Money in Politics in New York: June 25 Edition

Campaign Finance Reform Fails to Clear Senate by Two Votes

Last week, New York State legislators failed to pass a campaign finance reform measure that would end Albany’s dysfunction. A bill had passed the Assembly but could not get through the Senate before the end of the legislative session last Sunday. The coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats that control the Senate refused to bring any of the campaign finance reform bills to the Senate floor for a vote, not even the one that the IDC introduced. Senators supportive of Fair Elections were left with no choice but to bring the bill to a vote through a “hostile amendment.” Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) introduced an amendment for public financing of elections to a bill authorizing lever machines for run-off elections. The amendment failed by only two votes. Addressing the press, Senate Democratic Conference leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins asked the Senators to “reverse course, pass campaign finance reform and return government to the citizens of New York.” After the vote, Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York, said that “Unfortunately, the leadership coalition that rules the State Senate is apparently comfortable with the atrocious pattern of corruption in state government, along with the dismal public approval ratings and the lack of public trust that accompanies this corruption.” Read more…

Health Data Liberator Award Goes to Dr. Nirav Shah NYSDOH

Dr. Shah accepting his Health Data Liberator award.

Dr. Shah and his Health Data Liberator Award.

Congratulations to Dr. Nirav Shah and the NYS Department of Health for winning the first ever Health Data Liberator Award. The award was given to Dr. Shah at the federal Health Datapalooza IV for the “outstanding accomplishments of the New York State Department of Health.” From the press release:

The State of New York’s pioneering efforts to make health data publicly available and to facilitate the data’s use in apps, tools, and services is bringing the data to life in meaningful and innovative ways.

As the commissioner of the New York State Health Department, Dr. Nirav Shah oversees an agency with a $50 billion budget. He is an epidemiologist by training and an acclaimed public health researcher, whose work has focused on driving improvements in data quality to support changes in health care. In March 2013, he led the launch of the nation’s first open data website devoted exclusively to health, called By making health data available, New York is providing opportunities for data users and developers to create valuable mashups of national and New York State health data, a model that other states have since followed.

Reinvent Albany wrote about in March.  We are happy to see Dr. Shah, NYS DOH and the Cuomo administration recognized for this innovation and the state’s energetic Open NY  data liberation initiative.

“G8” Developed Nations Agree On 5 Point Open Data Charter

At their recent annual summit in Ireland the Group of 8 rich nations — including the United States —  formally agreed that opening up government data is good policy.  The new G8 Open Data Charter sets out five basic  principles for open data. The agreement is incredibly progressive, and clearly states the crucial principal that government data should be “open by default.”  Whether the agreement is meaningful in practice remains to be seen, but it is a very important statement of basic principal. In the preamble, the charter explains that:

Open data can increase transparency about what government and business are doing. Open data also increase awareness about how countries’ natural resources are used, how extractive revenues are spent, and how land is transacted and managed. All of which promotes accountability and good governance, enhances public debate, and helps to combat corruption. Transparent data on G8 development assistance are also essential for accountability.

The G8 Open Data Charter lays out five fundamental open data principles.

  1. Create an expectation for “Open Data by Default,” and require good reason before keeping any closed.
  2. Prioritize data by releasing as much as possible as quickly as possible and listening to user feedback.
  3. Release data in open formats under open licenses, in machine-readable and -usable forms.
  4. Share best practices for releasing open data, and publish standards for collecting and processing data.
  5. Foster innovation by providing developers and civil society with the resources to unlock the value of open data.

Back home in New York State, we hope to see all five of these principles incorporated in the final version of the state’s Draft Open Data Handbook,  which was published last week.  The final Open Data Handbook will be issued in September. New Yorkers who support open data should answer Governor Cuomo’s request to contribute your recommendations via Github or directly to the state ITS.  Reinvent Albany will complete our comments on the state’s handbook later this Summer. Like the G8, we hope to join with  other leading open data “nations” and reach a consensus on a data “charter” we can send to the state.

Statement on Passage of Transit Lockbox II Bill

Statement on passage of Statewide Transit Lockbox Bill S5084-2013/A3837-2013

Albany, New York

Reinvent Albany congratulates Assemblyman Jim Brennan(D) and State Senator Marty Golden (R) for winning overwhelming passage of the Statewide Transit Lockbox bill. Congratulations also goes to the large coalition of labor unions, business groups, transit and environmental advocates and good government groups that supported passage of the bill this session, and identical bills in 2011.

The Lockbox Bill is good for transit riders and taxpayers. It discourages the diversion of dedicated transit funds, and increases fiscal transparency and accountability.

In practical terms, the Transit Lockbox is intended to make it politically more difficult to raid dedicated transit funds. It does this with an innovative “diversion impact statement,” which highlights the impact of transit raids on service, safety and maintenance.

“The Transit Lockbox bill is good for both transit riders and tax payers. It increases fiscal transparency, and makes it harder for Albany to break the promise to taxpayers that transit dedicated taxes will be spent solely on transit.” Said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a group which advocates for fiscal transparency and accountability.





Money in Politics in New York: June 14 Edition

Governor Cuomo Introduces Campaign Finance Reform Legislation with a Public Financing Option

Governor Andrew Cuomo has introduced legislation that seeks to enact a system of small donor matching funds for state elections, along with a number of other provisions designed to reduce corruption and special interest influence. The Governor embraced campaign finance reform as a priority in his State of the State Address back in January, but had not introduced his own bill on the issue until Tuesday of this week. Thelegislation is part of a broader package of laws designed to improve enforcement of election laws, ease voter registration, strengthen anti-bribery laws, and provide district attorneys with greater power to prosecute public corruption cases. The Governor’s bill lowers contribution limits, requires disclosure of independent expenditures, prohibits using campaign money for personal expenses, and matches small donations from constituents with public funds. “I think on the merits, this is a powerful proposal. It’s long overdue. It’s needed,” the Governor said at a news conference. If Legislators fail to pass the anti-corruption measures, Governor Cuomo has threatened to appoint a special panel, a Moreland Commission, to investigate corruption in the body.

