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Friday's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

My must-reads will be on hiatus next week, as I am celebrating the arrival of this weekend's White House Correspondents Dinner by fleeing for the mountains of Utah, but they will resume on May 6.

Meantime, today's top stories are a diverse lot.

First, The New York Times delves deep into the government's huge payouts to farmers who claim they are victims of lending bias -- and some who don't.

Over on Capitol Hill, The Hill takes a look at the troubles of the Republican House leadership.

And finally, two looks at the insider schmoozefest and celebrity-culture bacchanalia that is the White House Correspondents dinner. First, The Washington Post shows that some news organizations are spending upwards of $200,000 on parties tied to the event. And Politico notes that NBC's Tom Brokaw has witnessed the Kardashianization of the dinner and decided to stay away.

Group wants transparency for domestic partners' of state officials

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- A conservative religious group wants some clarity on state rules regarding domestic partners of state officials and whether they have to disclose financial statements with an ethics agency to guard against possible conflicts of interest.

The request to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics by the New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms comes after the ethics agency recently said Sandra Lee, the girlfriend of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is a domestic partner of the governor's and can ride on state aircraft and have state security services when she accompanies him on official government business.

Jason McGuire, the religious group's executive director, said it is "inconsistent'' that the state not require domestic partners to file financial disclosure forms when spouses of state officials must reveal details about employment and investments to the ethics agency.

"Gov. Cuomo and other elected officials who reside with unmarried partners should not be able to have their cake and eat it too. Basic notions of equity, accountability and transparency require that the state be placed on notice of potential conflicts of interest due to the business or other interests of an elected official's domestic partner. It is hope that JCOPE will recognize this and re-evaluate its disclosure requirements accordingly,'' McGuire said in a written statement today.

The Cuomo administration declined comment, but officials have noted that the administration never asked the state ethics agency to clarify the rules for Lee, and that she has never been a passenger on state aircraft.


Bar Association to honor Grisanti with Liberty Bell Award

   By Robert J. McCarthy

   Long before Mark J. Grisanti won a stunning upset election for the State Senate, he practiced as a defense lawyer.

   Now, after several years of combining legal and political careers, he is being honored by his attorney peers with the 2013 Liberty Bell Award, the highest award bestowed at the Annual Law Day Luncheon of the Bar Association of Erie County.

   According to Bar Association President Kathleen Sweet, Grisanti has "not shied away from taking positions in the face of criticism," adding he was selected because of his "strength of conviction and independent deliberation on matters important to our region."

   Perhaps Grisanti is best known for his 2011 vote that helped legalize same sex marriage in New York and the criticism of the vote that followed.

   The award, established in 1964, recognizes community service that strengthens "the American system of freedom under the law and acknowledges outstanding contributions to the effective functioning of our institutions of government."

   The award will be presented Tuesday at a luncheon at Statler City. The senator's father, Richard Grisanti -- who has practiced law for more than 50 years -- will accept the award on behalf of his son, who will be in session in Albany.

Thursday's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

We may be three years away from the next presidential election, but in some ways, The Los Angeles Times tells us, it seems the 2016 campaign is starting at the opening of the George W. Bush presidential library.

While the Times look ahead, the Hill takes a look back at health care reform -- and how it may bode ill for immigration reform.

And The Washington Post tells us that the fracking debate is raging in Germany, too.

Senate GOP says campaign finance price tag will soar

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Senate Republicans say a newly proposed public campaign finance system will cost taxpayers $221.5 million in an election cycle for statewide and legislative races – a number far higher than the amount estimated last week by Assembly Democrats.

Senate Republicans are pushing back at efforts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, saying voters do not want their tax money going to fund political campaigns. Advocates say the measure is needed to help reduce the influence of money in New York campaigns and to give less wealthy candidates a fairer shot in running against incumbents or wealthy candidates.

The Senate Republicans say their analysis of a new bill by Assembly Democrats finds finds a general election campaign under a public finance system could cost $145 million – including $24 million for a governor’s race and $16 million apiece for the comptroller and attorney general. If there were 426 candidates running for Assembly and Senate seats – which would translate into 2 candidates per district in each house – taxpayers would be on the hook for about $90 million in a general campaign.

The GOP said the Assembly bill could cost another $76 million to finance primary races.

The GOP believes its numbers are conservative. For instance, they say the analysis is based only on major party candidates running, and that the tab would be higher if minor party candidates are on the ballot and qualify for funding under the Assembly’s funding formula. And they say the numbers assume only 25 percent of senators face a primary with just one of the candidates getting public matching dollars.

Silver has said the Assembly plan would cost about $50 million.

