Political Corruption Not Unique to Albany, FBI Director Says
On a recent visit to his agency’s Albany field office, FBI Director James Comey said he doesn’t believe that official misconduct is a bigger problem in New York than in other states. The fact that the FBI is doing “lots of public corruption work” in “lots of state capitals,” he continued, shows ethics issues are not unique to Albany. On the other hand, State Integrity Investigation’s corruption risk rankings place New York among the worst states in the country. Certain candidates, like Anndrea Starzak who is challenging Senator Thomas Libous for his seat in the 52nd Senate District, are making public corruption a centerpiece of their campaign platforms. Starzak has campaigned on ethics reform, noting that Albany has seen 26 State legislators leave office due to criminal or ethical misconduct since 1999.
TV Ad Spending Floods New York Airwaves
A study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Kantar Media/CMAG estimates that candidates running for statewide office have spent $14.5 million in political ads so far this year. The vast majority of that money has been spent on the race for governor, and most of it by Andrew Cuomo. Despite the high level of spending already recorded this cycle, Cuomo reportedly still has $26 million on hand for the general election against Rob Astorino, which is more than the total he spent during his entire 2010 campaign. If past elections are any indication of what is to come, ad spending will spike just before the election in November, meaning that New Yorkers can anticipate even more political ads than normal this fall on TV as well as radio.
Reinvent Albany and seven other transparency and fiscal watchdog groups wrote NY State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and asked him to increase his scrutiny of the state’s $1.7B in business tax credits. The groups expressed concern about the lack of transparency around how some credits are granted, for instance, the identify of the recipients of $420m in Film/TV credits is secret. They also cited transparency concerns raised in the authoritative 2013 report on business tax credits by the governor’s tax commission led by Peter J. Solomon and Carl McCall. Of particular concern to the groups are discretionary credits like Brownfields, Film/TV and Empire Zones, which involve an application and rating process that is completely opaque to the public.
Groups to DiNapoli Tax Credits 9.8.14
At its September 17, 2014 meeting, the Port Authority board of directors voted to create a new Freedom of Information Code matching either New York or New Jersey and creating a novel, two-tiered, appeal process consisting of a Review Board and third party “dispute resolution provider.” We hope the Port asks for public comment before voting on the final policy.
RESOLVED, that the Secretary of the Port Authority, with the assistance of
the General Counsel of the Port Authority, is directed to prepare a revised Freedom of
Information Code for consideration by the Board, at its October 22, 2014 meeting,
that would (i) provide for the disclosure of Port Authority records to the same extent
that comparable records would be disclosable by either the State of New York or the
State of New Jersey under their respective freedom of information and privacy laws;
and (ii) create a two-tiered appeals process that would be available to any person who
is denied access to a record of the Port Authority, consisting in the first instance of
the consideration of such matter by a Freedom of Information Review Board to be
established within the agency, to be followed, if necessary, with a binding
independent arbitration process to be conducted by a neutral, third party alternative
dispute resolution provider.
(This excerpt can be found on page 24 of the pdf downloadable at the embedded link above.)
In June, Reinvent Albany joined a coalition of environmental and sustainable transportation advocacy groups who oppose using $511m in state and federal clean water loans for construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge. In a series of letters, the coalition asked the boards of the State Thruway Authority and the state Environmental Facilities Corporation not to take funds from the EFC’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which are intended for water quality protection and waste water treatment. Today, the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 office rejected the diversion of $481m of these dedicated clean water funds, while approving $29.1m. The clean water funds are a mixture of federal grants and repaid clean water loans, and state officials have contested EPA’s authority over the funds. Below is EPA’s letter to the state Thruway and EFC.
EPA Decision on Tappan Zee Loans