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Moreland Commission Hearing on Fair Elections – Monday, Oct. 28, 2013
Notes of Max Smith Jr, Democracy for NYC (DFNYC.org)
The Co-Executive Directors and Deputy Enforcement Council of the New York State Board of Elections (“BOE”) testified before the Moreland Commission on Monday, Oct. 28th at the JavitzCenter.
This was quite an interesting hearing, to put it mildly. For the first three hours, members of the commission basically eviscerated 3 executives from the State Board of Elections - two Co-Executive Directors, Robert Brehm and Todd Valentine, along with Deputy Enforcement Council William McCann. Their answers were typically evasive and bordered on absurd, often drawing audience laughter.
The Commission went through example after example of negligence, incompetence and the extremely partisan culture of a supposedly bipartisan agency.
Some incidents were stunning, ranging from voter-fraud issues to clandestine authorizations that were hand-written on official legislative stock. Other examples included having two separate teams for Democrats and Republicans that essentially don't communicate (yet they claim to have a "collegial" atmosphere), not filling a number of hires they were authorized to fill and constant complaining of being understaffed, complaining of not having the proper resources despite having one investigator on staff who was quoted as “playing solitaire and reading bible verses all day” b/c they would not give him work and also had the authority and budget to hire another one as well, nor utilizing state law enforcement which would not cost additional moneys.
Then list goes on and on, but probably most troubling was:
(1) They have only opened 5 cases since 2008, 4 of which were in 2008 (keep in mind that some of these take as long as 2 years for them to answer, and the average is 302 days),
(2) They have never hired a special investigator nor issued a subpoena for documents,
(3) The fact that due to "backlog", which was their go-to excuse for all their negligence and neglect, they only kept open cases of "greater vintage" and closed all others even though:
(4) they do not prioritize their cases; cases simply get reviewed as they come in (kind of contrary, no?),
(5) They do not handle anonymous complaints, even those regarding elections in progress, their excuse being that anonymous complaints may be fueled by partisan politics. This could mean they receive an email with out an address (in which they can simply email the person back) or an address w/o a sender (White Pages? Internet anyone??!!), even though the complaint could be tremendously detailed and easy to investigate.
(6) When asked if they considered the BOE to be a law enforcement agency, the reply was that they considered BOE first and foremost to be a compliance agency, even though the panel pointed out that the law MAKES them an enforcement agency!
The State BOE directors were also pressed about the treatment of LLCs, which they have the power to address and they have not, of course. The final questions posed to them were first whether they agreed that BOE has been unable to enforce its duties. Brehm, the Democratic ED agreed, saying they've been unable to get to be an investigative body, and could be much more effective. Valentine, the Republican ED, said he did not disagree with Brehm's analysis. McCann, the Deputy Enforcement Council, said yes, very begrudgingly. Hope, perhaps? They were all then asked if they are proud of the work they do on the BOE. They all said yes, McCann indignantly. Sounds about right.
Amy Loprest of NYC Campaign Finance Board testifies:
The next session was with Amy Loprest, the Executive Director of the NYC Campaign Finance Board, towards whom the Commission was predictably nicer. One thing of note: when asked if they would recommend an elimination of the spending limit, particularly with super PACs, Amy said the review of past expenditures for this cycle was just beginning, so there are no recommendations yet on individual spending.
James Spallone, Connecticut Deputy Secretary of State testifies:
Up next, the Connecticut Deputy Secretary of State James Spallone testified. Connecticutwas one of the first states to enact a public campaign finance system, and touted the difference it would make for a bigger state likeNew York: "[A]n economy where everybody has an equal chance, a democracy where everybody has an equal say... [we] cannot eliminate all forms of corruption, their system eliminates incentive." They did not have advanced data regarding the increase of small donors though. They mentioned that the state enforcement division used to audit everyone's reports, but because it became too much, it is now random, though they assured it is still a good percentage. With regard to support of the new changes that came out in June, they are not for the watering down of the public financing system. When asked about limiting independent expenditures, they suggested increasing the match would help.
Brad Lander & Carlos Menchaca testify:
Finally, NYC Council Member Brad Lander and our friend and candidate Carlos Menchaca testified. Carlos started by mentioning the reason they were testifying is to make it illegal for groups like REBNY to buy elections. They get large tax breaks and gave $7 million in total this election cycle, including a large sum to his opponent. As a result, his opponent had a large hate mail campaign that was xenophobic and racist. He summed it up by saying a shady PAC shouldn't get to buy our election. Here here!
Brad Lander mentioned public financing was essential in his campaign and Carlos said there was "no way" he would have won his primary without it. Brad then spoke at length about independent expenditures. In 2009 when he first ran there were almost none, in 2013 they are multitudinous. There is an outsize effect relative to dollar amount. They are also constricted to 24 districts. IEs are more than twice as much as the expenditure gap, and next election they could be 15 - 20 times more than state expenditures, which is frightening. He called for 3 things:
(1) He is introducing legislation to identify IEs, calling on communication disclosure to let people know where the money comes from (this lets voters judge what is in front of them). He will do this on the city council level, and hope to enact on the state level as well,
(2) close the LLC loophole (NYC does, we should do it on the state level as well)
(3) restrict candidate dealings through state and local systems.
My favorite moment came at the beginning when asked about whether there were two separate entities for Dems and Republicans and whether there were separate meetings, those in the audience stood up and covered their mouths with dollar bills. Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County DA opened the hearing by calling the state campaign finance a "broken system" contributing to New York City's problems. She could not be more correct...