Good Government Updates
A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).
The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.
The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the CFB, is set to hear a bill on April 27 that would raise the cap on matching funds from 55 percent of the spending cap to a full match of the cap. The bill is sponsored by the committee’s chair, Council Member Ben Kallos, who is a participant in the public funds program and has spearheaded campaign finance reform in the Council. Kallos had reservations about some of the bills that were expedited through the Council late last year and believes his bill will significantly shift the election landscape.
“I was concerned with recent amendments and their impact on the campaign finance system,” he said, “and as we get closer to the June deadline for opting in or out of the system, we will learn just what impact that legislation had and whether it improves participation in the system or actually discourages it. And whatever the results, I hope to create new incentives for people to participate.” The CFB is reviewing Kallos’ proposal and will testify at the hearing.
Read the whole story at http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6882-city-council-members-opt-out-of-campaign-finance-program
Background: In partnership with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Council Member Ben Kallos worked to bring the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for application to the Innovation Center’s Accountable Health Communities (AHC) Model to public health institutions throughout New York City. STATEMENT:
Even the best medical treatment offered here in New York City can’t succeed when patients can’t take care of themselves. For far too long, we’ve only focused on treating medical conditions, without treating the underlying causes in the community that lead to them. Automatic Benefits legislation would require anyone applying or who qualifies for one human service benefits from the government to be screened for and provided with all other applicable benefits so that New Yorkers get not some but all of the help they need.
Thank you to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovations for investing in, encouraging, and studying what happens when you connect patients with community service providers to address their health-related social needs.
I am proud to represent New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) which was one of 32 organizations selected nationwide for Assistance and Alignment Tracks of the Accountable Health Communities Model. New York Presbyterian Hospital is on the Alignment Track to encourage partner alignment to ensure that community services are available and responsive to the needs of beneficiaries.
Carter, who heads the city’s Law Department, testified before the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations that the state and federal investigations into the mayor and his aides necessitated the hiring of outside counsel. “The ongoing investigations are criminal in nature,” Carter told Council Member Ben Kallos, the committee chair, “and I know from my 40 years of experience in law enforcement that that is a…specialized area of practice that requires experience because of the delicacy of the judgments to be made.”
Carter noted that the investigations involve an area of practice “particularly sensitive to conflicts of interest” and dozens of witnesses, some of whom insisted on independent counsel, thus the hiring of at least 11 outside law firms for the legal defense.
The city’s top lawyer predicted Monday that taxpayers will have to shell out “a few million dollars more” for the legal bills of mayoral aides swept up in several corruption probes.
And that’s on top of the $10.5 million already spent on outside lawyers.
Corporation Counsel Zach Carter described the additional legal costs as not “a large magnitude” and said it appears the federal probes are “winding down and concluding.”
“We believe that there will be a few million dollars more expended, but I can’t give you an exact figure,” Carter testified at a City Council budget hearing. “I don’t believe that it will be a large magnitude of expenditures.”
“New York State should be a national role model for voter access and voting rights, with same-day registration, early voting, and no-excuse absentee voting,” said NYC Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts to get these voting reforms passed, and in the City Council we will continue to support that effort with resolutions calling on the state legislature to do the right thing.”
Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, has been pushing the city to do better for years and, at his request, the latest reports now show spending information by general categories of appropriation. But, he points out, the report still fails to connect budgeting with agency goals, despite being mandated by the city charter. “The MMR should be treated as an investment document,” Kallos said in a phone interview, “and spending should be tied to specific programmatic performance goals so New York City residents know how their tax dollars are being spent and can advocate for them to be increased or decreased.”
The governmental operations committee is headed by Council Member Ben Kallos, who is more knowledgeable about the campaign finance system than Council Member Alan Maisel, the chair of the standards and ethics committee -- somethign Maisel acknowledged in a prior interview with Gotham Gazette. Kallos has expressed concerns about some of the second package of bills, including around bill details and process.
When asked if his committee was the appropriate venue for the campaign finance bills, he said it was the speaker’s office that made the decision. “I have no experience with campaign finance bills, I deal with ethics issues,” he said, in a sense echoing the critique made by others who’ve questioned why campaign finance bills were heard in his committee as opposed to their typical place, government operations, the committee chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos.
The proposals have created some degree of internal tension within the Council for multiple reasons, including the committee venue. Additionally, before the bills were introduced, Council Member Kallos was openly skeptical of the effect they might have, telling the New York Times, “I am concerned about undermining the best parts of a system that has worked for the people.”
Council Member Brad Lander, sponsor of one of the new bills, disagrees. First, Lander told Politico New York that the Times report had mischaracterized the bills under consideration. On Tuesday, shortly after the speaker’s news conference, Lander told Gotham Gazette the concerns over the bills would be addressed through amendments and that criticism of their timing was unfounded. That the bills were heard through the standards and ethics committee rather than the governmental operations committee made little difference, he said, since the same people and advocacy groups would testify even if there were separate hearings. He also noted that Kallos, the governmental operations chair, was present at the hearing as well.
