Andrew Cuomo Proposes "Project Sunlight" to Increase Government Transparency and Disclosure

Contact:  Evan Thies:   (917) 715.9265
                         

NYS ATTORNEY
GENERAL CANDIDATE ANDREW CUOMO PROPOSES “PROJECT SUNLIGHT” TO INCREASE
GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY AND DISCLOSURE

 
CUOMO
PROPOSES ALBANY REFORM PLAN FOR DISCLOSURE
DATABASE TO REVEAL INFORMATION ON DONORS,
LOBBYISTS, OFFICIALS AND STATE CONTRACTS
 
New York, NY (October 10, 2006) – New York State Attorney General
candidate Andrew Cuomo today unveiled “Project Sunlight”— the first ever
comprehensive integrated public integrity statewide Internet database tracking
donors, lobbyists, special interests, state contracts and elected officials, and
the links between them.
 
“If we’re going to restore integrity and trust to
Albany and make state government work better for
people, we must take dramatic steps to end the culture of corruption that
permeates Albany,” said Cuomo.  “We must accomplish
this first by lifting the veil and shining a light on Albany so that ordinary
citizens can learn.   We must
heed the words of Justice Louis Brandeis who said once brilliantly remarked
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”   When we look the other way while
those who do business with the state give huge contributions to the officials
who determine state contracts, we invite even greater cynicism in our public
institutions.  As Attorney General, I will fight every day to hold all
these institutions-- public and private -- accountable for their actions, and I
will make sure that every New Yorker gets the fair shake they deserve.”
Under Cuomo’s proposal the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit would
for the first time integrate and improve existing databases so that campaign
finance data, lobbying information and state contracts can be viewed and easily
searched by concerned citizens. With Project Sunlight, a citizen frustrated by
high drug costs would be able to use her computer at home,  type “prescription drugs” in a search
box, and find out if her elected officials take money from drug companies, what
drug bills they voted on, and even which companies ended up with lucrative state
contracts.
Some of these databases are already available public, but much of it is
not provided without completing a time-consuming and onerous process. The state
contracting database, for example, must be obtained through a freedom of
information act request. And interested citizens have to cross-reference public
data on their own today, making it difficult to find possible examples of
impropriety.
 
PROJECT SUNLIGHT
 
 
“Publicity is justly commended
as a remedy for social and industrial diseases.  Sunlight is said to be the
best of disinfectants . . .”
 
 -- Justice Louis
Brandeis
 
From Buffalo to Montauk New Yorkers across
the state are calling for sweeping reforms in Albany, restoring the public trust
in our state government and greater transparency to make government accountable
to people.  Too many New Yorkers
point out that government is overly influenced by lobbyists, special interests
and campaign contributors instead of ordinary citizens.  In 2004, New
York University’s
Brennan Center for Justice released a report entitled, The New York State Legislative Process: An
Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform, which characterized New York State’s legislative process as the most
“dysfunctional” in the United
States.  
 
 Andrew Cuomo believes that the
foundation for government reform is transparency and he agrees with the
legendary U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who said, “Sunlight is said
to be the best of disinfectants.” Based
on that vital principle, today Andrew Cuomo is proposing “Project Sunlight,” an
initiative he would launch as Attorney General through the Public Integrity
bureau to lift the veil on how our state government is influenced by special
interests, campaign contributions and lobbyists.  
As detailed below, Project Sunlight will promote
government-wide disclosure by collecting, standardizing and publishing
information that is now scattered and difficult to access in one easy-to-use,
easy-to-search database.  This
initiative will be key to transforming the culture of corruption to a culture of
integrity, openness and honesty.  It
will both prevent abuses and provide citizens with a mechanism to detect some of
those that do occur.
Project Sunlight: A Unified and Improved Database of Government
Information
 
·       
Project Sunlight
will integrate the disparate data provided by the New York State Board of
Elections Campaign Finance Database, the New York Lobbying database, the
Legislative Retrieval Service Database, and the State Contracts Database into a
single easy-to-access, easy-to-search website that connects the data so it makes
sense to voters. The website will allow the public to easily find a vote on any
given subject along with campaign contributions, lobbying activity, and state
contract awards.  
 
·       
Project Sunlight will
also improve the quality of information currently provided by those data bases.
For example, it will eliminate procedural barriers to accessing information
(such as the need to use the Freedom of Information Law to get data on state
contractors). It will also end the practice of special “fee-for-access”
services, such as e-mail alerts, bill filings, and early listings of new
legislation, sold by the Legislative
Retrieval Service. Right now we know lobbyists have special access to
politicians; they shouldn’t have special access to legislative information as
well.
 
·       
Cuomo will also work to
integrate other local data bases into project sunlight, such as New York City‘s
campaign finance data base, and will propose legislation to support counties and
local governments to create their own watchdog databases which can be integrated
into project sunlight.
 
Obscured by
Clouds:  New York’s Byzantine
Disclosure Databases
 
·       
The current New York State disclosure system is balkanized,
hidden and disconnected.  The data
bases maintained by the state for campaign finance, lobbying and contracting
resemble a jig-saw puzzle. This frustrates ordinary citizens, good government
groups, journalists and blogger-activists. Project Sunlight will expose,
illuminate and clarify this hidden and inaccessible maze of
information.
 
