Assemblywoman Sandy Galef Offers Proposals to Reform the “Member Item” Distribution System

May 8, 2008

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef is proposing three bills to reform the member item process in New York to make it equitable, accountable, and detached from political campaigns.

Galef believes that her reform legislation will make the distribution process fair for all legislators and their constituents. She states, “We should hold ourselves and our colleagues accountable to the citizens of New York. It is particularly important now, with the state facing a fiscal crisis that we insist on integrity of the member item process.”

The state budget contains a significant amount – over $200 million in 2008-09 – of these unregulated funds. This taxpayer money is distributed without any significant oversight to determine how the money is used by programs, organizations and other causes, which are chosen solely at the members’ discretion. Funds are not distributed in equal amounts to all legislators, so citizens do not benefit equally from this high-cost state spending.

Galef introduced three bills to reform the process:

  • A.7364 an effort to make the process of distributing “member items” more open and equitable. This bill would require that all legislators in each house receive the same amount of member item funding to distribute in their districts.
  • A.6666 would establish a task force on legislative items to investigate the present member item system and to recommend an alternative to the current process in order to assure accountability, transparency, and fairness.
  • A.6019 would prohibit a member of the legislature from disbursing public moneys 60 days prior to an election so that public money is not used to advance a legislator’s political campaign.

“Member items are funded with taxpayer money from all legislative districts and should be returned to the districts on an equal basis to use for projects or organizations that meet specific standards. Decisions about how to allocate taxpayer dollars should not to be made on the basis of an individual elected official’s party affiliation, seniority, or status,” stated Galef.

There are no rules in member item distribution, other than the recipients must be a not-for-profit organization, and no application process for the groups seeking a member item grant. This can lead to a group in one area of the state getting a large amount of member item funding while the same group, located in another part of the state, gets nothing. For example, a study performed by Common Cause New York found that one group of counties with less than half the state’s population was granted nearly two-thirds of all member item money for schools and the elderly.

“Recent history has shown us that mistakes can be made with member item allocations. For example, in New York City, monies have been directed to inappropriate organizations, due to insufficient oversight and transparency.” Galef commented

“I applaud Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for creating Project Sunlight to put the various allocations of member items on the internet. This allows the public to begin scrutinizing the recipients of these member items. But we need to take additional steps to assure taxpayers that their $200 million tax dollars are going to legitimate groups, are distributed fairly and equally around the state, and that member items are not used as campaign tools during election time,” concluded Galef.