Money in Politics in New York State: August 31 Edition

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New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News
1. Two recent scandals involving members of the New York State legislature serve as egregious examples of politicians thinking they are above the law. Senator Shirley L. Huntley, D-Queens, is accused of abusing a non-profit that she created to assist parents in navigating the New York City Department of Education. Huntley and several aides were indicted this week on charges of falsifying records, tampering with evidence and grand larceny. However instead of apologizing, Huntley asserts that the case is a politically motivated attempt to reduce her chances of reelection in the upcoming Democratic primary. Similarly, Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, D-Brooklyn, was censured by the Assembly after an investigation revealed that he had sexually harassed two female employees. A secret payment of $103,080 of tax-payer funds was authorized in June to settle a different set of sexual harassment claims against Lopez. “Taxpayers should be funding public education, not to sweep harassment charges aside for bad elected officials,” said Dick Dadey, of Citizens Union.
2. Last week, Reform NY informed readers about 622 campaign committees that had not filed reports detailing their financial transactions with the New York State Board of Elections. This week, theJoint Commission on Public Ethics has released the names of sixty candidates in New York state legislative races who have failed to submit personal income disclosure forms. Candidates for statewide elected office must file a disclosure statement regarding outside employment and income, investments, financial liabilities, political activities and gifts, within ten days of certain election petition and nominating deadlines. Ellen Biben, Executive Director of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, stated that “Financial Disclosure Statements are important tools for the promotion of transparency and accountability amongst those who serve the public and those seeking election to public office. The Joint Commission will continue to use its powers and jurisdiction to ensure compliance with State ethics laws.

Federal Open Data Dashboard Graphs Heath Care System

The United States Department of Health and Human Services operates the Health System Measurement Project, which is an open data dashboard featuring more than 50 U.S. health system indicators in interactive graphs and charts. According to HHS, the website presents “national trend data as well as detailed views broken out by population characteristics such as age, sex, income level, and insurance coverage status.”

These indicators include extremely specific data, such graphs of the Percentage of Office-Based Physicians who have Electronic Medical RecordsOut-of-Pocket Medicare Prescription Expenses, and Personal Health Expenditures Per Capita. The data is made available to explore in interactive charts and graphs, but is also made available in downloadable CSV files, compatible with any spreadsheet program. 

In May, HHS announced the dashboard in a press release:

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced the launch of a new web-based tool that will make it easier for all Americans to monitor and measure how the nation’s health care system is performing.

The web-based tool, known as the Health System Measurement Project, will allow policymakers, providers, and the public to develop consistent data-driven views of changes in critical U.S. health system indicators.

”I am pleased that this tool will allow people to have better access to data about our health care system,” Secretary Sebelius said. “Ensuring all Americans have access to these data is an important way to make our health care system more open and transparent.”

The Health System Measurement Project brings together datasets from across the federal government that span topical areas, such as access to care, cost and affordability, prevention and health information technology. It presents these indicators by population characteristics, such as age, sex, income level, insurance coverage, and geography.

Using the Measurement Project, one can quickly view data on a given topical area from multiple sources, compare trends across measures and compare national trends with those at the state and regional level. For example, an individual could use the Measurement Project to monitor the percentage of people who have a specific source of ongoing medical care or track avoidable hospitalizations for adults and children by region or ethnic group.

The measures included in the Health System Measurement Project, developed and selected by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, are aligned with the HHS Strategic Plan, the National Quality Strategy, and other departmental strategic planning efforts. The measures are drawn primarily from existing publicly available datasets. The tool contains information on how the measures were calculated and provides users with direct links back to the original data sources.

To access the Health System Measurement Project, go to

NYC Concludes Big Tech Projects Impossible Within Current System

The NY Times reports that New York City will soon unveil a new public authority “that will operate free of the usual city procurement rules, salary limits and legislative oversight.” The agency will oversee software projects costing over $25 million, or over $5 million and involving more than one agency. The new agency is a response to a series of hugely expensive, software development fiascoes that hundreds of millions in cost overruns.  The agency will operate in conjunction with the city’s information agency, DOITT, but not supplant it. The Times report cites off the record experts questioning the efficacy of a new agency given the already complex city management structure. Regardless, the move is a sign that the city — which has far more talented and experienced technologists than most local governments — finds dealing with the onrush of new technology extremely challenging. It also raises the question of why cities and states do not work together with the federal government to find more universal software solutions to the challenges they share. New York City should not have to go it alone, nor should towns and counties with far fewer resources.