Yesterday, the Mayor’s Office of Operations announced that agency rule making and agency spending would now be more transparent with their inclusion in the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) in response to requests by City Council Committee on Government Operations Chair Ben Kallos. The City Council also announced that it had sent a response to the MMR questioning indicators and performance with recommendations on improvements for the city.
“New Yorkers should know how their tax dollars are being invested to improve our city. The Mayor’s Management Report must show ‘the relationship between the program performance goals [and] corresponding expenditures’ as mandated by the Charter,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “Thank you to the Director of Operations Mindy Tarlow for her partnership and commitment to improving the management of our city and reporting to the public.”
City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, which oversees the CFB, said in a statement last week that he hoped to see a “a thorough and open search for a new chair who will be independent, non-partisan, and non-political” in their role.
“It is of supreme importance that the next chair be someone who has the stature and integrity to not only stand up to candidates and any elected officials but guide the board through election years independently,” Kallos said.
Notably, de Blasio was faced with a somewhat similar choice when selecting a chair for a mandated commission to study and reccomend compensation levels for the city's elected officials. De Blasio chose Schwarz, Jr. in what was a universally applauded decision.
Borelli, who sits on the Council’s governmental operations committee, which has oversight of the Board of Elections, wrote to committee chair Ben Kallos, a Democrat from Manhattan, requesting the hearing. Kallos told Gotham Gazette on Thursday that he disagrees with Borelli about the need for a state voter identification law and said that he will bring up the fraud allegations by BOE Commissioner Alan Schulkin at an already-planned elections oversight hearing in October.
Council Member Kallos told Gotham Gazette he “fervently” disagrees with Borelli. “I do not believe that we need voter identification,” he said. “I believe it is a tool used to disenfranchise voters.”
Kallos said he was “troubled and concerned” about Schulkin’s comments in the video and would bring the issue up at an oversight hearing already in the works before Borelli sent his letter -- the City Council holds a hearing ahead of election administration.
“Everything that was said is troubling,” Kallos said of the video, which released the same day that Kallos hosted an IDNYC pop-up registration event on Roosevelt Island. “We hope to have oversight of the BOE...to find out what happened, whether any of these views had an impact in the conduct of any of the presidential primary elections or any election since this man has been appointed to the BOE.”
Thursday’s hearing by the City Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations — co-chaired by Vincent Gentile and Ben Kallos — clocked in at a solid six hours.
City Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, said the hearing elicited a number of contradictions from prior accounts from City Hall.
Council member Kallos told those present at the hearing that he agreed to limit Shorris' questioning to two-and-a-half hours because the mayor's office told him that Shorris had to be on a plane to Oklahoma for a mayoral conference the same day.
But Shorris said he was not going to Oklahoma and added that he had no idea why the City Council got that impression.
Kallos said he found the misinformation "disturbing." The city council later released a statement on the matter.
Councilmembers Ben Kallos, chair of the committee of governmental operations, and Vincent Gentile, the chair of the oversight and investigations committee, sparred with a soft-spoken Shorris, who spoke in exhausting detail of his involvement in the deed removal beginning two years ago.
City Councilman Ben Kallos asked First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris if he would say on the record why he could only testify for a limited time.
"Something went very wrong here," said Councilmember Ben Kallos, Chair of the Council Committee on Governmental Operations. "We must address the issues of mismanagement, communication failure and outside influence."
The miscommunication today played out in “real-time,” as City Councilman Ben Kallos, the chairman of the committee on governmental operations put it, when, during the hearing, he asked Shorris why he had to leave—”for the record.”
Councilman Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat and chairman of the hearing, pointed out that Mr. Shorris is responsible for about 30 different agencies, making it difficult for him to know exactly what each is doing.
Councilman Ben Kallos of Manhattan asked why Mr. Shorris had not followed up to make sure his decision — that the center should remain a nursing home — had been observed.
Council Members Ben Kallos, Rory Lancman, and Elizabeth Crowley - all Democrats like de Blasio - have each submitted a request that legislation be crafted around regulating 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Kallos’ bill drafting request is “on point” with a recent proposal made by Citizens Union, a government reform group. That proposal would require that 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) organizations created at the behest of elected officials to promote their own image or agenda be treated like political committees under the city’s campaign finance laws. This would entail detailed disclosure of contributions and expenditures, limits on contributions similar to those for political candidates, and oversight by the Campaign Finance Board.
“Anytime you’ve got elected officials whose political campaigns are limited in the money they can raise affiliated with 501(c)(4)s that engage in quasi-electoral activities that don’t have the same limits, that is a place we should be paying attention,” Kallos said in a phone interview. Kallos chairs the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, where the bills would likely be introduced and heard.