Advocates for a public finance campaign system said the Senate GOP estimates are bloated. The Campaign Finance Institute today said New York taxpayers would pay between $26 million to $41 million per year; the group said its numbers come from an analysis of the Assembly Democratic plan and studying donor trends from the 2010 and 2012 elections. The numbers were crunched by University at Albany professor Michael Malbin, who said his study was reviewed by peers. The groups also pointed to falling corruption convictions of Connecticut lawmakers since a public campaign finance system was implemented in 2008.


Eagan to manage Dobson campaign for sheriff

   By Robert J. McCarthy
   Businessman James J. Eagan is once again plunging into the local political scene.

   The former Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority commissioner, who resigned last year to become secretary of the state Democratic Committee, is managing Democrat Richard Dobson's campaign for sheriff.

   Dobson is emerging as the "challenger" in the Democratic primary in light of Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner's plan to support Bert Dunn, a lieutenant in the Sheriff's Office. Both aim to challenge Republican incumbent Timothy B. Howard in November.

   Eagan has been active in other races and also has carved out a reputation as a Democratic fundraiser. He also was involved in Democrat James P. Keane's unsuccessful run for county executive in 2007.

Wednesday's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

Today's top story comes from National Public Radio, which tells us that under current law, it's easy for would-be terrorists to buy guns.

Meanwhile, Nate Silver, the numbers-crunching genius of the FiveThirtyEight blog at The New York Times, illustrates how last week's Senate gun vote probably won't have electoral consequences.

And finally, for a change of pace, here's a great read from The Washington Post about a Maryland prison where, according to federal prosecutors, the inmates took over the asylum.

Today's history lesson: Wilson-Pakula

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – A fight is underway at the Capitol between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers over whether to change a 1947 law that prevents someone not enrolled in a political party to run on that party’s line without permission from party leaders.

Called the “Wilson-Pakula law," it was authored by Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Malcolm Wilson, who years later would briefly become governor, and Irwin Pakula, a member of the Senate from Long Island City.

What follows is the thinking of critics and supporters in letters and memos, including several to Gov. Thomas Dewey, who would go on to sign the law. The thoughts are on file in the measure’s “bill jacket"buried in the files at the Capitol’s legislative library.

Continue reading "Today's history lesson: Wilson-Pakula" »

How WNY's members of Congress voted last week

By Jerry Zremski

It was a busy week in the House of Representatives, but all of those votes paled in significance compared to the Senate votes that, in essence, killed gun control legislation.

Here's a closer look, courtesy Targeted News Service:


House Vote 1:
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD: The House has passed the Preventing
Greater Uncertainty in Labor-Management Relations Act (H.R. 1120),
sponsored by Rep. David P. Roe, R-Tenn. The bill would bar the National
Labor Relations Board from taking actions that require a quorum of the
Board's members until either the Senate has confirmed enough members to
establish a quorum, the Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality
of Board appointments made in January 2012, or the first session of the
113th Congress has adjourned. Roe said that by requiring the appointment
of an adequate number of Board members, the bill would resolve
uncertainty about whether Board rulings made since January 2012 are
legal. An opponent, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said the bill would
stop the Board from enforcing labor law, leaving workers vulnerable to
mistreatment by their employers. The vote, on April 12, was 219 yeas to
209 nays.
YEAS: Rep. Chris Collins R-Clarence.
NAYS: Rep. Brian Higgins D-Buffalo, Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning.

House Vote 2:
GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE: The House has passed the Government
Accountability Office Improvement Act (H.R. 1162), sponsored by Rep.
Darrell Issa, R-Calif. The bill would expand the Government
Accountability Office's access to data maintained by the executive
branch of the government, including the National Directory of New Hires,
and authorize the Comptroller General and head of GAO to take civil
legal actions to obtain agency records in order to perform GAO's duties.
Issa said the bill would help the GAO quickly obtain information to
carry out its mission of giving Congress "current information on how
Federal programs are performing in order to both legislate and
effectively conduct meaningful oversight." The vote, on April 15, was
unanimous with 408 yeas.
YEAS: Collins, Higgins, Reed.

House Vote 3:
Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act (H.R. 249), sponsored by Rep.
Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. The bill would have barred individuals with
seriously delinquent tax debt from being hired by the federal government
or maintaining employment with the government. Chaffetz said the bill
would discourage government employees from disobeying tax law. An
opponent, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said: "The legislation is
unnecessary because the IRS and other executive agencies already have
procedures in place to recover back taxes from Federal employees." The
vote, on April 15, was 250 yeas to 159 nays, with a two-thirds majority
required for approval.
YEAS: Collins.
NAYS: Higgins, Reed.

