Citizens Union is committed to reforming our New York City and State governments to foster accountability, accessibility, transparency, honesty, and the highest ethical standards. For the past 120 years, we at Citizens Union have devoted ourselves to holding our local governments accountable to do better in all of these areas, and we remain committed to enfranchising all New Yorkers. The many initiatives that we are currently advancing include ethics reform, increased voter participation and civic engagement, greater police accountability, and a truly accurate 2020 census. In all of these efforts, we have been — and will remain — nonpartisan.
WHAT WE WANT
Citizens Union wants a democratic system with all New Yorkers participating in civic life. When all are engaged, a better civil society, for all, can be achieved.
Our vision for a democratic system is one in which campaigns are won on merit and not money. Our vision is for a reality in which elections are fairly conducted and accessible to all voters. We believe it is possible for elected officials to serve without being tempted by corrupt practices. We know that when the government is transparent, efficient and responsive, the public will investigate the issues and feel empowered to shaping civil society by changing the laws.
Since its founding in 1897 in response to the corruption of Tammany Hall in the affairs of New York and throughout our history, Citizens Union has been responsible for some of the most consequential reforms in city and state government. Today, our work focuses on six key areas:
- Voting and Elections: We believe that more engaged and attentive voters lead to more honest and responsive leaders, so we work to improve all aspects of the voting process. We support efforts where candidates can get on the ballot easier fostering competition and voters have more ways and days to cast their ballot increasing access and boosting turnout.
- Money in Politics: We seek to counter the role “big money” plays in our campaigns and who wins elections and the “pay to play” culture in governing in which campaign contributions unduly influence policy and legislative outcomes and the awarding of contracts. From the creation of New York City’s public matching system to our efforts to create more transparency in who is funding campaigns, we work to reduce the corrosive impact of money in politics.
- Curbing Corruption: Citizens Unions got its start fighting corruption in Tammany Hall and we continue serving as a watchdog for the public interest with investigative reports and policy analysis that move the public and the press to action on key reforms. We press for stronger ethics oversight and enforcement of public officials with a better financial disclosure of outside income, and reporting of lobbying and campaign activity of those who are paid to influence elections and governmental decisions.
- Open Government: Secrecy is the enemy of a thriving democracy so we push for laws and policies to make it simpler and easier for citizens to access information on the workings of government and the actions and activities of their elected representatives; while hosting forums with leaders that make them more directly responsive to the people.
- A Balance of Powers: Decisions in New York state have too often been made by “three men in a room:” the governor and respective leaders of the State Senate and Assembly. We advocate for reforms that ensure no single branch, or official controls too much power and where the city of New York has greater local control over its own affairs.
- Government Spending: There is too little transparency and accountability for how and why New Yorkers’ tax dollars are being spent. Citizens Union works to bring spending out of the shadows while pressing for a greater legislative role in adopting budgets and oversight in governmental performance.
Though Citizens Union has been active since 1897, there are certain moments when our work takes on a renewed urgency; when New Yorkers must come together to demand a new way forward.
Now is one of those moments. With increased corruption and decreased voter participation, we have a state and city political system in crisis and a democracy in need of reform.
New Yorkers have the power and the responsibility to revitalize our democracy. Citizens Union provides the vision, the organization, and the tools to make it possible.
HOW WE WORK
The work of Citizens Union is executed by two distinct entities: The Citizens Union of the City of New York is a 501 (c)(4) membership organization that evaluates candidates for elected office and acts, advocates, and lobbies to improve New York government and our political institutions.
The Citizens Union Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that conducts research, analyzes the impact of proposed public policies and evaluates legislation at the city and state level, and engages in public education that includes public forums and our award-winning online news source, Gotham Gazette.
Although Citizens Union’s democratic reform work is varied and broad, the common denominator underpinning it all is the welcome involvement of our members in the governing of the Union. Members play a direct role in deciding which candidates to support for elected office which positions to take on the issues. Through our volunteer municipal, state and candidate evaluation committees and our civic watchdog and Citizens Union ambassador programs, our diverse members and supporters do exactly what we ask of New Yorkers to do: stand up and participate. With civility and respect, we discuss and debate issues grounded in the facts. We evaluate candidates and their fitness for office and capacity to advance democratic reform. And with a focus on what is best for all New Yorkers, we propose and work to advance solutions that strengthen our democracy and make it work for all of us.