Presidential Innovation Fellows Tackle Five Civic Tech Tools

The White House has selected eighteen Presidential Innovation Fellows to work on five high-impact projects aimed at “improving how the Federal Government serves the American people.”  The tools developed by the project should could be useful to state and local governments because they address universal issues including access to medical records, problems with current procurement processes, access to digital information and electronic payment of social welfare benefits.

  • Blue Button for America will spread the ability for millions of Americans to easily and securely download their own health information electronically, all while fueling the emergence of time and money saving products and businesses.
  • RFP-EZ aims to develop an online marketplace that will make it easier for the government to do business with small high-growth tech companies, and enabling the government to buy better, lower-cost tech solutions from the full range of American businesses.
  • MyGov will create a prototype of a streamlined online system enabling citizens to easily access the information and services from across the Federal Government.
  • The 20% Initiative will work to transition “the last mile” of international development assistance payments from cash to electronic methods – lowering administrative costs, promoting financial inclusion, and reducing theft, fraud, and violence.
  • Open Data Initiatives will accelerate and expand Administration efforts to make government data more publicly accessible in “computer-readable” form and spur the use of those data by entrepreneurs as fuel for the creation of new products, services, and jobs.

Money in Politics in New York: August 10th Edition

1. New York State’s campaign finance rules allow lawmakers wide latitude to use campaign funds for covering legal fees, restaurant tabs, season tickets to professional sporting events, or in the infamous case of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a $1,300 pool clean-up. Unfortunately the State Board of Elections only exacerbates the problem with lax enforcement of the law. The New York Public Interest Research Group examined the board’s rulings over the past five years and found that “they never take action on anything.” New York needs an overhaul of its campaign finance system, and an independent and robust enforcement body to oversee it.

2. New York City’s exemplary small-donor matching fund system should serve as a model for reform in New York State. But, while matching funds are an important feature of the City’s system, any reform being considered in Albany that hopes to replicate the City’s success should include lower contribution limits and an overhaul of administration and enforcement, writes Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group. Among other reforms, New York State’s sky-high contribution limits need to be lowered across the board for both participating and non-participating candidates, and loopholes that allow Limited Liability Companies to be treated as “individuals” and corporate affiliates to be treated as separate entities subject to their own limits must be eliminated. Comprehensive reform should also incorporate lower limits on party fundraising and deal with “housekeeping committee” accounts. Finally, Mahoney writes, administration and enforcement of a new campaign finance regime should not remain in the hands of the State Board of Elections, which has been mired in partisanship and has proven itself to be an ineffective enforcement body. Several individuals that donated above the legal threshold annually faced no consequences from the Board. In addition, the Board failed to draft rules for the disclosure of independent expenditures by Super PACs, which it was supposed to finish by January of 2012. The citizens of New York State deserve better.

3. In New York City executives that are engaged in business with the city government have discovered roundabout methods to avoid strict campaign contribution limits. Bundlers, the intermediaries that deliver donations from multiple donors to a candidate, can skirt campaign finance rules which restrict city contractors and lobbyists to just $ 400 in contributions per candidate. Jay Kriegel of Related Companies is an active bundler and a registered lobbyist. In March of this year, Kriegel contributed $ 400 to each of Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson, and Scott Stringer’s campaigns for mayor. Although as a lobbyist Kriegel isn’t eligible to receive matching funds for his own contributions, the contributions he bundles are matchable. Data from the New York City Campaign Finance Board shows that between October 2007 and July 2012 Kriegel bundled a combined total of $100,000 for the same four candidates. Nearly half of his funds went to Quinn who, as City Council Speaker, voted to allow Related Companies to proceed with the western phase of its 12 million-square-foot Hudson Yards complex in Quinn’s district. The New York World analyzed the financial disclosures of six prospective mayoral candidates—Quinn, Stringer, de Blasio, Thompson, John Liu, and Anthony Weiner—and found that 60 bundlers, who were engaged in business with the city, bundled almost $1 million for the prospective 2013 mayoral candidates. If these candidates choose to opt into the city’s public financing program, the contributions from bundlers will be matched 6-to-1 for the first $175 of each donation. Advocacy organizations such as Citizens Union and New York Public Interest Research Group have recommended that contributions bundled by lobbyists should not be eligible for matching funds.