Paterson Questions Public Campaign Financing

From the Morning Memo:

In the state Senate, David Paterson was a backer of public financing for political campaigns.

But the question is becoming an increasingly less academic one for New York, with a report of recommendations due out at the end of November on how such a system might work in coming election cycles.

And Paterson, the former governor who served from 2007 to 2011, in a Daily News op/ed published Wednesday afternoon enumerated the concerns that could have been uttered by those who are skeptical of a broad-based public financing system as well as fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines.

In the op/ed, Paterson notes:

-Public financing is not popular with voters, according to polling.
-Public financing could be too expensive if done incorrectly.
-Minor parties could be created to make public financing a “business opportunity.”
-Fusion voting has enabled to rise of minor parties that are vehicles for power (not mentioned is the Women’s Equality Party, which was formed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s behest in 2014).

Much of the concerns raised by Paterson — and the potential solutions such as limiting matching funds to in-district contributions — have been raised in one way or another by Jay Jacobs, the state party chairman the governor appointed to the commission.

Paterson isn’t just a former governor, either. He’s been retained as the public face of an effort to award a downstate casino license to the Las Vegas Sands.

He is also Jacobs’s predecessor as state party chairman, appointed to the post by Cuomo.

The op/ed suggests a tightly conscripted form of public campaign finance, one that advocates may be ultimately disappointed in, is possible.

Green Party Frets Ballot Status

From the Morning Memo:

Often the first question a Green Party candidate for governor in New York is asked by reporters, perhaps somewhat unfairly, isn’t about policy, but survival: Can you reach 50,000 votes?

That’s long been the threshold for retaining ballot status in New York for the next election cycle — a chance to live to fight another day for minor parties that have little shot of wining a general election at the top of the ticket.

But as Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs has floated in an email to commissioners on the public financing commission, that threshold could change, rising to as high as 250,000 votes for a gubernatorial candidate.

This has been viewed as another shot at the Working Families Party. But it would also affect parties like the Greens. Unlike the WFP, the Green Party does not cross-endorse candidates for office.

Parties that lose their ballot status can petition their way back on, but it is a costly and time-consuming process.

The threshold increase was blasted by the state party’s co-chairs Gloria Mattera and Peter LaVenia, who said it would be “nearly impossible” for the Green Party or any other third party to maintain its ballot line.

“This is the behavior of a cartel looking to minimize competition,” LaVenia said. “One of the reasons the Green Party agreed with the potential fusion ban is that parties would be forced to run their own candidates, which broadens democratic choice. This is nothing but an anti-democratic proposal by Commissioner Jacobs.”

A counter offer from the Greens: Broaden access to the ballot.

“Why not allow 50,000 votes for any statewide office to grant ballot access?” Mattera said. “Almost all other states have fairer ballot-access requirements. Commissioner Jacob’s proposal would be almost unmatched in its difficulty. There are fairer, and better, ways of structuring ballot access and none of them include raising vote thresholds.”

The Green Party in the past had recruited candidates with some name recognition to boost its chances of keeping its ballot status — think colorful nominees like Al Lewis, the actor who played Granpa on “The Munsters” or writer Malachy McCourt.

But for the last three elections, the Greens have backed Howie Hawkins, a Syracuse-based activist, for the nomination. Hawkins has been able to secure more than the 50,000 votes each time. He’s run to the left of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, of course, on issues like banning fracking and a $15 minimum wage — both of which have been adopted as planks for the Democratic Party.

More Than 100 Groups Push For End To Solitary Confinement

From the Morning Memo:

Amid the parade of criminal justice law changes and prison closures lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have made in recent years, the use of solitary confinement remains in effective for New York prison inmates.

But now advocates hope a new report released tis week by the New York Civil Liberties Union will provide more fuel to end solitary confinement in state prisons.

The NYCLU’s report found an uptick in the use of solitary confinement, with 40,000 inmates last year given confinement sanctions.

State prison officials have sought to reduce the number of people in solitary housing units, considered the most restrictive form of solitary confinement.

Still, prison reform advocates say those changes aren’t going far enough to fix the problem.

More than 130 groups — including the #HALTsolitary campaign, NYCLU, NY Working Families, Human Rights Watch, the Mental Health Association of New York State — urged Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to take up legislation banning solitary confinement in the state by the first day of the legislative session in January.

“Thousands of people in New York are suffering in solitary confinement right now, and tens of thousands each year,” the letter states. “In 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture determined that any length of time in solitary beyond 15 days amounts to torture, and in turn, in 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted rules banning solitary beyond 15 days for all people. Yet in New York, people regularly spend months, years, and even decades in solitary.”

Scrutiny has been placed on how solitary confinement effects inmates of color as well as transgender and gender non-conforming individuals and can lead to suicides as well as other mental health issues in prisons.

