Transparency Cannot Wait
As Massive Bid Rigging Trial Gets Underway Watchdogs Call On Assembly Speaker Heastie to Stop Stalling and Allow Vote on Database of Deals and Comptroller’s Procurement Integrity Act
Outside the Manhattan Courthouse where top aides and campaign contributors to Governor Cuomo are on trial for allegedly rigging over $1B in state economic development contracts, watchdog groups once again called on State Assembly Speaker to stop stalling and to allow a vote on key transparency and oversight legislation that has already passed the state senate 62-0 and 60-2. The legislation is co-sponsored by dozens of assembly democrats and is supported by twenty watchdog and civic groups. Read More.
Watchdog Groups Applaud NY State Senate
For Passing Bills to Increase the Transparency and Accountability of State Economic Development Programs: Assembly Must Now Act on Bipartisan Legislation to Restore the Public Trust
Good government and fiscal watchdog groups commend the Senate for passing a package of bills intended to improve the transparency and accountability of the state’s multitude of economic development programs. The groups call on the Assembly to join the Senate in passing the Database of Deals A.8175-A(Schimminger) & S.6613-B(Croci) and Comptroller DiNapoli’s Procurement Integrity Act S.3984-A (DeFrancisco) & A.6355-A (Peoples-Stokes). Read More.
2018 Charter Revision Commission
Throughout its history, Citizens Union has supported the periodic comprehensive review of the New York City Charter absent a political agenda via the appointment of an independent Charter Revision Commission to ensure that city government is operating effectively, efficiently and in the public’s best interest. We have recommendations in a range of other areas and welcome the opportunity to discuss them with the Commission. Read our testimony.
"For democracy to succeed, people must be able to see, in as close to real time as possible, how public resources are being distributed. There needs to be more specific reporting on a project-by-project basis. Obscure government spending is an especially serious problem in a state characterized by entrenched political machinery and habitual complacency at the polls. When officials are not accountable to their constituents, and are instead operators, beneficiaries, and subordinates of insular political structures, the people's right to oversight is critical." Read the full OpEd by Executive Director, Betsy Gotbaum and Public Policy and Program Manager, Ethan Geringer-Sameth in The New York Daily News.
Repeal Civil Rights Law 50-a
Allow Public Disclosure of Police Records Relating to Police Misconduct
“No other public officer in the state enjoys the level of protection from public scrutiny as do the police,” said Betsy Gotbaum, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “Not only are they charged with maintaining public safety, but also the police are often a source of influential testimony, which can have mortal implications for people’s lives. They also carry lethal force. In the face of such grave responsibility, why are police officers shielded from public oversight?” Read More
In the addendum to the latest Spending in the Shadows report, describing nonspecific funding in the New York State FY 2019 Enacted Budget, Citizens Union uncovered close to $1 billion dollars in additional opaque funding to those already proposed in the Executive Budget. These additions bring the total to $12.7 billion in public funds that can be spent without any real accountability.
The types of funds identified in the report have no conditions for spending or requirements to report on the outcome, leaving them susceptible to misuse and waste. They are comprised of $2.6 billion in money controlled by individual elected officials. Elected officials, who are given the authority to make spending decisions often outside of the formal budget process and without public oversight; and $10.1 billion for economic development and infrastructure projects that have no meaningful criteria for spending and few requirements, if any, to report the results.
The additional nonspecific funds total $937 million, with $454 million controlled by individual elected officials and $483 million in economic development and infrastructure funding.
The report also contains recommendations to reform state law and budgeting practices to ameliorate the obscurity of this type of state spending. Read the addendum now.
On March 27th, the board of Citizens Union elected two new board members, Christopher Giglio and Cliff Chenfeld.
“We welcome our new board members, both of whom are accomplished and collaborative leaders in the industries of music and public relations. Their vast knowledge, philanthropic commitment, and dedication to the work of good government, are essential to both the mission of Citizens Union and the civic lives of New Yorkers.” said the Citizens Union Chairman of the Board.
Executive Director, Betsy Gotbaum, said of the new members, “Citizens Union is tightening its focus this year to better serve New York and all who live here. Both Christopher and Cliff bring a wealth of possibility and promise to the work of accountable government and civic education. I am honored to work with them, and the full board of Citizens Union.” Read about our new board members.
