Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Have you read it yet?

It is remarkably well-written, and it is sinister, sad and comical all at once. It’s the New York State Inspector General’s 308 page report (yes, we have a few pages in the middle to go over more carefully but we are almost done) on the selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group to operate a slot machine destination at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.

It is sinister because so many people claimed their right against self-incrimination, leaving the Inspector General to weed through a year’s worth of emails and lunch receipts to find answers, sad because it is clear that no one is coming to the rescue and comical in the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up kind of way (a quote from one lobbyist, when asked whether he had heard from a certain politician about the bidding: “No. He did however ask me for campaign dough today.” (p. 102)).

It is a remarkable piece of research, a richly detailed portrait of Albany’s inner workings and, once digested, discussed and distilled, we hope it will be a powerful lever for strong campaign finance reforms and real ethics enforcement and oversight of the legislature.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Bid for Casino, Report Claims State Senators Showed Favoritism

The New York Times ran this story yesterday on a report issued by the state inspector general, detailing a controversial backroom deal struck between the bidders for New York’s first casino, and State Senate leaders. According the report, State Senate leaders showed favoritism in the bid over who would run nearly 4,500 slot machines at a Queens race track, towards the bidder Aqueduct Entertainment Group – which had donated funds to the state’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Due to possible violation of laws, the inspector general’s office is referring its findings to federal and state prosecutors as well as the Legislative Ethics Committee.

The governor’s office is also faulted in the report for having initially supported Aqueduct’s bid for the casino, before reversing their position in March when another group was ultimately selected for the contract.

These ethical violations are just another example of what happens when contracts are negotiated behind closed doors, rather than in an open and transparent way. As we have blogged before regarding ethics reform, these negotiations must be part of a public discussion and not a product of backroom deals.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Incorrect Ballot Instructions: a Statewide Problem?

We are concerned that the ballot instruction error for New York City we blogged about yesterday, which was covered by WNYC this morning, may very well be a statewide problem for all jurisdictions who have designed their ballot with ovals appearing below a candidate’s name.

The provision of New York State Election Law § 7-106 which mandates how the instructions are to be printed on the ballot, reads:

"(2) To vote for a candidate whose name is printed on this ballot fill in the (insert oval or square, as applicable) above or next to the name of the candidate."

Furthermore, we have been told that the flawed instruction language included in this document will be posted in privacy booths statewide, telling voters to fill in the oval “above or next to” candidate’s name.

We have yet to receive a response from the letter we sent yesterday. We have been told that these instructions will be posted in every privacy booth across New York City. While these written instructions tell voters to darken the oval next to their choice, a visual image of an arrow shows voters that to correctly mark their ballot they must fill in the oval below the candidate’s name. That's definitely an improvement over the completely inaccurate ballot instructions we detailed yesterday.

We will update our readers with any further developments.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

City Board's Mistake on Ballot Instructions

After obtaining and posting a copy of New York City’s poorly designed sample ballot, a careless mistake on the instruction page has been brought to our attention that will surely further confuse voters on Election Day if action is not take immediately.

Instruction (2) reads: “To vote for a candidate whose name is printed on this ballot fill in the oval above or next to the name of the candidate.”

Unfortunately, as you can see below (click for a full image), in the sample ballot the ovals connected to the candidate appear below the candidate’s name. A voter who follows the directions and chooses the oval above the candidate’s name will actually be voting for a different candidate than she intends.

The Brennan Center sent this letter to attorneys for the City Board of Elections as well as the State Board of Elections, asking that they take immediate action to correct this error by changing both the instructions on the ballot as well as the instruction in the privacy booths. Furthermore, we requested that the City Board include a warning in the privacy booths against “double-voting.”

We hope that the City Board will comply with our request and we will keep our readers informed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

NYC Sample Ballot 2010 – An Early Look

For years, in contrast to many jurisdictions around the country, the City Board has refused to post sample ballots on its website. Remember all those voters complaining during the primary that the type on the ballot was too small? Well, posting sample ballots can and does help with this kind of problem elsewhere -- it gives voters an opportunity to review and familiarize themselves with the ballot ahead of time.

Amazingly, the City Board has once again failed to post any sample ballots for the voters. But we're doing our part to at least make sample ballots available here. Click here for an early look at the sample ballot for the general election on November 2, 2010 for voters in the City of New York – County of New York. As we have blogged before, New York's ridiculous design requirements for paper ballots have led to very confusing ballot design for this general election. We remain very concerned of likely overvotes and doublevotes which could disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters and threatens minor parties.

We hope that our readers will find the sample ballot useful as they familiarize themselves with the ballot prior to Election Day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary

ReformNY readers have been invited to an event honoring Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Please view the invitation below and make sure to note the special discount for ReformNY readers.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary

Symposium: Monday, October 18, 2010 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm

The New York Academy of Medicine
1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street

Keynote by Senator Charles E. Schumer, United States Senator for New York.

Panelists include:
Richard Ravitch
, Lieutenant Governor of New York
Steven Weisman
, Editorial Director and Public Policy Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and editor of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary
Peter W. Galbraith
, Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control
Stephen Hess
, Senior Fellow Emeritus in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution
Richard K. Eaton
, Federal Judge, United States Court of International Trade
Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr., Host, MSNBC’s The Last Word

When Daniel Patrick Moynihan died in 2003, the Economist described him as “a philosopher-politician-diplomat who two centuries earlier would not have been out of place among the Founding Fathers.” Steven Weisman has culled the papers of this gifted author and voluminous correspondent to create a vivid portrait of the senator’s life in Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary (Public Affairs Books, 2010).

Reception: 7:00 to 8:30 pm
The Museum of the City of New York

1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street

Co-sponsored by the American Irish Historical Society, the Glucksman Ireland House at New York University, and the Maxwell School at Syracuse University

Reservations required: 917.492.3395, e-mail programs@mcny.org.
$6 museum members; $8 seniors and students; $12 non-members
$6 when you mention the ReformNY/Brennan Center for Justice

The Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street
New York
, NY 10029


Friday, October 01, 2010

Indictment of Former N.J. State Sen. Underlines the Need for Disclosure Requirement for Attorney-Legislators in New York

An indictment filed in federal court earlier this week against former New Jersey State Senator Wayne Bryant highlights the need for stronger state ethics regulation, including strict financial-disclosure requirements for legislators with part time law practices -- in New York. As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the indictment alleges that the former senator received $192,000 in retainer fees from a Bergen County Law firm, which were actually bribes in exchange for support of the development projects for clients of the firm. New Jersey's ethics laws require financial-disclosure statements of legislators, spouses, and minor children, in which they must disclose “personal loans, business interests, addresses and description of property owned, as well as the names of all paid or unpaid offices and board positions held.” Furthermore, legislators are prohibited under state law as well as the Legislative Code of Ethics from “participating in legislation in which they have a personal interest.”

As in New York, however, a loophole prevents the legislator-lawyers from having to disclose their financial interests when they represent clients.

ReformNY has previously blogged on this subject and the New York City Bar found that there is no basis for claims by legislators with part time law practices that the attorney-client privilege entitles them to a blanket exemption from disclosure and reporting.

We hope that the incident in New Jersey will renew interest in pushing for ethics reform in our own state which includes client disclosure requirement for attorney-legislators.