Reinvent Albany Calls for Strengthening FOIL in Budget Testimony
on Public Protection and General Government
Require Proactive Disclosure of Records and Apply FOIL to
Economic Development Entities and Ethics Bodies
Reinvent Albany called on the legislature to take four steps to improve government transparency and accountability in testimony submitted for the Joint Legislative Committee hearing on the Governor’s Public Protection and General Government bill in Albany today:
- Create in law a state OpenFOIL portal so that public records can be proactively disclosed online and accessed more quickly. Advance disclosure of frequently requested records in an OpenFOIL portal or agency website reading rooms can reduce the burden on agency FOIL Officers. FOIL is broken because state and local agencies are inundated with requests, often missing disclosure deadlines by many months.
- Extend the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to government- affiliated nonprofits (including economic development agencies) and ethics bodies. The law should be clarified so FOIL applies to SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated nonprofits and to nonprofits associated with local governments like The Mayor’s Fund and The Police Foundation in New York City. Ethics bodies like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC) should be made subject to FOIL, with investigations shielded from disclosure under existing exemptions in FOIL.
- Dissolve and replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) with a new ethics enforcement agency. Recent events show JCOPE is broken beyond repair and needs to be replaced by an independent ethics body with a different appointment structure and voting procedures. At the very least, the public should be able to view how JCOPE votes in the aggregate, as it’s currently impossible to determine whether or not the board voted at all or the proportion of complaints that result in a full investigation.
- Limit outside income for all state elected officials. Lawmakers’ outside income is a major corruption risk. At minimum, elected officials who have the greatest sway over the the legislative agenda and the state’s finances – such as the legislative leaders and chairs of Finance and Ways and Means – should be subject to outside income limits.
Reinvent Albany also assessed parts X, Z, JJ, SS, TT and UU of the Governor’s Public Protection and General Government bill, supporting some proposals and opposing others.
Part X Comprehensive Technology Service Contracts – Support Only with Amendments
Reinvent Albany supports the Office of Information Technology Service bidding out together design and execution projects but believes competitive bidding requirements in State Finance Law should apply to these bids.
Part Z Establishment of SFS Procurement and Contracting Authority – Support
Reinvent Albany supports this bill as it enables SFS to bid out procurement rather than doing so through other agencies when it wants contractual work done.
Part JJ Manual Recounts – Support
Reinvent Albany supports this bill because it will clarify when local boards of elections should conduct manual recounts. The bill’s procedures and thresholds also align with the recommended practices of national experts such as FairVote.
Part SS Ban on Contributions from Foreign-Influenced Corporations – Support
Reinvent Albany supports this bill because we believe foreign nationals (unless they are citizens or permanent residents) and foreign-influenced corporate entities should not have a role in influencing politics and elections in New York State. Some clarifying amendments should be considered.
Part TT Nothing to Hide Act – Disclosure of Tax Returns – Support Only with Amendments
Reinvent Albany supports disclosure of tax returns but believes it should only apply to those elected officials and appointments with the most power and potential for conflicts, namely statewide elected officials, legislative leaders, agency heads, and select local elected officials (county executives, city mayors, county legislative speakers, city council speakers).
Part UU – Disclosure Requirements for Charitable Nonprofit Entities – Oppose
Reinvent Albany opposes this proposal because it creates duplicative reporting for charities by requiring they file with the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance registration and financial disclosure reports, and IRS forms already filed with the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau. Tax and Finance will publish the forms and reveal donors’ names for 501(c)(3) organizations, which appears inconsistent with the recent court decision prohibiting this.