Money in Politics in NY: May 30 Edition

Gov. Cuomo May Oppose Senate Coalition if Public Financing Isn’t Passed

Governor Andrew Cuomo implied this week that he may oppose the ruling Senate coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats this coming fall if the chamber does not pass public campaign financing. “If public finance is not passed by the end of session, I will consider the [Senate] coalition a failure,” Cuomo said. “I would give my opinion to the people of the state,” he continued. The governor is facing pressure from the progressive Working Families Party, which might not endorse him on the party’s ballot line if he doesn’t achieve public financing reform. The party’s nominating convention is this Saturday.

Independent Democratic Conference Senator Jeffrey Klein, who leads the chamber in a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans, has also insisted that reform must be enacted before the end of the session. He did not rule out aligning with the mainstream Democrats if it fails. Former state Attorney General Oliver Koppell will be challenging Klein in the June Democratic primary. Although negotiations were well underway with Republicans regarding public funding, the discussions were derailed following a warning from the Conservative Party. Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long told Skelos that his party would not endorse Senate Republican candidates if they vote for public financing reform. Read more…

Big Data Man Bites Big Data Dog

In a rare turn of events, a data miner is mapping the relationship between corporations, instead of engaging in the data vivisection that individual Americans are subject to every time they go online.

7518686_f520Enigma.io, a new member of the Data Transparency Coalition, is a search engine devoted to making sense of the jumbled public data on big business. New York City-based Enigma appears to be succeeding in creating a clear picture out of the muddle of public data resulting from archaic practices; government agencies each assign their own identification number to businesses, contracts, and payments. (In New York State, the Comptroller, Attorney general, and State Department of State use different ID numbers for businesses and subsidiaries can be very difficult to keep track of.)

Further complicating things, the U.S. federal and state government regulatory bodies also use their own identification numbers. For example, just within the banking industry, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, and the Comptroller of the Currency each maintain their own unique identifiers. And the IRS maintains Employer Identification Numbers, separate from New York State’s own Certificate of Authority numbers, which is separate from its Sales Tax ID Numbers, and so on. Simply identifying a corporation is a feat in itself.

Once businesses are finally identified, it’s still difficult to determine what they’re up to; a significant amount of public reporting is often in non-machine-readable formats. Enigma’s founder says they have to “piece this puzzle together out of currently available bits and fragments… we have to operate in creative ways to bring these disparate data sets together to produce new insights.”

From a recent New York Times profile of Enigma:

Enigma scrapes a wide variety of federal and state level government websites to glean such fragments. Enigma also petitions for and buys additional information from agencies and commercial vendors. Once all those pieces of data are on its platform, Enigma applies its own algorithm to pull them together and link them to the same entity.

Not only are there no common identifiers, there are no common standards for the reporting of data. All the effort spent collecting and standardizing this data would be much better spent making sense of this data. The recently-passed DATA act is a seismic shift in the quality of data available to startups like Enigma and watchdogs like OpenSecrets or Maplight.

Money in Politics in NY: May 23 Edition

NY Times: Gov. Cuomo Must Put His Words into Action

Last week, the New York Times pressed Governor Cuomo to put his words on reform into action. Under the status quo, special interests reign supreme in Albany, the editorial stated. Incumbents face little competition because they can easily flood their war chests with sky-high contributions. A system of public financing that matches small donations with public funds offers the potential to both increase candidates’ reliance on small contributors and to diversify the pool of candidates that run for office. Recently, in the 2014-15 budget, the New York legislature and Governor Cuomo passed a pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race. Republican state comptroller candidate Robert Antonacci has already said that he will participate in the program. Although the Republicans in the state senate claim they are opposed to public financing, the fact that they were willing to agree to this trial demonstrates that there is hope for passing more comprehensive legislation. The Times said Cuomo should consider campaigning against lawmakers that refuse to pass reform. Read more…

Thumbs-Up: NY Comptroller DiNapoli Takes Open Data Step

It’s not huge or transformational, but the New York State Comptroller has joined the Governor in taking another step towards establishing a new open government convention for New York: machine-readable fiscal information.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli recently began publishing monthly cash reports in a Excel format.  The cash reports show revenue and spending both to and from the State’s funds. This is the kind of bread and butter fiscal reporting of big tables of numbers that have previously been available only in a PDF format which cannot be used by spreadsheet software without laborious “scraping.” Lengthy tables of budget numbers displayed on a computer screen are not very useful. It’s only when the numbers are “machine readable” that expert members of the public can use them in a spreadsheet, where they can find potential errors, and see odd fiscal assumptions or alarming trends.

The comptroller’s step helps re-enforce the best practice introduced by Governor Cuomo in early 2013 with his Open Budget website. The Open Budget site includes a downloadable, machine readable spreadsheet for the dozens of tables in the enacted budget.

We applaud the Comptroller’s Office for taking this step, and look forward to seeing them publish all of the vast numbers of tables embedded in their various reports in a version that the public can actually use. An added benefit is that the downloadable spreadsheets will also be online where the Comptroller’s Office itself can easily access the data, and where other branches of government can also use them. Better still is to see that data get published on the state’s open data portal, where it is readily findable by an even larger audience.

Money in Politics in NY: May 16 Edition

Gov. Cuomo Discusses Passing Reform This Session with Activists

Under mounting pressure from good-government groups, unions and the Working Families Party, Governor Andrew Cuomo met with advocates of campaign finance reform to discuss passing publicly financed elections before the end of the state legislative session in June. Cuomo said he wants his eulogy to list three accomplishments: marriage equality, gun control and public financing. The Working Families Party in particular has made the subject a legislative priority, and progress on the issue is likely to be a consideration as the party decides whether to endorse Cuomo for his fall re-election campaign. The party will nominate its candidate for governor on May 31st.  Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said he was optimistic about prospects of passage. “Our discussions with the governor and Senator Klein have moved from the need to get campaign finance reform, to specifically how it can get done,” he stated. Assembly Democrats, and both wings of the Democrats in the state senate, already support the much-needed changes. State senate Republicans, who rule the chamber in a coalition with breakaway Democrats, have been the greatest obstacle to reform. However, Republican Senate Co-leader Dean Skelos has stated that he is open to certain mechanisms of publicly funding campaigns such as a voluntary tax check-off. The pilot public financing program for the state comptroller race, which legislative leaders—including Republicans—and Governor Cuomo authorized in the 2014-15 budget, is supported by the state’s abandoned property fund. Read more…