DAs Says Discovery Law Changes Need To Be Funded

For hours on Monday, state lawmakers took testimony from law enforcement officials, criminal justice advocates and attorneys on a little noticed but major change in how people are prosecuted in the state: speeding up the time for processing evidence and turning it over to the defense.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved criminal justice law changes meant to speed up the discovery process for evidence. But county district attorneys say that change did not come with any funding to implement it.

“It’s placing an awful lot of burden on the county to have to pick up for these policies that have been changed by our state,” said Albany County District Attorney David Soares.

Processing evidence is a time-consuming task. There can be hours of video footage shot by a police body camera or dash camera alone to review. Soares says that’s then multiplied many times over by the thousands of felony and misdemeanor arrests every year.

“If we have to do that for all cases, then we would never have time to do anything else, which is why you need an investment of people as well as technology,” he said.

Soares was among the seven district attorneys who testified on Monday to a Senate panel on the issue. Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan says his rural county will need at least $1 million to enact the change.

“That is a real challenge for rural, midsized and large counties across upstate. So, the state should really do what I said in the testimony, put your money where your mouth is,” Jordan said. “If they believe this is an important reform, let’s fund it so we can comply.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office maintains county prosecutors will have the money generated from savings from the elimination of cash bail for many offenses.

“Local governments will save hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the elimination of cash bail for minor offenses and other actions, making available the resources for the implementation of these critical criminal justice reforms,” said Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the New York State Division of the Budget.

Advocates for criminal justice law changes like Khalil Cumberbatch of New Yorkers United for Justice say the discovery reforms are vital for giving defendants access to evidence. He noted most prosecutors aren’t against the chagnes.

“They’re simply asking for the resources, and to be honest with you, that is a very valid position to take,” Cumberbatch said.

Advocates will closely watch whether the money is being committed to criminal justice changes as the new legislative session begins in January. Cumberbatch pointed to a recent poll the group released showing broad statewide support for criminal justice law changes.

“Many people believe these reforms will only benefit the city,” Cumberbatch said. “That’s not true. They’re going to benefit people all across the state.”

DiNapoli Urges Commission To Keep Fusion Voting

From the Morning Memo:

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in a letter to the commission determining the rules of the road for New York’s public campaign financing system urged the panel to keep fusion voting intact.

The letter was first reported this weekend by NY1’s Zack Fink.

DiNapoli at the same time urged the commission to create a public financing system, calling the move a “good investment” to improve the state’s elections.

But fusion voting, the practice of allowing candidates to run on multiple ballot lines, is believed to be in the crosshairs of the panel.

Ending or significantly limiting fusion voting could hinder the futures of minor parties like the Conservative and Working Families parties, and both have filed lawsuits challenging the legality of the commission, which was devised by the Legislature and Gv. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year to devise the specifics of how the public financing system work work.

“On the separate issue of fusion voting, it has been my experience that New York’s current system to allow multi-party endorsements for candidates is a net positive for our State,” DiNapoli wrote in the letter last week. “It is my view that fusion voting provides greater opportunity for diverse opinions and coalition building that strengthens the democratic process. While it may be appropriate to review current thresholds, I strongly urge the Commission to continue to permit the fusion voting option.”

As for public financing, DiNapoli wrote that “it is imperative” to stem the influence of big money in political campaigns.

“Public campaign finance will allow candidates and elected officials to compete on a more even playing field and to make decisions without the undue influence of large campaign contributors, thus removing the perception of pay-to-play,” he said. “It encourages more people to enter the political process and fosters our ability to bring different viewpoints and perspectives to Albany for the good of all New Yorkers. It is a sound investment in a more open and transparent government.”

State lawmakers and the governor in 2014 created a pilot program for public financing for the comptroller’s race.

DiNapoli declined to participate as the program was created in the middle of the election cycle. His Republican opponent that year, Bob Antonacci, did participate, but failed to qualify for public matching funds.

Campaign finance reform advocates are closely watching the outcome of the commission’s work and a report is expected to be released before Thanksgiving with recommendations that have the force of law unless the Legislature acts by the end of the year.

The commission has drawn concern in recent days with the potential of a high matching funds to donations ratio, and the potential for matching funds to be only counted for money given legislative candidates who live in a district — potentially limiting the appeal of participating in the program.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli Campaign Finance Reform Testimony by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Common Cause Says JCOPE Is Misinterpreting Lobbying Law

The good-government group Common Cause on Friday said the Joint Commission on Public Ethics is misapply the state’s lobbying law to apply to a rape survivor who advocated for the passage of the Child Victims Act.

Kat Sullivan, a survivor of rape from her time as a student the Emma Willard School in Troy, is being investigated by JCOPE after she called for the passage of the measure with a billboard and airplane banner. JCOPE maintains she spent more than $5,000 to trigger the state’s law that requires disclosure.

Sullivan says she paid for the advertisements with money from a settlement with the school, but that she did not act as a lobbyist. This week, Sullivan filed a lawsuit against JCOPE, alleging her First Amendment rights have been violated.

Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner pointed to the state’s lobbying law itself, which she said should not apply to Sullivan.

“JCOPE appears to be willfully misinterpreting the lobbying law, which as written, clearly should not apply to Ms. Sullivan or any private individual who takes it upon herself to petition her government,” Lerner said.

“This is an abuse of power that smacks of retaliation, and violates our fundamental democratic rights. A person who is not retained to advocate on behalf of another entity is not a lobbyist, by definition under the New York Lobbying Act. It’s clear that Ms. Sullivan’s passion, not a paycheck, is what’s driving her advocacy. It’s an embarrassment that JCOPE can’t tell the difference and continues to harass her rather than pursuing actual public corruption.”

Bill Lowering Threshold For Hunting While Intoxicated Approved

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week signed legislation that lowers the legal threshold for being considered legally drunk while hunting.

The new law lowers the threshold from .10 blood alcohol content to .08, the same standard used for determining if a person is driving a car or boat while drunk.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Anna Kaplan and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski.

The new law follows what other states, including Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and West Virginia have done to lower the legal intoxication threshold.

Sponsors of the legislation in a bill memo pointed to the .08 threshold for operating a boat or car, saying hunting is an activity that should have the same level of safety.

“An individual who is too intoxicated to drive a car or pilot a boat is also unfit to engage in hunting and the increased risk is not only to the hunter, but to everyone else in the field. This bill would ensure a consistent standard for intoxication in state law,” the bill memo states.

The bill takes effect on Sept. 1, 2020.

Voting Early? Uber May Discount Your Ride To Polls

From the Morning Memo:

Early bird voters in Albany who hail a ride to get to the polls could be in line for a discount.

The company is providing $10 off in Albany for riding to the polls between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3.

Early voting begins for the first time in New York on Saturday. The ride hailing app Uber is in some locations offering discounts for voters heading to the polling stations in some locations in New York.

Voters should first go to their local Board of Elections website to identify their polling locations. For the discount, riders should enter the promo NYSVotes2019 in their app. If a rider enters a polling site as their destination, they receive $10 off the ride.

Good-Government Groups Urge Lawmakers To Limit Their Outside Income

With the turn of the new year, state lawmakers will still be able to earn income in private-sector jobs following successful court challenges to a commission-imposed cap on outside pay.

Good-government groups hope lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will take more direct action in the 2020 session.

A coalition of good-government organizations on Thursday released a letter to the governor and top lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly urging them to take up an outside income ban.

A pay commission had recommended pay increases for the 213 members of the Legislature that was coupled with a cap on outside income at 15 percent of their public-sector pay. Lawmakers currently earn $110,000 and will eventually be phased up to $130,000.

Court challenges tossed the outside income cap, and the state is not appealing.

Ethics watchdogs have long linked corruption to the ability of lawmakers to earn outside income.

“As you know, the state legislature has been plagued by too many instances of corruption and conflicts of interest related to outside income,” the letter states. “Most notably, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former State Senate President Dean Skelos were both convicted for crimes in which official acts resulted in personal gain related to their own outside jobs or their family’s.”

But defenders of the practice say it is important for the Legislature to have some understanding of the real world. There are attorneys in the Legislature, but also a pharmacist, a funeral home director and farmers.

Letter to Leaders on Addressing Outside Income 10-23-19 v2 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Push Begins For Release Of Older Prison Inmates

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of groups backing criminal justice law changes are urging state lawmakers to back a bill that would allow for the release of prison inmates who are age 55 or older and have served more than 15 years in prison.

The letter, signed by more than 100 groups and sent to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, comes amid deaths of older inmates and highlights one woman who served decades in prison, earned college degrees and helped train service dogs for wounded veterans.

The woman, Valerie Gaiter, died in August at 61, 10 years before she would have been eligible for parole.

“Elder parole is a common sense, evidenced-based, and fiscally responsible way to save lives, reunite families and communities, and reinvest millions of taxpayer dollars into much needed public resources,” the letter states.

“The bill affords people in prison aged 55 and older who have served 15 or more years in prison an opportunity to go before the Parole Board.”

The measure would not automatically release older inmates from prison. Instead, it would allow the Parole Board to determine whether an older applicant is suitable for release.

“The bill offers hope and a second chance to those otherwise sentenced to die in prison,” the letter stated.

Overall, the groups estimate there are more than 650 deaths of older inmates in state prisons over the last decade.

A push comes for the measure amid a broader effort in the Legislature to change the state’s criminal justice laws, including an end to cash bail for many charges and measures taking effect that would require new procedures for the evidentiary discovery process and an expungement in marijuana-based convictions.

The Cuomo administration over the last eight years, meanwhile, has sought the closure of prison facilities in upstate amid a declining inmate population.

Elder Parole Sign on Letter FINAL by Nick Reisman on Scribd