Reinvent Albany works for open, accountable New York State government.
Reposted with permission from The Brennan Center. Money in Politics is a series which regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics — and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform.
New York Times Investigation Sheds Light on Moreland Commission’s Operations
According to an extensive investigation by the New York Times, the office of Governor Cuomo allegedly tried to control the operations of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, by steering its investigations away from groups that were politically connected to the governor. For example, when commission investigators sought to review political donations and communications by the Real Estate Board of New York—a trade group whose members include some of Cuomo’s biggest donors—in an effort to connect the dots on a valuable housing tax break, the governor’s secretary reportedly instructed commissioners not to subpoena the organization. Ultimately, the commission declined to do so, gaining information from a voluntary request instead.
In addition, although the investigation of independent expenditure groups was part of the commission’s mandate, the governor’s staff allegedly told commissioners not to mention a pro-Cuomo organization, the Committee to Save New York—which spent more than $16 million on lobbying and elections without fully disclosing the source of its contributions—in their final report. Governor Cuomo’s office released a statement contesting the characterization of events by the Times, arguing that since the commission was created by and reported to Cuomo, he could not “interfere” with it. Federal prosecutors are investigating the governor’s decision to shut down with commission. Before it was shuttered, the Moreland Commission recommended public campaign financing and other campaign finance fixes to address Albany’s culture of corruption, but the legislative session ended without meaningful reform. Read more…
Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington, D.C. issued a sweeping “Transparency, Open Government, and Open Data” executive order earlier this week. Under the order, agencies will be required to use a new centralized FOIL system, proactively publish whole categories (data sets, presumably of frequently-requested records) online, and make their data available in open formats.
Civ Source Online describes the portal:
At its launch, more than 50 District agencies will be included. Additional agencies will be added to the system in the next fiscal year.
The new DC Government Public FOIA Portal will allow requesters to submit public records requests for any of the participating agencies through a centralized website. The requests will be assigned a unique tracking number, and users will be able to track the status of the request. The system will also permit the District to generate reports to determine whether agencies are meeting their FOIA obligations in a timely manner. Other documents and data sets will be published to an online reading room.
We hope NYC follows D.C.’s lead, and surpasses it by passing the NYC Open Law and launching an even better FOIL website.
We should cut D.C. some slack, given the launch was just three days ago, but we do have to note that a quick glance at the DC FOIA portal’s “Reading Room” shows that the City is not following the Mayor’s Executive Order.
For instance, D.C.’s high-profile “Shotspotter” data is online in as non-machine readable, 1,666 page .PDF document instead of a .CSV or .XLS. This non-open format means two things: the file has to be processed, or “scraped,” before it can be analyzed or mapped, and the file is a whopping 550 megabytes which requires broadband to download. The data could be stored in a CSV file of less than a hundredth that size, and be usable in a spreadsheet.
As long as we’re talking D.C. Shotspotter, the data set bizarrely fails to provide a latitude for each gunshot incident; it only lists longitudes, which makes it impossible to determine where the incident occurred.
In a series of letters and meetings over the last two years, Reinvent Albany and our colleagues in the NYC Transparency Working Group have been pushing the MTA to become more transparent through a slew of specific recommendations. Yesterday, Reinvent Albany asked the newly convened MTA Transportation Reinvention Commission (TRC), to recommend to the MTA that that agency “adopt transparency as a core value.”
Our testimony noted that the MTA’s public image and coffers have suffered from its historical lack of fiscal and spending transparency. When the public does not know how public money is being spent, it is less supportive of proving more funding. We outlined where the MTA needs to improve transparency, and how it can do so.
The MTA does not make available in a machine readable or “open data format” crucial information on:
The TRC’s next step will be to compile a report of recommendations to submit to the MTA so that the MTA can make the appropriate considerations for its Capital Plan which will be submitted to the Capital Program Review Board by October 1. We hope that the TRC will strongly recommend what we and other members of the NYC Transparency Working Group have been advocating for years – that the MTA make transparency one of their defining values.