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Letters December 28, 2012  RSS feed

Campaign Rules To Ruffle Pols’ Feathers

Dear Editor:

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s calling regulations to require that non profit organizations annually disclose their political spending on state and local races starting next year is courageous (“New Rules For NFP Political Ac- tivism,” Dec. 20 issue, available online at www.timesnewsweekly.com).

He will be ruffling the feathers of New York State Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver, Republican State Senate leader Dean Skelos, State Senate Independent Democratic Caucus leader Jeffrey Klein and to a lesser extent both newly elected Democratic State Senate minority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins along with Republican State Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb and with all the members of their respective caucuses.

Schneiderman’s fellow New York County Manhattan based Democrat New York City Council Speaker and 2013 NYC Mayoral wannabe Christine Quinn along with her loyal NYC Council caucus will not be happy with his actions. All will not want to see the relationship between their collective receipt of millions in annual “Pay for Play” campaign contributions with their annual programming of millions in member item pork barrel projects. By coincidence, these funds go to the very same private non profit organizations that are never under public scrutiny.

Schneiderman’s bold move nicely compliments Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s early actions in signing an executive order banning any chief executive who runs a private nonprofit agency that receives state funding from earning more than $199,000 per year. This follows up from August 2011 when Cuomo launched an investigation into the exorbitant salaries paid to chief executives of so-called private nonprofit organizations.

Before shedding any tears for leaders of private nonprofit institutions when they protest potential budget cuts from the city, state or federal governments, check out their respective organization finances, especially salaries to their executive management team.

Too many executives of nonprofit institutions earn a base salary of several hundred thousand dollars. Some even earn over one million per year! This is supplemented by bonuses, generous health plans, subsidized housing and retirement packages equivalent or greater than the President, governor, mayor, any public official, many private sector corporate executives earn or ordinary citizens.

In many cases, these institutions pay excessive funds to public relation firms and lobbyists hired to go after grants from city, state and federal governments.

Many of these grants are hidden under member items when annual budgets are adopted by New York City, New York State and Washington. Others attempt convincing public officials to support earmarking cash for their institutions.

Professional fund raising firms end up taking a greater percentage of donations actually meant for the nonprofit institutions. (Check with Schneiderman’s office for their list of registered charities before you respond to any solicitation.) See what percentage of your contribution actually goes to your favorite charity versus overhead costs for fundraising. In many cases, the percentage is shocking.

In these lean times executives of nonprofit organizations can set an example for others. They could take a pay cut and donate some of the excessive compensation or consider giving up some of perks to help their institutions bottom line.

How many newspaper articles have we read concerning corruption in the relationship between elected officials and charities? Every year, ordinary Americans, business and foundations combine to donate several hundred billion dollars to tens of thousands of charities. Why do elected officials see the need to use tax revenues to fund their own donations to charities? These are known as member items and in too many cases have in the past really been pork barrel projects. Why can’t they make their own personal direct charitable donations to the charities of their choice?

Just how much cash do elected officials personally donate to charities each year out of their own salaries? Many could dip into excessive surplus campaign funds to make a donation. They could also host a fundraiser asking some of their regular campaign contributors to support charities. In addition to financial contributions, millions of Americans also donate time each week to perform volunteer work at their favorite charity. How many public officials do the same?

Too many members view the funding of member item pork barrel projects as a path to grease the wheels of reelection or run for higher public office. Like a monkey on their back, they appear to be addicted to this spending.

It is common knowledge about the quid pro quo between those seeking funding and members of the New York City Council, New York State Legislature and Congress. This sometimes includes campaign contributions from the recipients senior management, hiring of public officials family, relatives or friends along with political clubhouse colleagues by the recipients, invitations to ribbon cutting ceremonies, prominent promotions in recipient newsletters, along with honoring the elected official at the organization’s annual fundraising dinner etc. in exchange for receipt of the funding.

Talk is cheap, but individual voluntary actions such as donating money or time rather than using taxpayer funds to do the same speak volumes. How many elected officials this holiday season have you seen make a personal commitment to volunteer just like thousands of New Yorkers have on a daily basis as a result of Hurricane Sandy?

Private nonprofit organizations should worry more about supporting the causes they care about, rather than lining the pockets of their management team.

Larry Penner
Great Neck

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