ALBANY PASSES HISTORIC PRO-DEMOCRACY REFORMS, LONG CHAMPIONED BY CITIZENS UNION
January 14, 2019
Citizens Union, a leading good government group committed to reforming New York City and State government to foster accountability, accessibility, and transparency, issues the following statement from Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum and Board Chair Randy Mastro on the voting reforms passed today by the State Senate and Assembly:
"Today, the Senate and Assembly kept their promise to New Yorkers and passed historic reforms that will protect and expand voting rights in New York State. For too long, New York has had regressive voting laws that depress voter participation. The bills passed today, including for early voting, consolidating federal and local primaries, same day voter registration, no excuse absentee voting and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds, have boosted turnout in other states across the country and will be a boon to democracy in New York. These reforms, along with closing the LLC loophole, a necessary change to our campaign finance system, are long overdue and ensuring their passage has been Citizen Union’s top priority.
"We want to thank Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Heastie, as well as the many advocates statewide, for their hard work to bring about today’s reforms, which will help revitalize democracy in New York State." Governor Cuomo has also supported electoral reform and we urge him to promptly sign these bills.
Citizens Union Applaud's Governor Cuomo's Pro-Democracy Agenda
December 17, 2018
Citizens Union, a leading good government group committed to reforming New York City and State government to foster accountability, accessibility, and transparency, issues the following statement on Governor Cuomo's 2019 agenda.
"Citizens Union applauds Governor Cuomo for the pro-democracy proposals he outlined in his speech this morning, reforms that will greatly protect and expand New Yorkers' right to vote. It is past the time that we address New York's regressive voting laws that depress voter participation. The proposals the Governor discussed today, including automatic voter registration, combining state and federal primaries, and early voting, have boosted voter turnout in other states across the country. They are long overdue for New York. These reforms, along with the necessary changes to our campaign finance system proposed by the Governor, should enjoy strong support from legislators in both parties. We call on the legislature to move swiftly to pass legislation that will revitalize democracy here in New York State."
Citizens Union Comments on NYS Compensation Committee Recommendations
December 11, 2018
Citizens Union, a leading good government group committed to reforming New York City and State government to foster accountability, accessibility, and transparency, issues the following statement on the proposed legislative pay increase and outside compensation restrictions:
New Yorkers deserve a highly professional state government. In order to attract the best, brightest, and most independent to public service, elected officials need to be compensated fairly for the work they do. For years, Citizens Union has advocated for greater pay for legislators to reflect that the office is a full-time job and to limit legislators’ need to seek outside compensation. We have also long supported significantly limiting the outside compensation of legislators, which would make elected officials more directly accountable to the public that elected them and the taxpayers that pay their salaries. Citizens Union supports the Compensation Committee's proposals and, while it is unclear whether recommendations regarding outside compensation and stipends for legislators are binding, we urge the legislature to remove any doubt by promptly passing those restrictions in the new session.
Statement on the Sentencing of Syracuse Developer in Buffalo Billions Scandal
December 7, 2018
Citizens Union, a leading good government group committed to reforming our New York City and State government to foster accountability, accessibility, and transparency, reacts to the sentencing of Syracuse-based developer Joseph Gerardi:
"The charges brought against Joseph Gerardi speak to a culture of corruption in Albany and the need for a serious assessment of New York State’s ethics laws. Mr. Gerardi's conviction and sentencing, and that of top state officials in recent years, should serve as a reminder to lawmakers that it is time for Albany to be serious about ethics reform. We cannot allow wealthy and powerful interests to continue to use backdoor channels, special access, and other nefarious means to influence our government. This is especially prevalent around economic development decisions, where huge amounts of tax dollars are spent without adequate oversight. New York State needs common sense reforms like limiting legislators’ outside compensation and establishing a database of deals, which would increase the transparency of annual spending on business subsidies. New Yorkers deserve a government they can trust, and we look forward to working with the legislature and Governor to pass ethics reform that will restore the public's faith.”
Citizens Union Reacts to Historic Senate Leadership Election
November 26, 2018
Betsy Gotbaum, Executive Director of Citizens Union, a leading good government group committed to reforming New York City and State government to foster accountability, accessibility, and transparency, reacts to Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins being selected Senate Majority Leader:
"Citizens Union would like to congratulate Senator Stewart-Cousins and, by extension, all New Yorkers on this historic fall of gender and racial barriers. No longer can we assume that the three leaders in ‘the room’ will all be men. That alone is a huge step forward. As the first woman elected to lead the Senate Majority, Senator Stewart-Cousins is a trailblazer, chipping away at the status quo traditionally led by men in power. In addition to being a strong and tireless advocate for her constituents, Senator Stewart-Cousins is a champion of change to restore and strengthen New York’s democratic institutions. We look forward to working toward meaningful reform in the areas of voting, ethics, and open government with the new Senate Majority Leader and her colleagues in the coming legislative session," said Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of Citizens Union, and former Public Advocate of New York City.
