New York's Freedom from Information Law: Disclosure of Public Costs of a New York Senator's "Public Interest" Mailings

By Siris, Michael J. | Albany Law Review, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

New York's Freedom from Information Law: Disclosure of Public Costs of a New York Senator's "Public Interest" Mailings


Siris, Michael J., Albany Law Review


I. Introduction

[A] free society is maintained when government is

responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is

aware of governmental actions. The more open a government

is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and

participation of the public in government.

As state ... services increase and public problems become

more sophisticated and complex and therefore harder to solve,

and with the resultant increase in revenues and expenditures,

it is incumbent upon the state ... to extend public

accountability wherever and whenever feasible.

The people's right to know the process of governmental

decisionmaking and to review the documents and statistics

leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to

such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with

the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality.

... [G]overnment is the public's business.(1)

State legislators throughout the country have various "perquisites of power" which help perpetuate their incumbencies.(2) For example, in many states the taxpayer pays for a legislator's "public interest" mail which is ostensibly designed to educate his or her constituency(3) However, while purporting to perform some public purpose, such mailings are often "indistinguishable from campaign propaganda"(4) As the New York State Commission on Government Integrity (Commission) stated: "Another way in which incumbents can magically convert tax dollars into campaign contributions is through mass mailings and other forms of mass communication at election time. This practice is an abuse of the public trust, yet sadly -- as any observer of modern campaigns knows -- it is widespread."(5) It is almost as if those states which subsidize such mail have a public campaign finance system designed exclusively for the already well-entrenched and well-financed incumbents.(6)

Taxpayer-financed public interest mailings are particularly helpful to and plentiful for legislators in New York State where incumbents already enjoy a uniquely high rate of reelection.(7) For example, a New York State senator is now annually allowed $14,000 of bulk mail (approximately 100,000 pieces of bulk mail),(8) $8500 in first class stamps,(9) two district-wide newsletters,(10) plus additional sums for committee chairpersons and ranking minority members.(11) Clearly, this is a generous allotment by any standard, especially when one considers that most challengers are often underfinanced.(12)

In the case of the New York State Senate," the Senate's obdurate secrecy over disclosing details on individual member mailings compounded the problem of incumbency protection. While willing (and, indeed, perhaps required) to provide an aggregate number for postage for the entire Senate, the Senate had steadfastly refused to provide a member-by-member breakdown,(14) which was necessary to determine whether a particular senator exceeded New York's already generous limits.(15)

In 1992, the New York State Senate's refusal to disclose member-by-member mailing expenditures collided with the public's right to know as expressed in the New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).(16) The Senate claimed that the author's FOIL request(17) for details on exactly how much "public interest" mail his opponent, Senator Tully, was generating at taxpayer expense was outside the scope of FOIL.(18) Even if the Senate was somehow legally insulated from such FOIL inquiries, which the New York Court of Appeals eventually held was not the case,(19) it would seem reasonable that the Senate, simply as a matter of good politics, would have voluntarily provided the information -- after all, it is not as though an accounting of Senator Tully's expenditures of public funds for an allegedly public purpose (i.e. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

New York's Freedom from Information Law: Disclosure of Public Costs of a New York Senator's "Public Interest" Mailings
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.