Statement on City Council Passage of Int. 1272-A
Council Bill A Step Back From 2016 Law Requiring More
Transparency For City-Affiliated Nonprofits
Concern Over Special Interests Giving Money to City-Affiliated Nonprofits to Gain Influence
Int. 1272-A passed by the City Council today will result in less disclosure of donors to city-affiliated nonprofits like the Police Foundation, the Fund for Public Schools, the Fund for Public Health, and the Fund for Public Housing. The bill reverses disclosure requirements that would have gone into effect on August 1st under Local Law 181 of 2016.
Under the 2016 law, all city-affiliated nonprofits connected to an elected official were required to disclose their donors giving $1,000 or more and identify which donors were doing business with the city. Under the bill passed today by Council, this disclosure will now only apply to city-affiliated nonprofits like the Mayor’s Fund that spend 10 percent or more of their expenditures on communications promoting an elected official.
Also under the new law, city-affiliated nonprofits that do not promote elected officials but are tied to city agencies will have to disclose donors giving $5,000 or more but only if the donor wishes to be disclosed.
Reinvent Albany opposes this loophole codified by the Council bill enabling companies and other special interests to give anonymous secret contributions to city-affiliated nonprofits while simultaneously doing business with the city. The Council weakened the 2016 law in response to complaints from parks conservancy nonprofits and because the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board felt the law should focus on donations to nonprofits promoting elected officials.
One bright spot in Int. 1272-A is it will require the disclosure of donors be made available for download in a spreadsheet format. Currently, donations to city-affiliated nonprofits and to city agencies are made available to the public in a 600-plus page PDF every six months in broad ranges of the dollar amount.
An unpublished Reinvent Albany analysis of the Fund for Public Schools’ donors found that major companies including General Electric, Nike, Bank of America, AT&T, Microsoft, Con Edison and foundations connected to Two Trees Management, the Shubert Organization, and Dell Computers all gave contributions of a half million dollars or more while lobbying and contracting with New York City or the Department of Education during the de Blasio Administration.
Reinvent Albany is troubled by the proliferation of government-affiliated nonprofits in New York State and New York City, a growing shadow government which we believe is less transparent and accountable than government agencies. We believe there are well over a hundred city-affiliated nonprofits, but there is no definition of a city-affiliated nonprofit in law nor is there a public listing of all city-affiliated nonprofits.
State-affiliated nonprofits were embroiled in a one billion dollar bid rigging scandal that resulted in the criminal convictions of top state government officials in the Cuomo Administration. SUNY-affiliated nonprofits have claimed to be exempt from the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws even while carrying out governmental functions. Upstate localities have created nonprofits to deliberately circumvent oversight of the state’s Authorities Budget Office. City College’s nonprofit affiliate’s spending on the former President’s personal expenses led to her resignation.
Reinvent Albany issued comprehensive recommendations for city-affiliated nonprofits in 2018, including requiring a listing of all nonprofits and their affiliated city agencies, limiting contributions from doing business donors, and requiring city-affiliated nonprofits to disclose their spending, follow the Freedom of Information, Open Meetings, and agency procurement laws.
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