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Legislative Update: Campaign Finance Reform in Ulster County

Campaign Finance Reform, in various iterations, has been before the Legislature for at least 5 years. Why hasn’t it passed yet?

In June of 2018 Democrats took a majority in the county legislature for the first time since Ulster People’s founding. Our organization was hopeful that some legislation we’ve long advocated for would finally be passed. At the top of our list was comprehensive campaign finance reform. But with two Democratic proposals on the table, Democratic infighting has stalled any progress.

Trying (and Failing) to Make Sense of the Stalemate

During Ulster People’s endorsement interview with Kathy Nolan (incumbent candidate for Ulster County Legislature District 22), we asked about the status of the campaign finance reform bill she introduced in the legislature (Proposed Local Law 16 of 2018).

Nolan expressed deep frustration that her bill and another similar one, sponsored by Dave Donaldson (Proposed Local Law No. 21 of 2018) had been held hostage in the Laws and Rules Committee, which Donaldson chairs, with no resolution in sight.  Donaldson promised a sub-committee, but it was never formed. Public hearings on the bills were postponed nine times.

That is truly a sorry state of affairs.

Showing UP

At Kathy’s suggestion, I attended the April 15 meeting of the Laws and Rules Committee.  Donaldson was not there and Kevin Roberts, as deputy, chaired the meeting. Other committee members present were Jon Heppner, Hector Rodriguez and Ken Ronk.  Kathy also came. Roberts gave me permission to speak. (I did so as an individual, not as a representative of UP because we had not yet discussed the issue formally and come to any conclusions about our position.)  So I simply told the gathering that campaign finance reform was a serious concern to me and to many of my friends, that I was not speaking in favor of either of the two bills, but that I felt that the delays had gone on for way too long and it was time to get this sorted and passed.

To my astonishment, everyone took out their calendars, a sub-committee was convened on the spot and a date was set for a preliminary meeting four days later.  Public invited.

Finally, Some Movement

Four UP members attended that first meeting (Ed Kowalewski, Elisa Tucci, Todd Wolgamuth and myself).

It was largely organizational.  A draft of the proposed legislation for circulation to all the legislators is planned for June 13th and a June 26th resolution deadline was set, with a floor vote of the full legislature planned for July (before everyone gets too involved with the budget).  Between now and then, the sub-committee will meet 4 more times (May 2, May 16, May 30 and June 13). Public invited.

This is a tremendous opportunity for Ulster People to take part in a decision-making process that will profoundly affect how our local democracy functions.  

Make Your Voice Heard

The next sub-committee meetings are on May 16, May 30, and June 13th from 6-8 PM at the Ulster County Office Building, 6th Floor. These meetings are open to the public, and we encourage you to attend and make your voice heard!

What’s At Stake

At issue:

  • What cap will be placed on spending limits?
  • How do we define “minimum” and “small”? To qualify for the program, candidates must collect a “minimum” number of “small” donations from the community they seek to represent.  This both encourages engagement between voters and candidates who seek to represent them and ensures that a campaign relies on local support, not special interests or out-of-district influence. Both minimum and small need to be defined.
  • The ratio at which contributions will be matched needs to be established.  Will it be 1:1, 3:1, 6:1? Consider the impact of a $10 donation becoming a $20 donation (1:1).  Now consider a $10 donation becoming a $70 donation (6:1). 6:1 is obviously a far more substantive amplification.  (NYC’s model uses 8:1 and, at our last general meeting, Ulster People discussed a 5 or 6:1 was a good place to start our negotiation.)

When enacted, comprehensive finance reform will:

  • establish the amount of public funding available for qualifying candidates who opt into the program;
  • place limits on contributions from individuals or groups;
  • set strict limits on contributions from appointees;
  • and set the total amount of public money to be set aside to fund the program and how it will be administered and overseen.

For a deeper dive into these issues, check out the Brennan Center for Justice’s whitepaper The Case for Small Donor Public Financing in New York.

Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform should be passed NOW. To fail would be a tragic missed opportunity. We can help make that happen.