NY LEAD Sends Letter to IDC Urging Reform

On Monday, members of the New York Leadership for Accountable Government – a bipartisan coalition of business, civic, and philanthropic leaders dedicated to reforming elections laws in the state – delivered an open letter to the Senate Independent Democratic Conference. The letter asks Senate Co-President Jeffrey D. Klein and Senators David Carlucci, Diane Savino and David Valesky to ensure that campaign finance reform is brought to the floor for a vote. “We understand that you introduced a comprehensive campaign finance reform bill…However introducing a bill without working to get it passed is worth little to the people of New York,” the letter states. Prominent signatories include Chris Hughes (Facebook Co-Founder), former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley (Co-Chair of Americans for Campaign Reform and two-time NBA Champion), Cynthia DiBartolo (Chairperson of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce), and Philip D. Radford (Greenpeace US Executive Director), among many others. The signatories reminded the Senators of their pledge earlier in the session to make Albany functional and institute major reforms. The letter was printed in the Journal News and the Staten Island Advance and was covered by the Wall Street Journal and City & State.

Journal News Editorial: IDC Should Not Hinder Reform

The Journal News put forth an excellent editorial this week in favor of comprehensive campaign finance reform, including small donor matching funds. Reform has already cleared through the New York State Assembly. However it has failed to move in the State Senate. The Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Republicans share control over the NYS Senate’s daily agenda. Although the IDC has introduced wide-ranging reform legislation – which includes public matching funds for small donations – and held public hearings on the matter, they’ve refused to bring the bill to a vote without approval from the Senate Republicans. “That is a kind of power sharing that favors political leaders but not people,” the Journal News stated. Federal Prosecutor Preet Bharara has decried the “casualness and cockiness” of corruption in Albany. The IDC members Senator Klein and Carlucci have echoed this sentiment, stating that the “people of New York deserve nothing less” than major change. As the Journal News puts it plainly, “There’s no doubt about that. It is past time to put such rhetoric into concerted action.”

Celebrities Tell Albany Representatives, “Don’t Come Home Without it”

Several notable celebrities have joined the movement to reform electionsin New York. Alec Baldwin told Legislators in a YouTube video that “It’s time to stop talking about cleaning up Albany, and start doing it.” There are videos from Liev SchreiberJason AlexanderKathleen Turner, andCynthia Nixon, and others. The actors have endorsed the Fair Elections reform package which includes a system of matching small donations with public funds, as well as lower contribution limits, restrictions on contractors and lobbyists doing business with the state, and greater enforcement and transparency. Turner put it rather bluntly: “State Legislators, patting each other down for wires, isn’t that embarrassing. It’s time Albany got cleaned up.” All of the actors had an important closing message for Legislators: “Don’t come home without it.”

Governor Cuomo Holds Events Upstate to Boost Support for Public Financing Legislation

After introducing his campaign finance reform legislation in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo held events in Syracuse and Buffalo to push for his public financing proposal and other anti-corruption measures. New York Leadership for Accountable Government members former U.S. Representative Mike Arcuri and Diane Cihak, Founder of WomenElect, also spoke at the events. Speaking before community members at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, the Governor informed the audience that he can “receive $50,000 in contributions.” Such a high amount, he insisted, can disenfranchise those who can’t afford $1,000-per-plate fundraisers. Under Cuomo’s proposal, donations to statewide candidates would be capped at $25,000 for those not receiving public money and $12,000 for those participating in the new publicly financed system.

Congressional Candidate Explains Why we Cannot Outsource Elections to Wealthy Special Interests

In an op-ed in the Poughkeepsie Journal, 2012 Congressional candidate Julian Schreibman explained why adopting Fair Elections is so important for New York. Schreibman, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Senior Assistant District Attorney for Ulster County, said he discovered shortly after campaigning that the need for multimillion-dollar fundraisers turned him away from voters. “The influx of big corporate money has turned campaigning into an arms race for cash, and it forced me to spend far too much time shaking hands with donors instead of speaking with voters.” It is no surprise then that our elected officials spend extraordinary amounts of time fundraising in office for their next election, rather than serving their constituents. With the continual gridlock in D.C., it is essential that states take the lead on passing reform legislation. Much of the stated opposition against publicly financed elections stems from the cost of such a program, which opponents of reform have falsely exaggerated. As Schreibman explains, “Public funds are already used to pay for lawmaker salaries, staffing and other expenses, including direct mail from elected officials. Our campaign finance system is the only aspect of our democracy that is not publicly funded, and it has allowed our campaigns to be captured by wealthy interests. Publicly financed elections will put our campaigns back in the hands of the people, where they belong.”

Buffalo News Editorial: Make Campaign Finance Reform a Priority before End of Session

The Buffalo News has editorialized about its priorities for what the legislature needs to accomplish before adjourning next week. Campaign finance and ethics reform were ranked as number one. As the paper put it bluntly: “Albany remains a cesspool of corruption.” This year several of our assembly members and senators were embroiled in corruption scandals. Publicly matching small donations will allow candidates without deep pockets or entrenched connections to run against financially flush and corrupt incumbents. Research from the good-government group Citizens Union confirms that the New York City elections, where public funding is already in place, allow for greater voter choice and more electoral competition, when compared with New York State races.