State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday his office has rejected 1,026 of the 6,500 lawmakers’ grants to community causes that were approved by the governor and Legislature two years ago.
The pork barrel grants earmarked for the home districts of legislators are known as “member items.”
Speaking at a “Reform Day” event in Empire State Plaza, Cuomo said his office has reviewed 3,785 member item contracts, and approved 2,756 of them.
He said the rejected contracts amount to 42 percent of the $122 million in member item funding so far reviewed by the attorney general’s office — and 2,700 of the member item contracts from two years ago “have not come to us yet,” meaning they have not been submitted to his office for review.
Cuomo said reasons for rejection included the intended recipient nonprofit not being registered with the Charities Bureau in the attorney general’s office, and the proposed use of the grant for general operating expenses rather than a specific public purpose.
Cuomo spokesman John Milgrim said later that the evaluation the attorney general referred to was of $200 million approved in the 2006-07 budget. Of that amount, $85 million was to be allocated by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, $85 million by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and $30 million by then-Gov. George Pataki. Some of the questioned contracts may be resolved, Milgrim said, and the money released.
Spokesmen for the majority parties in the state Legislature downplayed the extent of the problem.
Sisa Moyo, a spokeswoman for the Assembly majority, said only about 20 of the contracts that Cuomo had a problem with appear to be from the member items designated by Silver.
Bruno spokesman Scott Reif said 99 percent of the projects have been approved and only about $300,000 is still being questioned by Cuomo’s office. The Senate majority is working with the attorney general’s office to resolve the remaining issues, he said.
David Smingler, spokesman for Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said he was not aware of any problems with any of the senator’s member items.
Pataki directed some of his money to be distributed by Assembly Republicans. Joshua Fitzpatrick, spokesman for Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, said he was not aware of any problems with the 2006 member items.
The Reform Day event was sponsored by organizations including Common Cause and the New York Public Interest Research Group. They spent the day lobbying for reforms in legislative rules, redistricting, campaign finance and ethics.
One of their proposed ethics reforms, according to a news release put out by Common Cause, NYPIRG and the League of Women Voters, is creation of “a new independent ethics oversight agency for both the executive and legislative branches.” One current problem, the news release said, is that “the governor dominates the appointments to the Commission on Public Integrity.”
That commission was created last year by what was billed as an ethics reform, although the reform groups have been critical of it, in part because it resulted in the end of an independent lobbying commission and the ouster of its aggressive director, David Grandeau. The Legislature remains under review by a separate commission, which does not publicly disclose legislators’ outside income or clients.
The reform groups are now pushing for more financial disclosure by “public officers” such as legislators, “including the names of those with whom they have business and professional relationships.” But Russ Haven, NYPIRG’s legislative counsel, said there would have to be an exception for lawyers and their clients because forcing disclosure would violate privacy rights. Many legislators, including the Assembly speaker, are lawyers who do not disclose their private income and clients. Nor does the Senate majority leader, who works as a business consultant.
Cuomo and other Democrats, including Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, joined with the reform groups in calling for public financing of campaigns. Fitzpatrick said Tedisco opposes public financing but supports other reforms including those regarding legislative rules, redistricting and disclosing legislators’ outside incomes.
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