Learn more about campaign finance reform at our general meeting on May 20

Ulster People’s next general meeting will be on the topic of Fair Elections & Campaign Finance reform. Joan Mandle, a former Colgate Professor who has been involved in the issue for 20 years, will update us on the dysfunction in Albany. County Legislator Kathy Nolan will discuss her comprehensive campaign finance bill for Ulster County.

The Ulster People voting membership will also consider a resolution in support of passing small donor public matching funds legislation in Ulster County.

Join Our County Legislature Observers Group

The Ulster County Legislature (UCL) Observers Working Group attends Ulster County Legislative and standing committee meetings and reports back to our larger body. Our attendance at the Legislature’s regular sessions, at committee meetings and at scheduled public hearings is seen by our endorsed candidates as support and is much appreciated. It’s also a great way to find out what is on their agenda and get to know the individuals who represent us. Please consider going!

Upcoming meetings of the Ulster County Legislature

There are no upcoming events at this time.

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Ulster People endorses 12 candidates for Ulster County Legislature!

Our County Legislature makes decisions that affect our daily lives—from infrastructure, policing, and public health, to our environment, economy, and rights. Ulster People is proud to endorse 12 candidates for Ulster County Legislature (UCL) who, if elected, will shift the balance of power and make real change possible:

  • A thriving and inclusive local economy that supports ALL our residents.
  • Protection of the rights and well-being of the most vulnerable among us.
  • A healthy, sustainable environment for now and generations to come.

Ulster People is pleased to announce our endorsement of:

  • John Schoonmaker – District 2 (Saugerties)
  • Abe Uchitelle – District 5 (City of Kingston)
  • Peter Criswell – District 7 (City of Kingston)
  • Laura Petit† – District 8 (Espous)
  • Mici Simonofsky – District 11 (Marlborough)
  • Betty Diorio – District 12 (Plattekill)
  • Adriana Magaña – District 14 (Shawangunk/Wawarsing)
  • Julius Collins† – District 15 (Town of Wawarsing, Village of Ellenville)
  • Carolyn Hansen – District 18 (Town of Hurley, Town of Marbletown)
  • Manna Jo Greene† –District 19 (Town of Marbletown, Town of Rosendale)
  • Eve Walter – District 20 (Town of New Paltz, Village of New Paltz)
  • Kathy Nolan† – District 22 (Towns of Denning, Hardenburgh, Olive, Shandaken)

†Incumbent

Anyone who wished to seek the group’s endorsement, regardless of party, was asked to complete a questionnaire which was reviewed by the Ulster People screening committee. If the responses showed a strong alignment between the candidate’s views and actions and Ulster People’s platform, candidates were invited to interview with the screening committee, after which, the committee voted to recommend endorsement (or not). Candidates were also given an opportunity to address the membership of Ulster People at a general meeting. The voting members of Ulster People made the final endorsement decisions.

About Our Endorsement Process

Any candidate who wished to seek the group’s endorsement, regardless of party, was asked to complete a questionnaire. An endorsement committee comprised of voting members reviewed the questionnaires. If the responses showed a strong alignment between the candidate’s views and actions and Ulster People’s platform, candidates were invited to interview with the endorsement committee, after which, the committee voted to recommend endorsement (or not). The voting members of Ulster People made the final endorsement decisions. A candidate must receive the support of at least two-thirds of all voting members to receive an endorsement.

Ulster People may consider additional endorsements for county legislature at our May meeting.

Ulster People Endorses Bernie Sanders for President!

Rosendale, NY – By a huge majority, the members of Ulster People for Justice and Democracy voted on Monday night to endorse Bernie Sanders for President.

Ulster People member Todd Wolgamuth explained, “Bernie Sanders has been a powerful and often lone voice for justice, fairness and equality in a sea of political actors self-centered and corrupted by money with hidden agendas.”

Wolgamuth’s enthusiasm for Sanders exemplifies the strong thread of
political activism that runs through Ulster People, which was founded in the
aftermath of the Sanders presidential bid in 2016.

