 7 advisory boards. A public hearing was held on May 11th, at which Citizens Union and members of the public testified regarding specific reporting requirements and advisory boards slated for elimination or alteration. Citizens Union   provided recommendations on specific reports , as well as the process for engaging the public and evaluating which reports should be eliminated. In response to Citizens Union’s recommendations, the Commission has posted all of its public comments received online. Its next meeting has not been scheduled yet.

Election Updates

June 26th Congressional Primary Elections

On Tuesday, June 26th, a primary election will be held for congressional seats in advance of the November 6th General Election. There are many competitive battles for both Democratic and Republican nominations. A list and summary of primary competitors, as well as other general information, is available for NYC races via the NYC Votes! website produced by the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

To find your correct poll site information and see a sample ballot, see the NYC Board of Election’s Poll Site Finder, or your local county board of elections website.

The voter registration deadline for the June 26th primary has passed, but absentee ballots are still available.

  • The last day to postmark an application or letter of application by mail for an absentee ballot is June 19th.
  • The last day to apply in-person for an absentee ballot or to postmark a ballot is June 25th.
  • The last day to deliver a ballot in-person to the local board of elections (by someone other than the voter) is June 26th.

For more information on how to apply for an absentee ballot, see the instructions on the State Board of Elections website. If you are a uniformed service member, a family member of such, or a citizen living abroad, see the Federal Voting Assistance Program website for absentee ballot information.


Want to Get Involved in CU’s Candidate Evaluation in 2012?

Citizens Union will be actively interviewing and engaging with candidates for state legislature in New York City this summer through its Local Candidate Committee (the “LCC”). If you are interested in serving on the LCC, which interviews candidates and provides recommendations for Citizens Union’s endorsements , please contact Alex Camarda, CU’s Director of Public Policy, at [email protected] or 212-227-0342 ext 24.


Gotham Gazette Highlights

Gotham Gazette recently hired a new executive editor, Cristian Salazar, to help reinvigorate the publication’s mission of covering New York policy and politics. After spending nearly six years at The Associated Press in New York City, Salazar is working with the Gazette staff to bring you more of the in-depth reporting and nuanced analysis that you have come to expect from the publication.

In recent weeks, the Gazette has brought to you scoops and exclusive features, including:

Exclusive: Proposed policy would allow industries to self-audit pollution

Industries that use pesticides, treat wastewater and store hazardous chemicals could have penalties for breaking pollution laws reduced or waived if they agree to self-report violations under a policy being considered by New York’s leading environmental regulator.

Senate Dems Look to Nat’l Issues for Help

Redistricting was one more punch in the gut for New York’s Senate Democrats, which lost control of the chamber to emboldened Republicans. It followed a year of embarrassing corruption trials of party members and the rise of a breakaway faction of Democrats willing to put up candidates to challenge incumbents.

Bronx Senator’s Health Quest

This spring, state Sen. Gustavo Rivera is introducing a package of health bills he calls “nonpartisan” and “commonsensical.” They include a bill to amend state laws to ban smoking 100 feet from the exits or entrances of any public or private educational institution and another that would mandate higher nutritional standards for any food marketed to a child by the inclusion of a toy.



Spring for Reform

Thanks to generous supporters of Spring for Reform 2012, Citizens Union raised over $92,000 to continue our fight for government that serves people’s needs, not narrow special interests. On Wednesday, May 23rd, Manhattan Penthouse buzzed as more than 200 attendees enjoyed one another’s company and celebrated the achievements of four worthy honorees who use technology to build community in New York City. WNYC Business Reporter Ilya Marritz prompted both audience and honorees Dawn Barber, Art Chang, Mark Gorton and Torrance Robinson to consider how new technology platforms and practices are changing ways that New Yorkers interact with government. The panel also discussed how through innovative tools and strategies, government is finding new ways to better serve New Yorkers. Still unsure what it’s all about? Visit our Spring for Reform blog for more information.

Who is Citizens Union?

Ian Kelley

When life-long Brooklyn resident Ian Kelley was President of the Board of the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation working with the community on large development projects such as Brooklyn Bridge Park and Atlantic Yards, it sparked his interest in the procedures local governments utilize to put these projects into place.

So it was no stretch when his friend, current Citizens Union Foundation Board member Torrance Robinson, encouraged him to get involved in Citizens Union. Ian joined the Citizens Union Board in 2008, and in 2010 he helped CU formulate its City Charter revision recommendations on reform of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), and incorporating community-based planning into city government’s long-term land use planning.

“Charter revision was when I first started to get my nose to the grindstone in terms of policy,” said Ian. “I started realizing the depth and rigor with which these issues were addressed by Citizens Union and I was very impressed by the quality of people and the level of engagement.”

Ian is an attorney specializing in business formation and real estate law with a private practice that is almost hyper-localized. Most, though not all, of his clients are based in Brooklyn and have included such Brooklyn brands as the Brooklyn Flea, Brownstoner and Third Ward. In 2010, Ian helped CU engage the founders of the Brooklyn Flea as honorees for <href=”#52″>Spring for Reform, Citizens Union’s annual event that Ian has also co-chaired for the past two years. Ian also serves on CU’s board nominating and development committees.

Ian grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and other than his college years at Middlebury in Vermont, has always lived in New York City. “If you’re interested in nature you go to Vermont,” he says, “but if you’re interested in human nature you come to New York. Every type of person is here and I think it’s interesting to be around such an eclectic mix of human activities all in one place.”

Support Citizens Union Today

Did you mean to contribute as Spring for Reform approached? Has that CU membership renewal become buried in a pile somewhere? We completely understand. There’s still time to help! Make a special Spring for Reform gift today and push us closer to $100,000! Or join as a member or renew your membership, and make sure you are in the loop on the latest city and state policy developments. With candidate evaluations and Voters Guides on the horizon this summer and fall, there’s no better time to support Citizens Union. Thank you!

Citizens Union In the News

To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.


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