by Buck Quigley - posted 3:01 pm, May 8, 2009
Here’s the decision and order handed down by Judge Frederick J. Marshall today, regarding the show cause order brought Monday, May 4, to compel the speedy disclosure of campaign finance information pertinent to the Tuesday, May 5 Buffalo school board election.
In a nutshell, we, the plaintiffs, lost. Marshall ruled that we “did not exhaust (our) administrative remedies” under FOIL. Of course, exhausting our administrative remedies would have provided us with the information only long after the school board election was over, so what were a handful of curious citizens to do?
Speaking to this issue, the Judge writes: “As enunciated by this Court at a hearing held on May 4, 2009, Section 1529 of the Education Law does not require the Clerk to make copies of candidates’ financial disclosure statements, but only provides that the records ‘shall be open to public inspection.’ Such is the will of the New York State Legislature with respect to financial disclosure of Board of Education candidates, even though with respect to other elections, copies of financial disclosures are freely provided to members of the public and the requirements of FOIL are not, to the knowledge of this Court, ever invoked. The New York State Legislature is advised to address this issue should it so desire.” (emphasis added)
Addressing the issue of Buffalo Students First expenditures, “the Court finds that there is no evidence supporting the petitioner’s contention that the expenditures by Buffalo Students First were made with the permission of any of the respondent candidates. And while Education Law Section 1528(1)(c) does not require a non-candidate to list expenditures, the statement filed by Buffalo Students first lists expenditures of over $30,000, exceeding the $25 limit imposed by that section. Again, however, the Legislature has provided no remedy to an aggrieved party, nor does it define such conduct as a criminal offense. Again, this is an area that the Legislature is advised to address should it so desire.” (emphasis added)
Further, “Since Buffalo Students First, as an affiliate of Buffalo Niagara Partnership, has filed its required disclosure statement pursuant to Section 1528(1)(c) of the Education Law that portion of the petition requiring them to do so is dismissed as moot. This Court has not overlooked the fact that the statement filed by Buffalo Students First was not filed until after this proceeding was commenced. The statute implies, in this Court’s opinion, that a sworn statement should have been filed with the Clerk and the Commissioner prior to the making of such expenditures. Yet again, the Legislature provides no remedy.” (emphasis added)
While further legal actions are being contemplated, we hope the suggestions of the Court are considered by State Legislators Crystal Peoples and Antoine Thompson, who both appeared on a Buffalo Students First mailer supporting the incumbent school board candidates—mailed in violation of the Education Law spending limits, and likely the statute that prohibits the use of assumed names which have not been properly registered.
Maybe they can introduce changes to the Education Law in Albany that would bring it more in step with Election Law when it comes to the release of campaign finance information to the public and the press.