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CU Supports Call for a Constitutional Convention

Message from Dick Dadey, Executive Director

Citizens Union is pushing hard for Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to finish the job on ethics, which should be a no brainer given the 2015 convictions of former legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos (their convictions raised the number of legislators forced from office to an appalling 33 since 1999 according to our Corruption Tracker).

But as you know, in spite of CU’s successes over the past ten years, achieving sweeping legislative enactment of government reforms is a difficult task.  Much has been won, but the list of reforms still needed is longer than the list of those achieved.

As New Yorkers, we will be given a rare and important opportunity in 2017 to make reform happen on a scale that the legislature has never addressed.

In 2017 you and I – as New York State voters – will be asked whether we want to convene a constitutional convention on the general election ballot. Every 20 years this same question is put forward to the voters.

As members and supporters of our work, I am happy to tell you in advance of our public announcement that Citizens Union will urge New Yorkers to vote YES in 2017.

The constitutional convention would enable New Yorkers to re-examine the constitution – at long last – and possibly propose reforms that have gone unaddressed for decades. The last constitution approved by the voters was in 1938, and the last convention was in 1967.

At Citizens Union, we believe that a modern state convention would allow New Yorkers to take ownership of the future direction of our NYS democracy, our government structure, and political processes. The convention offers the potential for a moment of renewal and reform steeped in public participation, and for individuals from around the state to fashion a potentially new deliberative and representative democracy.

Through this convention, we can build into our state constitution a positive vision for honest and ethical state government. This would include provisions to prevent corruption, and much more: clean campaigns, fairer elections, legislative and executive branches that are more accountable and balanced, a better court system that is efficient and streamlined, strong and functional local governments, and methodical maintenance of the constitution.

Over the coming weeks and months, Citizens Union will release a policy briefing on this issue, which will include background information and a summary of our position. We will speak with civic leaders and organizational partners to grow a coalition of supporters for the ballot question. And we will conduct an educational campaign leading up to the 2017 general election, to share with New Yorkers why we believe that the constitutional convention presents a crucial and dynamic opportunity to reform state government.

Albany’s culture of corruption and resistance to reform must change. The chance to do so will soon fall directly to New Yorkers – like you and me – to make that happen and with your support, Citizens Union will lead the way.

Sincerely,

Dick Dadey
Executive Director

State Policy Updates

How is Cuomo’s Ethics Package Stacking Up Against the Good Government Reform Agenda?

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ethics proposals, announced during his State of the State Address, were welcomed by reform groups Citizens Union, Common Cause NY and NYPIRG.  After careful review, all groups agreed that the proposals were a leap in the right direction toward repairing the capital’s culture of corruption as the measures included many of the reforms the groups have long advocated.

These sentiments were reinforced in an open letter sent to the governor applauding his incorporation of closing the limited liability companies (LLC) loophole and limiting outside income, but the proposals did not fully incorporate reforms to increase transparency of discretionary funding. The letter urges the governor and legislative leaders to prioritize these three key reforms which have been pushed by the groups in their Clean Conscience Pledge. The governor and 190 lawmakers have not yet signed the pledge.

Given that 33 New York State legislators have left office due to ethical misconduct in the last 16 years, it is time to see comprehensive ethics reform passed now so that we can adequately address the systematic corruption plaguing Albany. By prioritizing these key reforms – closing the LLC loophole, limiting outside income and creating greater transparency around the budgeting process – our legislature can address the problem of corruption with policies of prevention, moving beyond punishment. Citizens Union will work diligently with the governor, lawmakers, and our partners to see action on ethics this legislative session. But you can help finish the job on ethics by taking action below.

IN THIS ISSUE


January / February 2016

IN THE NEWS


CITIZENS UNION

Times Union Convicted NY lawmakers tapped campaign funds for lawyer fees, 1/24/16

Capital Tonight Rating the Governor’s Reform Agenda, 1/20/16

NY Daily News
Pay it forward on local officials’ raises, 1/20/16

The New York Times Who’s Taking On Ethics in Albany? Not the Ethics Panels, 1/19/16

NY Daily News
The watchdogs did it, 1/15/16

Observer
De Blasio Approves Plans for City Council Raises, Pending Vote, 1/14/16

The New York Times
Cuomo, in State of State Speech, Unveils $20 Billion Housing Plan, 1/13/16

New York Post
Fund-raisers continue for Albany despite corruption convictions, 1/11/16

The New York Times Cuomo Won’t Face Federal Charges Over Moreland Ethics Panel, 1/11/16

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Put a Stop to Public Corruption: Tell Your Lawmakers to Pledge to Pass Ethics Reform!

