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Follow the Money

In an attempt to shed light on the more shadowy corners of campaign financing, New York Public Interest Research Group recently made available a database that links politicians to their benefactors.

The database, which contains information culled from State Board of Elections records, allows users to research the amount and source of donations to various elected officials. Searches can be based upon selected politicians, political contributors, political action committees, party affiliation or the amount of donation, among other categories. All transactions that occurred between Jan. 15, 2002, and Jan. 15, 2004, are included in the database.

While the computer disk is publicly available for a $5 “duplication fee,” Microsoft Access database software from 2000 or later is required to view the contents of the disk. Those unfamiliar with database software may be a bit confused at first viewing, but supporting documents provided by NYPIRG include contact information for the tech-challenged masses.

To receive a copy of the disk, contact Liam Arbetman at NYPIRG’s legislative offices, 436-0876, ext. 254.

—Rick Marshall


Voting-safeguards advocates attempt to deliver a “paper trail” of petitions to Gov. George E. Pataki. Photo by: John Whipple

Do Our Votes Count?

Advocates urging the state government to include voter-verifiable results in New York’s new electronic voting machines rallied on the steps of the Capitol Tuesday (July 13), joining the nationwide Computer Ate My Vote campaign.

During the rally—one of 24 similar events to be held around the United States—speakers from various local advocacy groups called upon the state Legislature to reach an agreement on a system for the state’s voting machines. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed bills calling for the machines to produce a paper trail to be used in the event of electronic failure or disputed results, but the two houses have yet to reach a consensus on what type of system to use. Only after the two houses pass a uniform bill can the governor sign the requirement into law.

“We need to ensure that our votes count on Election Day,” said Rachel Leon, executive director of Common Cause/NY. “The deal is not done until all three parties agree.”

In order to receive a share of $3 billion in federal funding earmarked for states by the Help America Vote Act, the state must agree upon a set of standards for new voting machines by the 2006 elections. HAVA was initiated in the aftermath of the 2000 elections as a method for encouraging states to upgrade their voting machines. Rally participants called for state lawmakers to reach an agreement when they return to the Capitol on July 19 for a special session.

At the close of Tuesday’s rally, participants encountered several obstacles on their way to delivering more than 41,000 petitions to Gov. George Pataki. A portion of the petitions, displayed on a 400-foot-long “paper trail,” made it as far as the Capitol’s entrance but had to be disassembled in order to make it through the building’s revolving doors. After initially turning away the petitions due to “safety concerns,” a spokeswoman for Pataki agreed to allow the petitions to remain inside the Capitol until security personnel could screen them.

Along with local advocacy groups, the event was sponsored by national organizations such as MoveOn, VerifiedVoting.org, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and TrueMajority.

“Using a voting machine that doesn’t create a paper trail is like using an ATM that doesn’t give you a receipt,” said Neal Rosenstein, government reform coordinator for New York Public Interest Research Group. “We shouldn’t let New York’s dysfunctional legislative process produce a dysfunctional electoral process.”

—Rick Marshall

A Park at Long Last

A plastic slide held together with duct tape. An unusable basketball court. A broken fence. This is the current state of the 10th Street Park in Troy, also known as “Dark Angels Park.” But thanks to a three-year-long campaign by local residents, the park will finally be renovated this summer. On Saturday, June 26, 50 volunteers and neighbors gathered in the park to install new picnic benches and barbecue grills, and also cleaned up and planted new plants.

“The park is a necessity. It keeps kids off the street,” said Kevin Pryor, one of the local residents who have been instrumental in making the 10th Street Park a priority for Troy. “Kids are playing out on the street in 9th Street. They have no place else to go.”

Though the park has been steadily deteriorating for 20 years, recent outcry by residents such as Pryor has forced Troy to reevaluate the park’s importance to the city.

Pryor’s son, Tyrell, and their cousin, Maurice Branch, organized local kids to pitch renovation ideas to the city, including having the children make a drawing of their ideal park layout [“A Place of Our Own,” Newsfront, June 12, 2003].

The project was on hiatus for a while because the city did not have the resources to successfully complete it. However, through the persistence of local residents and the help of nonprofit Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, the park has finally become part of the city’s agenda. By the end of the summer, it is expected to have new lighting, a new basketball court, and new play equipment. Also on the horizon is a community garden on 9th Street.

—Ashley Thiry


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