In the last three years, UP has thrown its volunteer power into several local
political races; with their powerful grassroots connections and multi-pronged approach, UP volunteers were a key contributor to the election of a wave of Democrats to the Ulster County Legislature in 2017.

Now members of Ulster People are eager to focus their energy on a presidential campaign again. “Bernie’s platform aligns with my values and his candidacy promises much needed excitement and optimism,” Penny Coleman, UP member and Vice Chair explained.

With this endorsement of Bernie Sanders, Ulster People positions itself as the organization providing local support and local structure to the Sanders campaign. UP members are seasoned grassroots activists familiar with the turf that needs to be covered for Sanders to succeed. Bernie Sanders won 63% of the vote in Ulster County in the 2016 Presidential Primary; with the added energy of people joining now, UP plans to do that well or better in 2020.

For those interested in volunteering for the Sanders campaign locally, Ulster People for Justice and Democracy can be found at https://ulsterpeople.org.

In the words of UP member Max Grieshaber, “Bernie Sanders represents the substance of valuing community over corporate selfishness.”

The combination of Ulster People’s experienced volunteers and the activists who join now will make a formidable force here in the Hudson Valley.

Getting on the Ballot in NY State Part 2: Caucus or Petition?

This post is an excerpt from our forthcoming The Ulster County Electoral Field Guide, developed by Ulster People Vice Chair Penny Coleman. We have done our best to ensure its accuracy as of March 2019.

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Getting on the Ballot: Caucus or Petition

Party nomination of candidates for elective office is made at either a party caucus or in a primary election.  In Ulster County, petitioning is used for all state and county-wide offices, legislative seats, and some town offices.  If more than one candidate from the same party submits enough valid petition signatures, there will also be a primary election.  The City of Kingston and the Towns of Woodstock and New Paltz have switched to petition, but in other towns the caucus is still used.

Continue reading “Getting on the Ballot in NY State Part 2: Caucus or Petition?”

Getting on the Ballot in NY State Part 1: Background

Getting on the Ballot in New York State - Part I: Background

This post is an excerpt from our forthcoming The Ulster County Electoral Field Guide, developed by Ulster People Vice Chair Penny Coleman. We have done our best to ensure its accuracy as of March 2019.

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New York’s Election Laws (Background)

Election laws and procedures are different everywhere you go in the U.S. and at every level of federal, state and local government.  The way things are done in Ulster County might be similar to the way things are done in Columbia or Green, but don’t count on it. It’s always best to make sure you understand what the specific local rules are for the office you are seeking. Check with the BOE and never assume that what was true for last year’s election will be true for the next.

Image by Let NY Vote

Some background on New York State Election Politics:

If you think voting restrictions are only a southern shame, think again.  New Yorkers have endured some of the most restrictive voting rights laws, and consequently one of the worst records on voter turnout, in the country.  In 2016, we ranked 41st in voter turnout. That was an improvement over 2014, when we ranked 49th, with only 27% of eligible voters making it to the polls.

Continue reading “Getting on the Ballot in NY State Part 1: Background”

2019 County Legislature Endorsement Process

We are pleased to announce that Ulster People for Justice and Democracy is now accepting applications from candidates seeking our 2019 endorsement in county legislature races.

We ask that county legislature candidates seeking our endorsement complete our 2019 Candidate Questionnaire and submit a resumé and candidate bio to runforoffice@ulsterpeople.org by Friday, March 31.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT attempt to fill out the application form in your web browser. It will not save your answers. Review instructions below.

Our steering committee will reach out to candidates to schedule an interview after receiving their questionnaires. The first round of interviews are tentatively scheduled for March 6, 9, and 10. Candidates are encouraged to submit their questionnaires as soon as possible as interview slots are first-come, first-serve.

Candidates will also have the opportunity to address our voting membership at general meetings. Our next meeting is on Monday, March 11 from 6-8 PM in Rosendale. We can accommodate up to six candidates. Candidates may request a slot upon submitting their questionnaire. These slots are also first-come, first-serve. At the following general meeting, on April 8, candidate presentations may be limited to candidates who receive the recommendation of our endorsement committee.

