Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Oink Oink!

Gotham Gazette has an excellent story on the secretive way that NYS deals with member items in the budget. It’s pork barrel spending and slush funds galore!

“Each year, Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon hand out $170 million in member items. The governor also gets a $30 million pot of money to pass out as he sees fit. But unlike the City Council, the State Legislature does not provide a list of how the money is spent. Even the State Comptroller, who has the power to audit state contracts and other finances, does not have the authority see the list.

In an effort to learn how this $200 million in taxpayer money is spent each year, the Times Union of Albany has spent months trying to get the records using the New York's Freedom of Information Law. When both Bruno and Silver refused, the newspaper filed a lawsuit to force them to produce the information. The Albany District Attorney David Soares even began an investigation into the matter.
After many months, the Times Union did get a hold of some member item records from the past - including some that raised suspicions.

In 2004 and 2005, records showed that Assemblymember Vito Lopez funneled $700,000 in member items to the same senior center that sponsors his annual picnic, with no explanation of how the money would be spent.

During the same time period, one of the largest recipients of member item funds was the North Bronx Westchester Neighborhood Restoration Association, which received $1.4 million even though its founder, State Senator Guy Velella was found guilty of accepting bribes and sentenced to a year in prison….”

There’s some good news:

“the State Senate has posted some information about member items on its Web site, but many of the grants are for unspecific organizations at undisclosed locations. E.J. McMahon, a budget watchdog for the Manhattan Institute, called the list of member items "almost worse than nothing."”

See our previous related postings: We’re Shocked, Shocked! AND Operating Behind Closed Doors

Categories: General, Legislative Rules, Campaign Finance

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