Grand Jury Indicts Pigeon, Two Others, On Felony Election Law Violations

Robert J. McCarthy reports in the Buffalo News that “(a)n Erie County grand jury now agrees with Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman — G. Steven Pigeon and two associates should stand trial for felony election law charges.

Pigeon, Kristy L. Mazurek and David B. Pfaff were all indicted Friday for allegedly illegally coordinating the funds of their political committee with Democratic candidates in the 2013 election for County Legislature.”

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Partisan Gerrymandering In New York

An excellent column by Josh Simons at SUNY New Paltz’s  Benjamin Center:

” In 2014 an amendment to the New York State Constitution passed, allegedly reforming the redistricting process. It established a decision process and redistricting commission with multiple appointing authorities, but left final say with the legislature. Though this has been touted as real reform to the redistricting process, it is telling that a judge ruled in Leib vs. Walsh that the term “independent” had to be struck from the ballot language describing it when it was adopted. Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York said of the amendment: “We should not be memorializing partisan control of redistricting — this requires it. There is a set of voting rules that is dependent on who is in the majority of either house. And the criteria for redistricting are deliberately structured so they can do anything they want to with the maps and not provide guidance for the courts. They don’t have to consciously discriminate. They can just ‘respect the cores of existing districts’ .”

At best the amendment maintains the status quo under the guise of reforming the process; at worst it makes partisan gerrymandering the norm. It will be interesting to see how the hyper-partisan redistricting process established in New York the 2014 amendment would operate should the U.S Supreme Court impose a restriction on partisan gerrymandering. And then there is a question of how the currently gerrymandered districts can be fixed in the next round, not too far off, if the New York State constitution requires that the cores of the existing districts be respected.”

 

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Senate, Assembly Special Elections Will Be Called; Timing TBD

Matthew Hamilton reports in the Times Union  on the possibilities for special elections to fill vacancies next year: “(t)he timing remains up in the air, though the party officials said earlier in the week they expect the special elections will take place after the state budget is passed.”

 

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“New York Hasidim Challenge Constitution In Bid To Forge The First Ultra-Orthodox Town In America”

From Bloomberg;Haaretz: “Palm Tree may sound like a good moniker for a topical vacation resort, but it’s actually the name of the first new town being established in New York State in 35 years. The community is earmarked only for Satmar Hasidim – a move critics say will be closely scrutinized for possible breaching of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state.

And that legal scrutiny might happen even though both sides of the issue, the Satmar Hasidim and other area residents, are delighted with the Hasidim’s secession – the latter because they want to keep their town semirural and are tired of voters turning down tax increases that would fund public schools and other local services, like a library.

After decades of legal fights between the Town of Monroe and other parties against Kiryas Joel, the Satmar village that is part of Monroe, both sides claimed victory after a November 7 referendum in which Monroe residents voted overwhelmingly to create the new town.”

 

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New York’s Victorious Con-Con Opponents Can Now Get To Work

In an editorial, Newsday suggests “the many foes of the constitutional convention should continue to lobby on behalf of principles they expressed during their vigorous opposition. That includes the labor unions, the environmentalists, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the state Conservative Party and every other group that said it supported various needed reforms but also argued that a process to make those reforms already exists — namely, passage by the State Legislature of amendments to the state constitution.”

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Ban Candidates From Soliciting Campaign Dough

Guest column by Jerry H. Goldfeder:

During the weeks leading up to New York’s recent election, the media exploded with headlines about favor-seeking campaign donors. Improprieties were vigorously denied, but even mere allegations such as these are disturbing.

Richard Nixon famously said that Americans had a right to know if their president was a crook. (He was, but that is another story.) More to the point here is the corollary: The public has a right to know if campaign contributions influence their elected officials’ decisions.

It is a tricky issue. After all, how can anyone gauge what factors tug at a public official when she is casting a vote or supporting a policy? All candidates for public office—from city council to president of the United States—must raise money to run an effective campaign, and every elected official has authority or influence over decisions that impact their constituents, contributors included. Mayoral candidates routinely accept donations from those with business before city agencies. Governors and legislators also take contributions from so-called special interests. And district attorneys are routinely supported by the legal community. So there is D -2- always going to be a skeptic, fairly or not, who tries to connect the dots between the contribution and the decision.

The usual reform proposals—lower contribution limits or even public matching funds of private donations—do not address the heart of the problem. Short of total funding of campaigns by public funds, there seems to be only one solution—an outright ban on candidates directly asking for contributions and learning contributors’ identities. Only if there is a complete firewall between candidates and donors can the public be certain that campaign dollar signs are not dancing in the elected official’s head.

This proposal is not as out-of-the-box as it might seem. In New York, we already ban certain candidates from asking for campaign donations. State court rules prohibit judicial candidates from asking for political contributions. NY Ct. Rules §100.5(A)(5). This ban is fairly common throughout the country, and the U.S. Supreme Court has given its approval. Judges, after all, are expected to be as objective as humanly possible. A violation can lead to a range of sanctions, including removal from the bench.

Police who run for office are also barred from soliciting or receiving contributions, and a violation is actually a crime. NY Elec. Law §17-110. This ban is over a hundred years old, from the days when the local police commissioner and his minions acted as Tammany Hall accomplices in getting out the vote and stifling opposition. Life has changed dramatically, but the law is still on the books.

In both examples, campaign committees of friends and colleagues step up to the plate. The candidates, however, are kept in the dark.

Judicial candidates face this issue in New York with little practical effect because, for good or bad, many of their races are relatively uncontested. And few police actually run for office, so the law’s impact is hard to gauge. One notable example just occurred, however. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini (who I represented during his campaign) just ran and won for Suffolk County District Attorney. Sini was barred from asking anyone for money. Yet, his campaign committee raised $1.5 million. To be sure, without the candidate’s direct involvement it was not easy. But the firewall did not prevent his campaign from getting the job done without him. As a result, there are no suspicious dots to connect between donors and the new district attorney.

An across-the-board ban on candidate solicitation would allow them to focus on the issues, liberating them from the arduous task of dialing for dollars. More importantly, it would free elected officials from even considering a donor’s concerns. And voters would have a much -3- higher comfort level in knowing their public officials were making decisions wholly on the merits.

State or local officials should favor this ban—it would make their lives a lot easier and protect their reputations. Short of that, candidates can simply decide to voluntarily opt out of the fundraising grind. This reform would boost the public’s confidence in our elected officials—and that certainly would be welcome news.

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School Board Lawsuit Could Upend Future Elections Statewide

A lawsuit was filed against the at-large system used to elect school board members to the East Ramapo school district. According to an article appearing in the New York Times by Jan Ransom, the current system, used throughout New York State, “violates the federal Voting Rights Act by denying “minority citizens an equal opportunity to have a voice in the future of their community’s public schools.”

Minority voters often are prevented from electing preferred candidates of choice when at-large voting permits a large voting bloc (here, white Hasidic voters whose children go to private schools) to predominate in elections. Single member or other alternate voting systems often permit minority groups to elect preferred candidates in districts. Several other Section 2 Voting Rights Act cases have succeeded in New York, including those in Port Chester and Hempstead.

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