Ethan Geringer-Sameth, the Public Policy & Program Manager at Citizens Union, testified to New York City Council on February 28th on the important matter of sexual harassment best practices and policies in New York City. Read the testimony.
Reform Special Elections
Citizens Union is pleased the needed special election to fill 11 seats in the State Legislature has been scheduled by Governor Cuomo. We maintain that critical reforms need to be put into place, especially since special elections have the lowest voter turnout rates of any elections in New York. New Yorkers are both unable to participate in the process of nominating special election candidates and are not turning out to essentially ratify the choices of party leaders. Read More.
Spending in the Shdaows
Our newest report, Spending in the Shadows illuminates $11.7 billion in nonspecific lump sum funding “pots” found in the New York FY 2019 Executive Budget. Read the report now.
Assure an Independent Commission
Citizens Union delivered a letter on Friday, February 16th, to Mayor de Blasio’s office in City Hall, critical of the manner in which the Mayor is approaching the creation of a Charter Revision Commission. The Commission will review the Charter of the City of New York, inviting input from New Yorkers and then issue a report with recommendations for changes, to be ratified or rejected by the public, in an election. Read More.
One day after being appointed Ranking Democratic Member of the New York State Senate Elections Committee, Senator Brian Kavanagh joined with fellow legislators and advocates — including the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizen Action of New York, Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY, the League of Women Voters of New York State, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, and Transportation Workers United Local 100 — to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to fully fund early voting in the Fiscal 2018-2019 Executive Budget. Read the full press release.
Following our evaluation of the 2017 Municipal Elections in New York City, Rachel Bloom, Citizens Union Director of Public Policy & Programs, testified in front of the Campaign Finance Board on the competitiveness of the 2017 elections, recommendations on how future debates should be conducted, and reforms Citizens Union hopes to see in place for the 2021 election cycle. Read the full testimony.
Albany on Trial
A series of major government corruption trials begin today with former executive deputy secretary to Governor Cuomo, Joseph Percoco and top political contributors to the governor facing bribery and extortion charges. The case alleges that Percoco received more than $300,000 worth of bribes from companies that had business before the state. Charges include conspiracy to commit extortion and solicitation of bribes and gratuities. Read the full release.
Citizens Union Welcomes New Executive Director, Betsy Gotbaum
Citizens Union is pleased to announce the arrival of its new Executive Director, Betsy Gotbaum, former New York City Public Advocate and longtime ally of good government. Working closely with the Board of Directors and the staff, Ms. Gotbaum will be responsible for achieving the priorities of Citizens Union while building the organization’s fiscal strength. Read More.
Urgent Actions Needed
During the upcoming session, New Yorkers will be confronted by headlines from more than a half-dozen high profile corruption trials. In the first half of the year, former top aides in the executive branch and the Upstate bid-rigging scandal will be center stage. At the same time, there will be the retrials of the former leaders of the Assembly and Senate, and the trials of a former state Senator, and prominent local officials. Read the Press Release and the Letter
A NEW START FOR OLD REFORMERS
Errol Louis spoke with newly appointed executive director Betsy Gotbaum on Road to City Hall. Watch here.
Citizens Union today announced its endorsements for citywide and City Council contests for the 2017 New York City general election. The full directory is available now by downloadable PDF, with an interactive version to follow shortly.
For the first time in more than 50 years, Citizens Union, by a unanimous vote of its governing board, declined to support any of the candidates running for Mayor. Citizens Union noted a number of Mayor Bill de Blasio's accomplishments during his term but expressed a particular concern that the Mayor's conduct has raised many troubling ethical issues. CU expressed the hope that in the future whoever is elected mayor will address the perception of a "pay-to-play" culture at City Hall and support ethics reform legislation for the benefit of all New Yorkers.
The Citizens Union Board of Directors stated: "This is a sad day for Citizens Union that it cannot, in good conscience, support any of the candidates for Mayor, including the incumbent, who has spent most of his tenure engulfed in troubling ethical issues that continue to swirl around him. New Yorkers deserve better than this. And we call upon whoever is elected to commit themselves to ethics reforms that clean up City Hall." Read the full release now.