Statement from Citizens Union on Dismissal of Commissioner Mark Peters
November 20, 2018
Citizens Union, a leading good government group committed to reforming New York City and State government to foster accountability, accessibility, and transparency, issues the following statement on the dismissal of Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters:
The dismissal of a Department of Investigation commissioner by a Mayor is an unprecedented step that warrants careful scrutiny. The details presented in news reports indicate that there are merits to such a dismissal, but the public has the right to know the full story has been told. The City Council should examine the details presented by both the Mayor’s office and Mr. Peters, either with a public hearing or in executive session. The public must be confident that there is proper oversight within city government, and that meaningful checks and balances are in place.
CU Reacts to 2018 General Election Results
November 7, 2018
Betsy Gotbaum, Executive Director of Citizens Union, a leading good government group committed to reforming New York City and State governments to foster accountability, accessibility, and transparency, issued the following statement in reaction to tonight's election results:
Last night, New Yorkers sent a loud and clear message to Albany: it’s time for change.
By voting in candidates with progressive platforms, voters are signaling they want real reform in New York.
We know that New York needs voting reform, ethics reform, and campaign finance reform.
We need to better protect and expand New Yorkers' right to vote, restore their faith in government institutions, and curb special interest influence on our elections.
Citizens Union congratulates all of the candidates who have earned the privilege to represent their communities.
When the legislative session begins next year, we call on Governor Cuomo and the newly-constituted state legislature to move swiftly to pass a number of reforms that will make state government more accountable, accessible, and transparent, and make voting easier and elections fairer.
We look forward to working with Governor Cuomo and the leadership of both the Senate and Assembly to make the reforms a reality.
Citizens Union Reacts to Charges Brought Against Assemblymember Joseph Errigo
Citizens Union, a leading good government group committed to reforming our New York City and State government to foster accountability, accessibility, and transparency, reacts to the charges against Assemblyman Joseph Errigo, who has been accused of taking a $10,500 bribe in exchange for introducing legislation:
"The charges brought yesterday against Assemblyman Joseph Errigo speak to a culture of corruption in Albany, where lobbyists and powerful interests can literally purchase lawmakers and legislation to suit their needs. This corruption is especially prevalent when it comes to decision making around economic development, and it should come as no surprise that nefarious interests looking to take advantage of the system are seeking to muddy the waters of oversight over huge sums of taxpayer dollars," said Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of Citizens Union.
"We see far too many instances of lawmakers violating the public’s trust behind closed doors and abusing their power for personal gain. Assemblyman Errigo was gifted his spot on the ballot by party insiders. It's no surprise that someone elected in large part due to a backroom deal would violate the public's trust. It is time for Albany to get serious about ethics and election reforms that will ensure the people of New York State can trust that their state government is acting in their best interests, and not the interests of the wealthy and well connected,” Gotbaum added.
Guarantee No One is Uncounted in the 2020 Census
The census is required by the U.S. Constitution and getting it right is important to everyone. A fair and accurate census, and the collection of useful, objective data about our nation’s people, housing, economy, and communities generally, is among the most important civil rights issues of our day. Historically, the census has missed certain communities at disproportionately high rates, which is why it is critical that we have a fair and accurate 2020 Census. Adding an unnecessary and intrusive question about citizenship to the census form that goes to all households will discourage participation and threatens the accuracy of the count, especially in already “hard-to-count” communities.
As civil rights and census advocates, we must raise our collective voice to ensure that the 2020 Census is fair and accurate and does not include a citizenship question. We are calling on you to file a public comment on how the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census is a misguided political act that will lead to a dangerous undercount of communities across New York. Submit a public comment now.
End Corruption with Clean Contracting
Guilty verdict of Kaloyeros is a wake-up call. Groups once again urge Governor Cuomo to stop using state-controlled nonprofits to award state contracts and to adopt basic Clean Contracting reforms.
According to fiscal and government watchdog groups, evidence introduced at the federal trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the governor's former nano-czar, and executives from LP Ciminelli and COR Development highlight the vulnerability of the state’s economic development programs to corruption and abuse. Read More.
Attacking Immigrant Communities Must End
Citizens Union has submitted the following letter to the Department of Commerce on the damage that the inclusion of a citizens question will have on an accurate census count. A citizenship question will drive down participation and jeopardize the accuracy of the census. We encourage you or your organization to submit comments as well. Read the Letter.
Citizens Union feels compelled to call out the injustice, ineffectiveness and ineptitude that pervade our country's current immigration policy, and to demand that our federal government do better by all of us, whether we were born here or not. As New Yorkers, we stand in the shadow of Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty, reminding us every day of our immigrant roots. That is why we declare, today, that our country has to do better and be better than this. Read More.
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.
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 .
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.
The People's Right to Oversight is Critical
"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.
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.
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.
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 Shadows
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.
Citizens Union testified to the New York City Council in support of the efforts to protect New Yorkers in the workplaces of city government to the Committee on Civic and Civil Rights . Guaranteeing a safe, empowering, and dignified workplace for all New Yorkers, especially women and especially those working in city government, is at the basis of our efforts to protect and uphold public trust. Read the testimony.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.