·       
Currently
New York
maintains a number of databases that have information, which if combined into a
single database, and improved, would shed sunlight on the true workings of our
government. Right now, however, the data is maintained in disparate places and
in disparate formats. Project Sunlight will improve the quality of that data and
make it more accessible. 

 
·       
New
York State Board of Elections Campaign Finance
Database: This database is maintained by the New York State Board of
Elections.  New York has received
high grades in national surveys of campaign finance laws for its innovative
electronic reporting system. Its success stems from the fact that it’s the only
database providing information in downloadable text files — which means that the
data is easily converted, manipulated and analyzed.  However, there are still flaws with its
design, maintenance and presentation. 
Its main flaws include: (1) poor data quality as a result of too few
quality checks, and a failure to automatically update the information with
common tools such as address verification software; (2) the failure to require
that campaign contributors disclose occupation, employer, and whether or not
they or their employer has a state contract; and (3) inadequate search
capabilities. 
 
·       
New
York State Lobbyist Database:  This database is maintained by the New
York Temporary Commission on Lobbying (NTCOL). It contains the lobbyist
registrations and periodic reports for all state and local lobbyists. However,
the reporting requirements concerning what issues and bills a particular
lobbyist is working to pass, and the specific activities of lobbyists on behalf
of a client, aren’t uniform and sometimes aren’t helpful. As it stands now, for
example, some lobbyists will report bills that they are monitoring in addition
to those they are actively lobbying because the requirements are unclear.  This can make it hard to determine when
a lobbyist is actively working on an issue.
 


  • State Contracts Database:  This database contains state contracts
    approved by the Office of the Comptroller’s contracts bureau. While well
    maintained, the data isn’t available on-line, and can only be accessed through
    a formal request via New
    York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). As it stands
    now, the data could also be improved by including information pertaining to
    failed bidders for contracts, and a “lobbyist ID number” to easily link with
    data from the NYS Lobbyist Database.

 
·       
Legislative Retrieval Service: This
database is maintained by the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission. It lists the
summary, text, sponsors memo, sponsorship records and voting history for
legislation before the Senate and Assembly.  While this database is impeccably
maintained, it has several failings. 
First and foremost is that there are two versions of the database: one
for the general public, and one that can be accessed after paying several
thousand of dollars a year.  The
paid version offers special access to services (e-mail alerts, bill files, early
listings of new legislation, etc.), while the public version is easily
overwhelmed during periods of peak traffic.   The state should give the general
public access to this information that is the same as what it provides to
lobbyists.
 
·       
State Corporation and Business Entity
Database: This database is maintained by the Department of State and lists
all corporations, limited partnerships, limited liability companies and limited
liability partnerships, as well as other miscellaneous businesses.  This database can help identify campaign
contributions made by subsidiaries of a larger parent corporation. However, it
doesn’t account for out-of-state business entities, or “assumed names” of
businesses.
 
ANDREW CUOMO’S RECORD OF
REFORM
 
 
Brought Greater Transparency and Reforms to
HUD
 

  • As President Clinton’s Secretary of
    Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo brought dramatic reforms to a
    massive federal agency that had been rife with waste, fraud and abuse.   President Clinton called Cuomo’s
    effort “one of the most dramatic and successful reforms of a federal agency in
    modern US history.”  When Congress was threatening to
    eliminate the entire department, President Clinton appointed Cuomo to turn
    around the agency by exposing the fraud, cracking down on the abuse and
    cleaning up our federal housing system. 
    Transparency was an essential key to unlocking the layers of corruption
    and fraud in HUD’s contracting system.   As a result of Cuomo’s reforms
    the department got the first clean audit in the history of the
    Department. 

 
Launched E-Maps to Foster Citizens’ Right-to-Know about
Environmentally Unsafe Areas

  • Under Cuomo’s
    leadership, HUD created innovative internet-based electronic mapping systems
    to provide communities with information about environmental hazards in their
    area.  Partnering with EPA, HUD’s
    E-maps allowed people to access a map of their community (or any other
    U.S. community) on the Internet and
    see both environmental sites and federal housing and community development
    sites in their neighborhoods. 
    HUD’s “E-Maps” helped communities plan
    healthier neighborhoods by identifying and mapping toxic waste dumps,
    brownfields and other environmental dangers. This gave people newfound
    knowledge of their communities and brought it right into their homes in an
    integrated, understandable way.   Leading environmental groups and
    leaders praised the E-Maps as an excellent information resource for citizens,
    researchers and planners.

 
Launched First Time Inspections of HUD Properties
Nationwide
 

  • HUD also inspected all of its properties
    for the first time ever during Cuomo's tenure.  This was accomplished because Cuomo
    established the Real Estate Assessment Center.  (REAC). REAC developed a uniform
    protocol to judge all HUD properties by objective standards and score them.
    This was a huge break-through and gave uniform information to housing
    officials around the nation for the first time.

 
Created
Enforcement
Center
with FBI to Fight Fraud and Audit
System
 

  • Cuomo also
    created an Enforcement Center in partnership with the FBI. The
    financial audit system first assessed the financial information that was
    submitted electronically and flagged fraudulent indicators. A flag led to a
    more extensive review program and referral to the Enforcement Center for prosecutorial
    action.