The New York Times has an Unrealistic View of the Vote for a Constitutional Convention
"Throw the bums out" is no solution for a system structured to protect incumbent candidates.
“The New York Times' position on the New York State Constitutional Convention vote is unrealistic. 'Throw the bums out' is no solution for a system structured to protect incumbent candidates, and betrays New Yorkers by limiting the possibilities found in the electoral process. By contrast, a state constitutional convention presents a real opportunity for reform even with the flawed procedures that exist (and that the legislature will never change on its own). The election of delegates to a constitutional convention means that 204 positions will open, with no sitting incumbent politicians. We will be challenged to debate and discuss the future of New York State, with public town hall meetings and online forums. The possibility of redefining civic engagement from that of being led by the priorities of party bosses to the concerns of the public is paramount. To call on our neighbors to continue to engage with a rigged system is to advocate for the most corrupt legislature in the United States.” - Betsy Gotbaum, Frederick Schaffer, and Allen Rothstein
WOMEN MUST EDIT N.Y.'S CONSTITUTION SAYS NEW DIRECTOR, GOTBAUM
"If on Nov. 7, voters decide to hold a constitutional convention — as a state, we get the opportunity to say yes or no to the idea once every 20 years — that could produce a sea change in representation by women in New York. For the first time ever, New York could have a Constitution that women play a major role in shaping. Nothing, in fact, would prevent a majority of delegates being women." Read the full editorial.
CITIZENS UNION CALLS FOR INCUMBENT DISTRICT ATTORNEYS AND DISTRICT ATTORNEY CANDIDATES TO NOT ACCEPT CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS FROM LAWYERS WITH PENDING MATTERS
One of the principal matters of concern to Citizens Union is that of the financing of political campaigns and how the process could compromise policy. This week, the Board of Citizens Union, sent letters to the District Attorneys of New York City. Incumbent District Attorneys were asked to publicly and voluntarily declare that they will not accept and, indeed, will return campaign contributions from any lawyer of a law firm that has business before their office or comes to represent a client in a matter before them. Additionally, any candidates for the elected position of District Attorney should make the same commitment and agree to return campaign contributions from any lawyer or law firm that the candidate knows during the campaign, or comes to know, after the campaign. Citizens Union recognizes that there are other reforms worthy of consideration, including changes in state ethics laws and public financing of campaigns for District Attorney, and we look forward to advancing such reforms. In the meantime, we urge the District Attorneys of the City of New York to make clear declarations that they will no longer accept contributions from lawyers or law firms having business before their offices. Read the letters.
"We are pleased to announce that Betsy Gotbaum will become the new Executive Director of Citizens Union. As a champion of good government and long-time distinguished public servant, Betsy exemplifies all of the qualities and principles that Citizens Union stands for. Indeed, for more than 120 years, we have championed honesty, integrity, transparency, and accountability in government. And we cannot imagine a better leader than Betsy Gotbaum to help us achieve our ambitious agenda to deliver for all New Yorkers the good government they deserve."
CITIZENS UNION PUBLISHES CIRCUMVENTING DEMOCRACY: THE FLAWED SYSTEM FOR FILLING VACANCIES FOR ELECTED OFFICE IN NEW YORK
Citizens Union first began reporting on special elections and vacancies in the New York State Legislature in 2007 and has issued periodic updates to the original briefing paper over the last ten years (2011, 2015, 2017 – prospective). The accompanying data serves as interim reporting on legislative offices that were first filled or will be filled imminently, by special election. A full report on special elections and vacancies in the state legislature is currently being planned for release later this year. Read the report now.
CITIZENS UNION PUBLISHES 2017 PRIMARY VOTERS DIRECTORY
Prepare for the New York Primary Election 2017 with our candidate questionnaires, evaluations, and preferences. Still, want a print copy? Not a problem, download the Citizens Union 2017 Primary Voters Directory as a pdf file. Browse the directory online and remember to vote on Tuesday, September 12th.