House Vote 4:
GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SECURITY: The House has passed the Federal
Information Security Amendments Act(H.R. 1163), sponsored by Rep.
Darrell E. Issa, R-Calif. The bill would require government officials to
increase the automated and continuous monitoring of government
information technology systems to prevent cyberattacks. Issa said the
government needs to "address cybersecurity threats in a manner that
keeps pace with our Nation's growing dependence on technology," and the
bill was a necessary response to the changing nature of cybersecurity
threats. The vote, on April 16, was unanimous with 416 yeas.
YEAS: Collins, Higgins.
NAYS: Reed.

House Vote 5:
CYBERSECURITY PLANNING: The House has passed the Cybersecurity
Enhancement Act (H.R. 756), sponsored by Rep. Michael T. McCaul,
R-Texas. The bill would require a strategic plan for the government's
cybersecurity research and development programs, and provide for
cybersecurity scholarships to be offered to future government
cybersecurity workers by the National Science Foundation and
cybersecurity public outreach programs at the National Institute of
Standards and Technology. McCaul said the bill was a needed response to
changes in cybersecurity since 2002, when the last major cybersecurity
was enacted, and will advance cybersecurity work at government agencies.
The vote, on April 16, was 402 yeas to 16 nays.
YEAS: Collins,  Higgins, Reed.

House Vote 6:
America's Networking and Information Technology Research and Development
Act (H.R. 967), sponsored by Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis, R-Wyo. The bill
would establish provisions for the coordination of government research
and development efforts on cybersecurity, data security, and other
information technology programs. Lummis said: "Advances in networking
and information technology continue to transform our quality of life,
our economy, U.S. competitiveness, and our national security. This bill
provides the coordination necessary for the United States to respond to
rapid changes in these areas, it encourages innovation, and it protects
our economy." The vote, on April 16, was 406 yeas to 11 nays.
YEAS: Collins, Higgins, Reed.

House Vote 7:
CYBERSECURITY DATA SHARING: The House has passed the Cyber Intelligence
Sharing and Protection Act (H.R. 624), sponsored by Rep. Mike J. Rogers,
R-Mich. The bill would require the Director of National Intelligence to
establish procedures for the intelligence community and private business
to share information about cyber threats, and allow the government to
use shared information to investigate cybersecurity crimes and protect
national security. Rogers said: "The bill will allow the government to
share cyber threat intelligence more widely with American companies in
operationally usable form so they can help prevent state-sponsored cyber
spies from stealing American trade secrets." An opponent, Rep. Janice D.
Schakowsky, D-Ill., said: "Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually
exclusive, and this bill fails to achieve a balance between protecting
our networks and safeguarding our liberties." The vote, on April 18, was
288 yeas to 127 nays.
YEAS: Collins, Higgins, Reed.


Senate Vote 1:
CONFIRMING U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE: The Senate has confirmed the nomination
of Beverly Reid O'Connell to serve as a U.S. District Judge for the
Central District of California. A supporter, Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., cited O'Connell's experience as a civil litigator, 10 years of
experience as a lawyer in the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Central
District of California, and, since 2005, as a judge in California's
Superior Court. Feinstein said: "Judge O'Connell has outstanding
credentials and an impeccable reputation, and she has received a rating
of 'well qualified' from the American Bar Association." The vote, on
April 15, was unanimous with 92 yeas.
YEAS: Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand D-NY, Sen. Charles E. Schumer D-NY.

Senate Vote 2:
amendment sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to the Safe
Communities, Safe Schools Act (S. 649). The amendment would have
required background checks for commercial firearms transactions, barred
the government from establishing a national firearms registry, and
created a national commission on mass violence. Manchin said the
amendment "is using common sense to protect the safety of the public,
especially our kids and at the same time protect the Second Amendment
right to bear arms." The vote, on April 17, was 54 yeas to 46 nays, with
a three-fifths majority required for approval.
YEAS: Gillibrand, Schumer.

Senate Vote 3:
REPUBLICAN GUN VIOLENCE PLAN: The Senate has rejected a substitute
amendment sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to the Safe
Communities, Safe Schools Act (S. 649). The substitute amendment would
have added rules for including mental health records in the National
Instant Criminal Background Check System, expanded penalties for gun
trafficking and funding to prosecute illegal firearms transactions, and
authorized out-of-state gun dealers to sell firearms in a state so long
as they comply with that state's firearms laws. Grassley said the
amendment "contains commonsense measures to fight gun violence in our
communities and protect the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding gun
owners." An opponent, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said the amendment
was not a serious effort to make progress on efforts to reduce gun
violence. The vote, on April 17, was 52 yeas to 48 nays, with a
three-fifths majority required for approval.
NAYS: Gillibrand, Schumer.

