Money in Politics in NY: Feb. 28 Edition

Moreland Commission Co-chairs: Pass Election Reforms
In a Daily News op-ed on Sunday, two of the co-chairs of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption explained why they recommended public financing as a solution to the persistent problem of pay-to-play politics in Albany. Kathleen Rice, the district attorney of Nassau County, and William Fitzpatrick, the district attorney of Onondaga County, were among a number of legal experts and district attorneys tasked with examining the state of New York’s corruption and campaign laws. What the commission uncovered was not only illegal acts, but numerous “legal activities that would shake anyone’s trust in our government.” As Rice and Fitzpatrick explained, “Unfortunately, there is nothing illegal about donating $100,000 to a politician’s reelection committee, then receiving millions in the form of a helpful tax break in a spending bill.” However this year offers a unique opportunity to end the corruption scandals in Albany, and return state government back into the hands of citizens. “Imagine how much good the government could do if our elected leaders had built-in incentives to spend more time talking to and serving their constituents rather than doing the bidding of well-connected donors?” Such a system is a real possibility—Governor Cuomo has included a holistic package of reforms recommended by the commission in his budget proposal. The only question that remains now is whether the governor and the legislature will pass it. Read more…

US House Proposes Centralizing Freedom of Information Requests

New Yorkers advocating for an OpenFOIL law here in NYC , were happy to see Tuesday’s 410-0 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in favor of H.R. 1211, the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (FOIA Act). Alex Howard writes:

If enacted, it would commit the reforms to the Freedom of Information Act that the Obama administration has proposed but go further, placing the burden on agencies to justify withholding information from requestors, codifying the creation of a pilot to enable requestors to submit requests in one place, creating a FOIA Council, and directing federal agencies to automatically publish records responsive to requests online.

The bills prospects in the Senate aren’t known, but the overwhelming support for the bill in congress lends momentum to efforts by the New York City Transparency Working Group to get the NYC City Council to pass  “Open FOIL.” That legislation proposes an all online FOIL process similar to the city of Oakland’s RecordTrac system, which Reinvent Albany recently profiled.

RecordTrac, perhaps the best centralized FOIL portal in the country.

Congress and advocates in NYC want a centralized, online, FOIL portal like Oakland’s.

Money in Politics in NY: Feb. 21 Edition

Good Government Groups to Cuomo and Legislative Leaders: Pass Reform Before Budget Deadline

Several good-government groups, including the New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause, Citizen Action, the League of Women Voters, and the Brennan Center, gathered in Albany on Tuesday to encourage state leaders to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform. Governor Cuomo has proposed numerous reforms in his budget: a system of matching small donations with public funds, lower corporate contributions limits, and $5.3 million for the state Board of Elections to enforce campaign finance and election laws. The governor, as well as Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Independent Democratic Conference Senate Co-leader Jeff Klein, have all come out in favor of public financing for election campaigns. With public financing in the budget this year, the reform groups called on the elected officials to  make sure it remains in the final budget agreement between the governor and legislature. Read more…

America’s Best Open FOIL Web Site: Oakland’s RecordTrac

In November, the city of Oakland and Code for America officially launched a web site called RecordTrac. This one-stop portal for Freedom of Information Law requests (called Public Records Requests in California, but FOIL requests in New York) gives Californians the ability request records from any city agency in just moments.Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 5.59.01 PM

Many agency web sites in California, New York State, and beyond already allow users to file FOIL requests online. The difference is that most of these web sites are completely decentralized, i.e. there is no one place to go to find records of all kinds. When Mayor de Blasio released his FOIL report in April 22, 2013, he found that nearly half of all city agency web sites had no information about where to send FOIL requests. By centralizing the FOIL request process, Oakland eliminates this problem.

Further, RecordTrac allows users to track the status of their FOIL request from start to finish (like tracking a package through FedEx or UPS), and for records access officers to communicate and clarify the request with the person seeking records. When the request is completed, the records are posted online for the requester to download instantly. Even better, Oakland displays statistics on the number of FOIL requests received per agency, and the average time for responding to each request.

This is Oakland’s first shot at a centralized FOIL web portal, and we think they’ve hit it out of the park already. As Oakland continues to develop RecordTrac, we look forward to seeing them continue to innovate.

Money in Politics in NY: Feb. 14 Edition

Congressmen Support Public Campaign Financing
Three members of New York’s congressional delegation announced their support for publicly financed elections this week. U.S. Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Sean Maloney and Dan Maffei held aconference call for reporters along with Karen Scharff of Citizen Action of New York to call for the passage of a bill that would create a public funding system for congressional elections. The Government by the People Act is sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. It provides matching funds to candidates who garner small contributions, like the system Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed in his executive budget.

Papers Question Wisdom of Liquor Warehouse Bill
A new bill proposed by Senator Jeffrey Klein (IDC-Bronx) would require all spirits to be warehoused in New York for at least 24 hours before they can be sold in the state. Currently many liquor merchants store their products in New Jersey, where the imported wine typically arrives and the cost of storage is lower. Wine sellers claim the legislation will lead to higher prices for consumers, while proponents argue that it would put New York law on par with other states and create more jobs. Empire Merchants and Southern Wine and Spirits are two distributors with warehouses in New York that allegedly stand to benefit from the bill. Pieces criticizing the legislation appeared in the Albany Times-Union and the Daily News. The Times-Union column revealed that Empire Merchants and its leadership have donated $53,000 to Senator Klein since 2009, and $31,000 to his Independent Democratic Conference, which co-leads the Senate in a coalition with the Republicans. A New York Post investigation last week illustrated that Empire Merchants and its subsidiaries have donated a total of $797,850 to state lawmakers since 2009, while Southern Wine and Spirits has contributed $106,856 to state campaigns over the same period. Read more…