The committee will make a recommendation based on platform support and viability as a candidate. Final endorsement decisions are determined by a vote of our voting membership. That vote is tentatively scheduled for the evening of Monday, April 8.

Application Form Instructions

First, download the form (right click the link and select “Save As” or “Save Link As”). Do not attempt to fill out the form in your web browser.

After saving the form to your computer, open it with software such as Adobe Acrobat (PC or Mac) or Preview (Mac only). Test that you can save your answers before filling out the entire form.

If you run into any technical difficulties, we encourage you to print out the form and complete it by hand. You can snap a picture of the pages with your phone, or scan the document and send to us. You are welcome to type up answers to the longer questions in a separate document using the word processor of your choice (Word, Google Docs, etc)

Ulster People Endorses Strong, Rounds & Clegg!

Ulster People for Justice & Democracy is proud to endorse Pat Strong, Byran Rounds, and Dave Clegg

Ulster People for Justice & Democracy is proud to endorse the following candidates for countywide office in 2019, who, if elected, will shift the balance of power and make real change possible:

  • A thriving and inclusive local economy that supports ALL our residents.
  • Protection of the rights and well-being of the most vulnerable among us.
  • A healthy, sustainable environment for now and generations to come.
Continue reading “Ulster People Endorses Strong, Rounds & Clegg!”

2019 Countywide Office Endorsement Process

We are pleased to announce that Ulster People for Justice and Democracy is now accepting applications for our candidates seeking our 2019 endorsement in countywide races (D.A., County Executive, and County Judge).

As a result of New York state’s newly consolidated primaries, we are working under an accelerated endorsement process. Therefore, we ask that candidates seeking county-wide office complete our 2018 State & Local Endorsement Questionnaire by Tuesday, February 12 by midnight, and submit a resumé and candidate bio. Please also contact Thomas Brown (tcbrown350@gmail.com), chair of the screening committee, ASAP to schedule an interview with our endorsement committee.

The committee will make a recommendation based on platform support and viability as a candidate. Final endorsement decisions are determined by a vote of our voting membership. That vote is tentatively scheduled for the evening of Monday, February 18.

For county legislature candidates interested in our endorsement: our 2019 candidate questionnaire will be released soon. Please keep an eye on this page, or sign up for our email list, for details.

Updates from Our Annual Meeting of the Members

On January 28, 2019 the voting members of Ulster People for Justice & Democracy convened for our Annual Meeting of the Members.

Photo of county executive candidate presentations

The meeting began with presentations from candidates seeking county-wide office. We heard from Dave Clegg, candidate for District Attorney; a representative from Bryan Round’s campaign for County Judge; and Marc Rider, Pat Ryan, and Pat Strong, all candidates for County Executive.

During the business portion of the meeting, voting member dues were set at $27 for the year, and a new steering committee was elected:

Chair
Rebecca Rojer
Vice Chair
Penny Coleman
Secretary
Ann Brown
Treasurer
Lanny Walter
Members at Large
Ed Kowalewski
Larissa Shaughnessy
Rick Vanden Heuvel

Additionally, the following working groups were determined to be active:

  • Ulster County Legislature Observers Working Group, chaired by Elisa Tucci and Tamara Telberg
  • Ulster County Electoral Field Guide Working Group, chaired by Penny Coleman
  • 2019 Endorsements Working Group, chaired by Thomas Brown
  • DA/Prosecutorial Reform Teach-In Working Group, chaired by Rebecca Rojer
  • County Legislature Teach-In Working Group, chaired by Elisa Tucci, Tamara Telberg, and Penny Coleman
  • Delegation to the Campaign for the NY Health Act, chaired by Charlotte Adamis
  • Delegation to the Fair Elections Campaign, chaired by Lanny Walter

Anyone interested in getting involved in a working group is encouraged to email connect@ulsterpeople.org to be put in contact with the working group chair(s). Our Calendar and Take Action pages are another good way to learn how to plug in to our work.

Our next general meeting will be held on Monday, March 11 from 6-8pm (location TBA).