City Council members running for citywide office are allocating "member item" money to organizations miles away from their council districts, a New York Sun analysis has found.
For Those Running for Citywide Office, Member Item Money Flows Outside Council Districts
The disclosure is reinforcing concerns that the taxpayer funds are being used to buy political support. It is also undercutting one of the most commonly made defenses of member items in the city's budget, which is that no one knows a district's needs better than the local representative.
The disclosure that council members are attaching their names to money sent to organizations miles from their constituents' homes, in boroughs they don't represent, is the latest angle in the "slush fund" scandal that began with the news that the City Council was budgeting money for made-up, nonexistent organizations as a way of stashing funds away to be allocated at the discretion of individual council members. After federal indictments of council aides, all four metropolitan daily newspapers in the city have come out with editorials calling for abolishing the grants of taxpayer funds at the sole discretion of individual council members.
The out-of-district grants are raising concern from council members and advocacy groups, who say it's another sign that the member item system needs to be overhauled or ended completely.
For council members running for higher office, earmarking money for groups outside a council district is a way to raise their profile, win political support from New Yorkers for a citywide campaign, and tap valuable fund-raising networks that might otherwise be out of their reach. Donating to a nonprofit in Manhattan or Queens, if you are a council member from Brooklyn, could lead to campaign donations from board members or supporters of the group and, at the very least, provide an excuse to orchestrate a photo-op in a part of the city where a council member may have no other connection.
Not surprisingly, our ambitious, term-limited, higher-office-seeking Queens councilmembers lead the pack in pork.