CITIZENS UNION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK ANNOUNCES CANDIDATE PREFERENCES FOR NEW YORK CITY OFFICES IN SEPTEMBER 2017 PRIMARY ELECTIONS
The Citizens Union Board of Directors announced preferences in 14 New York City Council races and the Brooklyn DA race for the September 12th primary election. The current District Attorney of Kings County is CU’s preferred candidate. Five Council incumbents were among the 14 Council candidates. Citing their effectiveness in city government and commitment to reform, CU preferred Manhattan Councilmembers Margaret Chin (D-1), Helen Rosenthal (D-6), Mark Levine (D-7), Queens Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D-30), Brooklyn Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D-38). Read the full press release.
CITIZENS UNION CONDEMNS PRESIDENT TRUMP'S REMARKS CONCERNING CHARLOTTESVILLE VIOLENCE
Since its inception 120 years ago, Citizens Union, New York's pre-eminent non-partisan good government group committed to uniting New Yorkers to build a better democracy, has focused on demanding more of our local government and local elected officials. For the first time in its history, Citizens Union must speak out and demand more of the President of the United States. A leader, who, in the wake of the Charlottesville horror, has done irreparable damage to the reputation of our country and the democratic principles for which it stands, defended the indefensible and given encouragement to racists to bring their platform of hate and violence to other cities. Read the full statement.
TODAY IN GOTHAM GAZETTE
Citizens Union Foundation's watchdog publication Gotham Gazette provides New Yorkers with illuminating analyses on policy, long-form interviews with thought leaders, and under-reported stories about the actions of government and government officials. Read Gotham Gazette's latest stories.
CIVIC GROUPS LAUNCH CAMPAIGN SUPPORTING NEW YORK STATE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
As an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers are fed up with the mess in Albany that has prevented needed change in how our democracy is practiced and how our state government meets the needs of its citizens, a number of civic groups today launched a coordinated campaign to support a constitutional convention to deliver the change New Yorkers demand. Read the full press release.
CIVIC GROUPS HAIL NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY PASSAGE OF PACKAGE OF COMPREHENSIVE VOTING REFORMS
The Voter Friendly Ballot Act is a much-needed reform that will remove unnecessary text and political party emblems from already cluttered ballots. We are pleased to see this package of bills pass in the Assembly and hope that the Senate will pass these reforms before the session ends. Read the press release.
SEEDS OF CORRUPTION ARE PLANTED AS BILLIONS IN TAXPAYER DOLLARS ARE SPENT IN MURKY PROCESS
Without transparency as to how this money is spent, the environment for the corrosive impact of money in politics is primed. Read the media advisory.
CITIZENS UNION RELEASES REPORT ON NONSPECIFIC FUNDING IN THE FY18 NYS EXECUTIVE BUDGET
Today, Citizens Union released the latest edition of Spending in the Shadows, our report on unspecified lump sum spending in New York’s FY 2018 Executive budget. The report examines numerous pots of money under state government control that have few spending criteria, few constraints, and little public accountability – all part of a recipe for public corruption. Specifically, this edition documents $4.3 billion in funds that are subject to spending decisions by individual elected officials, representing an increase of nearly $2 billion from last year’s executive budget. The report also documents billions of dollars in other opaque funds that lack criteria for spending and does not specify any official as having authority.
VOTE YES FOR A NEW YORK STATE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
In the November 2017 election, the people of New York State will vote on whether they support convening a State Constitutional Convention. Citizens Union vigorously urges New Yorkers to vote YES. We firmly believe that New Yorkers must stand for a democracy worthy of its promise. A Constitutional Convention provides a once in a generation opportunity to “open” the state constitution and make much-needed reforms to improve the performance of our state government, strengthen the integrity of our political institutions and reform our broken 20th-century voting and electoral systems. Read the full statement.
SPENDING IN THE SHADOWS: TOTAL AMOUNT IS NEARLY $13 BILLION
Citizens Union has examined New York’s FY 2018 Enacted Budget and found that $1 billion in nonspecific lump sum funding “pots” were added to the FY 2018 Executive Budget proposed by the Governor, bringing the total amount of such funding that Citizens Union has identified to nearly $13 billion. Read the report .