Senate Vote 4:
STRAW PURCHASES OF FIREARMS: The Senate has rejected an amendment
sponsored by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., to the Safe Communities, Safe
Schools Act (S. 649). The amendment would have made it illegal for
individuals, known as straw purchasers, to buy firearms legally in order
to deliver the firearms to individuals who cannot legally buy firearms,
and made it illegal to smuggle firearms out of the country. Leahy said
the amendment would give law enforcement officials the legal tools they
need "to fight against the drug cartels and other criminals who threaten
our communities." The vote, on April 17, was 58 yeas to 42 nays, with a
three-fifths majority required for approval.
YEAS: Gillibrand, Schumer.

Senate Vote 5:
amendment sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to the Safe
Communities, Safe Schools Act (S. 649). The amendment would have
authorized individuals with state licenses to carry concealed handguns
to also carry their handguns in other states that authorize the issuance
of concealed handgun licenses. Cornyn said the amendment would treat
concealed carry licenses similarly to driver's licenses, so that
"someone with a concealed carry permit in Texas would no longer have to
worry about obtaining a separate one when he or she was traveling across
the country." An opponent, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said the amendment
would allow dangerous individuals who have obtained permits in states
with lax standards to carry handguns into states with laws that bar the
individuals from owning a handgun. The vote, on April 17, was 57 yeas to
43 nays, with a three-fifths majority required for a approval.
NAYS: Gillibrand, Schumer.

Senate Vote 6:
ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN: The Senate has rejected an amendment sponsored by
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools
Act (S. 649). The amendment would have reinstated a ban on buying
certain models of semi-automatic firearms, commonly known as assault
weapons, that expired in 2004. Feinstein said the amendment sought to
"begin to dry up the future supply of assault weapons and high-capacity
ammunition magazines over time, which will save lives." The vote, on
April 17, was 40 yeas to 60 nays.
YEAS: Gillibrand, Schumer.

Senate Vote 7:
VETERANS AND FIREARMS PURCHASES: The Senate has rejected an amendment
sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., to the Safe Communities, Safe
Schools Act (S. 649). The amendment would have required judicial review
of decisions by the Veterans Affairs Department to place veterans on the
federal list of those banned from buying firearms. Burr said that
currently, veterans found to be unable to handle their own finances are
unfairly put on the list. An opponent, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said
the amendment would take 165,000 people off the list, "all of whom have
some degree of incompetence" that indicates they should not own
firearms. The vote, on April 17, was 56 yeas to 44 nays, with a
three-fifths majority required for approval.
NAYS: Gillibrand, Schumer.

Senate Vote 8:
rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to
the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act (S. 649). The amendment would
have barred the possession of devices to feed more than 10 rounds of
ammunition into a firearm. Blumenthal said the devices "are used to kill
more people more quickly and, in fact, have been used in more than half
the mass shootings since 1982." An opponent, Sen. Chuck Grassley,
R-Iowa, said: "There is no evidence banning these magazines has reduced
the deaths from gun crimes. In fact, when the previous ban [on the
devices] was in effect, a higher percentage of gun crime victims were
killed or wounded than before it was adopted." The vote, on April 17,
was 46 yeas to 54 nays.
YEAS: Gillibrand, Schumer.

Senate Vote 9:
amendment sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to the Safe
Communities, Safe Schools Act (S. 649). The amendment would withhold 5
percent of federal funding for state and local Community Oriented
Policing Services programs if those governments release sensitive and
confidential information on gun ownership of law-abiding individuals.
Barrasso said the amendment "protects the privacy and safety of
law-abiding gun owners. When government officials release gun ownership
information, it puts many lives at risk." An opponent, Sen. Patrick J.
Leahy, D-Vt., said the amendment would hurt states by reducing funding
for their law enforcement efforts. The vote, on April 18, was 67 yeas to
30 nays.
NAYS: Gillibrand, Schumer.

Senate Vote 10:
MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAMS: The Senate has passed an amendment sponsored by
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act (S.
649). The amendment would reauthorize Department of Education and Health
and Human Services programs to prevent and treat mental health
conditions and substance abuse disorders. Harkin said: "We need to do a
better job of early identification, intervention, and providing support
services for the mental health of our children in this country." The
vote, on April 18, was 95 yeas to 2 nays.
YEAS: Gillibrand, Schumer.

Tuesday's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

Maureen Dowd of The New York Times started a great debate over the weekend with a column alleging that President Obama does not like to twist arms, and the Times follows up today with a story that takes a closer look at a president who avoids the tougher elements of politics.

Meanwhile, the Times also takes a look ahead at the huge costs that victims of the Boston bombings will face.

And The Washington Post takes us to the George W. Bush library -- and notes that the 43rd president is becoming more popular in retirement.

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |