To his credit, Governor Cuomo has convened a “Sandy Commission” of experts to review what worked and didn’t work during Sandy, and to make recommendations for how New York should prepare for rising oceans and volatile weather. The availability of inexpensive, easy to use, information technology has created an unprecedented opportunity to make the “Sandy Commissions” and recovery efforts a public conversation that involves all interested New Yorkers. Here are some ways the governor and local governments can use the internet and everyday information tools to encourage public participation, and government transparency and accountability as New York recovers and rebuilds from Sandy.
- Webcast and archive all meetings of the Sandy Commissions. (Governor.)
- Post all of the documents, agendas and data related to the Sandy Commissions online in a single website. Importantly, this site should include all of the recommendations and questions submitted by the public, make data machine readable. (Governor.)
- Create a state website, like the federal Recovery.gov, to track how state, local and federal funds for Sandy are allocated and spent, and track costs from Sandy. (Governor and Comptroller.)
- Actively solicit recommendations and questions from the public via social media and using a form on the Sandy Commission website – share that feedback with the public.
- Use online maps, timelines and agency data to create visualizations which can help illuminate what worked and what didn’t work. (Take a look at the New York Times’ interactive flood map, which shows there was flooding in some unexpected places.)
NY State Attorney General Should Investigate Shadowy “Non-profits”
Citizens Union has filed a formal complaint with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, asking the office to investigate a Virginia-based 501(c)(4) that poured money into New York State Senate races.Article 7-A of the Executive Law requires charities and nonprofits that solicit contributions from residents, corporations foundations or government agencies in New York to register with the State Charities Bureau. Common Sense Principles, which claims to educate the public about limited government and fiscal responsibility, commissioned dozens of mailers in at least three key State Senate districts, targeting Monroe County Legislator Ted O’Brien, Assemblyman George Latimar (D-Rye) and Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Queens). By organizing as a charitable organization rather than a political committee, Common Sense Principles has avoided the greater level of transparency that political committees are subject to. According to Citizens Union executive director Dick Dadey, “registration with the Charities Bureau is one existing mechanism that can help shed light on 501(c)(4) organizations engaging in this political activity, though campaign communications and expenditures by veiled third-party entities and individuals should be disclosed in a manner similar to candidate campaign committees.”
Notable Success by Two Anti-Super PAC Super PACs
Friends of Democracy, the Super PAC opposed to Super PACs, had formidable success in helping to elect reform-minded candidates in New York State and Congressional races. In an upstate New York Senate race, Friends of Democracy and a similar Super PAC, Protect Our Democracy, spent $250,000 each to assist Cecilia Tkaczyk, a Duanesburg dairy farmer and school board member who has voiced her support for campaign finance reform and citizen-funded elections. Her opponent, Assemblyman George Amedore, is largely viewed as a defender of the status quo. Tkaczyk is leading thus far by 139 votes, but the race will not be settled until all absentee ballots are counted over the coming weeks. In New York Congressional races, Friends of Democracy was involved in the contest between Sean Patrick Maloney and Nan Hayworth in the lower Hudson Valley’s 18th district, as well as the race between Dan Maffei and Ann Marie Beurkle in Syracuse’s 24th district, targeting reform opponents Hayworth and Beurkle. Jonathan Soros, co-founder of Friends of Democracy, stated that the results signal an unprecedented and important message to lawmakers: “Being on the wrong side of reform can cost you your seat.”