New York saw some great victories for democracy in 2019, but it wasn’t all tulips and butterflies. Following yesterday’s list, here are the five worst corruption stories from 2019 – a bottom five, of sorts, and a reminder that there is always more work to be done.
5. Andy King suspended from the City Council
There was plenty of press about how Councilmember King allegedly abused his staff and sexually harassed multiple women, but less about how he allegedly used taxpayer funds to fund his personal out-of-state trips. King apparently has also not paid the $15,000 fine levied by the Council for his acts, which he may ultimately be sued for.
4. Campaign donations and Medicaid reimbursement rates
In 2018, Cuomo’s campaign “requested” a $1 million donation from the Greater New York Hospital Association to the State Democratic Party. A rise in Medicaid reimbursement rates followed soon after. That change, according to the Citizens Budget Commission, will cost New Yorkers $140 million a year. The Cuomo administration denies any connection between the donation and the rate change.
3. Money follows power, power follows money
The Buffalo News reported earlier this year that the Senate Republican Campaign Committee raised $1.2 million in the first six months of 2017, when they were in power. This year, with only 23 of 63 seats? $176,425. All the money has gone to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, which raised $1.9 million in the first six months. Six months later in December, it appears that Democratic fundraising hasn’t changed.
2. The Cuomo-Heastie JCOPE Scandal
Here’s the story as we know it:
- The state has an agency, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), that makes sure state employees, elected officials, and lobbyists are following state ethics laws.
- The commission members are nominated by state leaders (even though they oversee those very state leaders).
- The commission’s votes on whether or not to investigate someone are confidential.
- Earlier this year, the commission held a vote on whether or not to investigate one of Cuomo’s former aides (Joseph Percoco, who is now in jail).
- Soon after the vote, a Commissioner, Julie Garcia, received a call from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s counsel about why she had voted a certain way (likely a vote to investigate Percoco).
- It appears that the counsel had received a complaint about Garcia’s vote the Commission from one of Cuomo’s staffers, who must have heard about the vote from another Commissioner.
- An investigation from the state Inspector General’s office was unable to substantiate the allegations. But that investigator was a former Cuomo staffer who never bothered to interview neither Heastie nor Cuomo.
Advocates have railed against JCOPE and its convoluted process for years. A bill in the State Senate would set in effect a law that would change the Commission. But to date, no major reforms of New York’s ethics enforcement body have been implemented.
1. The Public Campaign Finance Commission fiasco
We mean, seriously, what the eff was that? There’s no doubt that it will now be easier for campaigns to fundraise. Small donations to in-district candidates will be matched 8 to 1. Contribution limits are lower. And so on.
But nothing has fundamentally changed – the campaign finance system enacted will do little to challenge those in power, for the following reasons:
- Campaign contribution limits are lower, but you can still donate three times as much to Governor of New York as you can to the President of the United States.
- Individuals can still donate six-figures to party committees, and unlimited amounts to party “housekeeping” accounts.
- Since the state will only match small-dollar donations, big money will flood into poor districts and continue to dominate campaigns.
- The Board of Elections will be administering the new program. The Board is notoriously dysfunctional.
- Minor parties will be wiped out by new ballot qualification restrictions, except for the Conservative party and possibly the Working Families Party (many argued that the latter was targeted by the governor).
- None of the changes will go into effect until the 2024 election cycle. Most public campaign systems haven’t taken five years to set up.
Not to mention the sham that was the Commission’s voting process, with many members voting “no” on a proposal, only to reconvene hours later and change their votes, probably after being pressured by their nominators. Wasn’t this process supposed to be independent?
As we always say at RepresentUs NYC, there’s only one way to make sure that further reforms happen some day in the future: Organize!
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This was our final Take of 2019! We look forward to seeing you in the new year.
Originally published on RepresentUS NYC. Re-posted with permission.
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