Cuomo Commits to Freedom of Information Reform

In late December, Citizens Union was again at the end of the year waiting on word from the Governor’s office about the fate of reform legislation. In 2014, it was Port Authority reform, and in 2015, it was Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) reform supported by CU and other transparency advocates to limit the amount of time state government can take in responding to FOIL appeals cases, and to require the awarding of attorney’s fees by the state for certain FOIL cases.

Unfortunately, we saw vetoes two years in a row, but due to CU’s diligence, we were able to get an Executive Order to speed up the appeals process for FOIL cases so that state agencies can no longer drag their feet, and a commitment from the Governor to address FOIL this legislative session. The Governor’s State of the State address and executive budget legislation includes a number of  reforms related to FOIL that CU will seek to have addressed by the legislature.

City Policy Updates

NYC Policy Pipeline: Council Compensation and Campaign Finance Reforms

Early in 2016 Citizens Union is expecting action by the City Council on two long-awaited reform areas: elected official compensation reform, and campaign finance reform. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed a Quadrennial Advisory Commission on compensation, which is charged with recommending the salaries of the city’s elected officials, and has in the past recommended other reforms related to compensation (the Commission’s appointment is overdue, as it was last appointed in 2006).  CU testified to the Commission, urging for any increase in Council salaries to be accompanied by the end of committee stipends (also known as “lulus”), making any salary increases prospective (meaning to start next legislative session) so members can’t raise their own salaries, and requiring financial disclosure forms to be online, among other reforms.

Ending lulus and making salary increases prospective is supported by a majority of members of the Council, according to the campaign promises they made to CU in their candidate questionnaires. The Commission has since sent their recommendations, which included ending stipends, to the Mayor de Blasio who has passed them onto City Council, and Citizens Union plans to advocate again for our package of reforms to compensation.

The Council is also expected to hold a hearing on campaign finance reform legislation introduced by the Council in response to the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) review of the 2013 election cycle, which is required by law. CU testified previously to the Council on the CFB report, and now will testify on the legislation, which includes some important reforms such as ending the practice of allowing public matching funds for contributions bundled by those who do business with the city – one way to get around the limits that those who do business with the city have for their personal contributions. See this great Gotham Gazette article on the legislation and what to expect.

Upcoming Event

A Live Conversation with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara

On Monday, Feb. 8th tune-in for a live conversation on state ethics with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York sponsored by Citizens Union and broadcast live on WAMC’s 28 radio frequencies and at www.wamc.org.

When: Monday, February 8th from 4:00-5:00 PM 
Where: The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Venue, listen-in on
www.wamc.org.
More Details: The event will feature prepared remarks by Bharara and an interview with WAMC President and CEO Dr. Alan Chartock. 

Sponsored by Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, Northeast Public Radio WAMC, NYPIRG, and the League of Women Voters NYS.

CU Welcomes New Development Director, Emily Harting

With great excitement Citizens Union welcomes Emily Harting to our team as the Development Director. After a careful search we are delighted to have her join us – she exudes the leadership qualities and commitment to good governance necessary to support and grow our vital mission.

Before CU, Emily served as the Associate Director of Development for Foundations at the Center for Constitutional Rights for ten years.

Her additional prior positions include serving as the Development Manager for the New York-based Global Nomads Group, a Development Associate for the National Voting Rights Institute (now a project of Demos), and in the development department at the New England Regional Office of the Trust for Public Land.

Working at Citizens Union represents a continuation of Emily’s lifelong work fighting for fairness, transparency and accountability amongst our government officials.  “Never has the need for CU’s work been so clear given the scandals and convictions at year end. I am excited to be joining CU at such an auspicious time,” said Emily.

Her primary goals at Citizens Union include broadening our base of support and fully fund the critical issues and campaigns we are engaged in, enabling us to be more efficient and effective. Emily stated, “With greater resources, that I hope to bring to CU, we can do more work, do it better, and most importantly, effect bigger change. I am excited about that,”. We are too!

Gotham Gazette Highlights

Have you seen the latest reporting from Gotham Gazette? 2016 has been full of important political news and Gotham Gazette has been reporting on key developments at the city and state levels of government, especially focused on:

Our reporters have continued writing unique stories where we uncover important happenings that need more public awareness, find under-reported angles to popular story-lines, and go in-depth on key issues when other publications are not.

Gotham Gazette articles have been regularly picked up by other outlets and GG staff has been featured on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, NY1’s Inside City Hall, and other media programs. If you haven’t been reading Gotham Gazette lately, now is the time to do so. If you’re not signed up for our morning newsletter, sign up here, and, be sure to tell a few people you know to do so too!

Check out all the latest news from Gotham Gazette at GothamGazette.com.

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