New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo entered office promising unprecedented transparency, but his aides’ use of private email offers quite a different picture
Adopting a tactic that has been used by officials ranging from Sarah Palin to staffers of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are sending emails from private accounts to conduct official business.
I know because I got one myself. And three other people who interact with the governor's office on policy or media matters told me they have too. None of the others wanted to be named.
The tactic appears to be another item in the toolbox of an administration that, despite Cuomo's early vows of unprecedented transparency, has become known for an obsession with secrecy. Emailing from private accounts can help officials hide communications and discussions that are supposed to be available to the public.
“Government business should never be conducted through private email accounts. Not only does it make it difficult to retrieve what is a government record, but it just invites the suspicion that a government employee is attempting to evade accountability by supervisors and the public,” said Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union, a frequent requester of records under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.
Emailing from private accounts also may violate state policy. State employees are not to “use a personal email account to conduct State business unless explicitly authorized,” according to a policy bearing the governor's name published by the Office of Information Technology Services.
The Cuomo administration declined to comment on whether any employees are authorized to use private accounts.
Back when he was running for governor, Cuomo pledged, “We must use technology to bring more sunlight to the operation of government.”
The governor himself uses a BlackBerry messaging system that does not save messages to communicate with aides, the Daily News reported in 2012. Under the Freedom of Information Law, those records would typically not have to be released because there is an exemption for internal deliberative material.
But emails with anyone outside of the administration – such as lobbyists, company executives, or reporters – usually have to be made public upon request. It is for those communications, with people outside the administration, that private email accounts have been used.
Last year, I was poking around on a possible story and filed some public records requests that sought emails from Director of State Operations Howard Glaser, a top Cuomo adviser. One day in October, just hours after filing a request with the governor's office, an email appeared in my inbox from Glaser himself.
The email, inquiring what I was working on, was sent from a @glasergroup.net address rather than a government account. The note had a signature line about not using the email address for official business (even though it appeared to be doing just that). My interest was piqued.
So I filed a request under the state's Freedom of Information Law, asking for all records sent to and from Glaser's private account. It is not supposed to matter if an email is sent from an official account or a private one: If it pertains to government business, it typically has to be released.
A couple of months later, the Cuomo administration responded with a terse denial: “Please be advised that the New York State Executive Chamber has conducted a diligent search, but does not possess records responsive to your request.”
I appealed, noting that I had in my possession a record responsive to the request – Glaser's email to me – and included it as an attachment.
The administration upheld its original denial, now citing a retention issue.
“[T]he fact that this record is in your possession does not mean that the Chamber failed to produce a responsive record in its possession. Emails and certain other correspondence are not required to be preserved indefinitely,” the March letter said.
When I asked about the email this month, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi took a different tack, now disputing that Glaser was emailing me in his official capacity at all and calling the email “informal.”
“It would be inaccurate to characterize Howard’s email as official business – as he noted, your official business was being handled by the FOIL office, not him,” Azzopardi said.
But I have no personal relationship with Glaser, and my Freedom of Information Law requests focused only on his activities as a state official. When I recently asked Glaser about his email practices, he said, “I don't use personal email to conduct official business.”
He would not say how he defines “official business.”
In its letter denying my request for emails from Glaser’s private account, the administration cited the general retention policy of the State Archives. That policy says that “many email communications are not records and are therefore suitable for immediate destruction” but also that those emails which are records must be preserved.
So how does one determine which emails are “records”?
The governor’s office seems to take a particularly narrow view. The governor’s policy says that emails are only “records” if they are formal documents like press releases and nominations. Azzopardi, the Cuomo spokesman, said: “Official email is not required to be retained unless it meets the definition of a particular kind of record (eg – contract), consistent with the State Archives policy.”
But the Archives, which Cuomo’s office itself cited, takes a more expansive view, even as state law gives the governor leeway to determine which records should be kept.
Quoting the official definition of records, Archives spokeswoman Antonia Valentine said an email is a record if it is created “in connection with the transaction of public business (and provides) … evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities (of an agency).”
In practice, Glaser seems to be either eschewing his official email account or promptly deleting messages of substance. When I asked for a 10-day sample of emails from Glaser's official account, I got back little actual communication: 147 pages that are largely filled with newsletters, press releases, and the occasional terse email to set up a phone call.
The use of private accounts can result in even more roadblocks when an official leaves the government. (Glaser is reportedly leaving the administration in June.)
The issue has come up before.
In 2007, executives from the insurance giant AIG filed a public records request with the Office of the Attorney General, seeking, among other things, former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's communications with the press from the period when he had sued the insurance giant. That request was resisted for years by Spitzer's successor as attorney general: Andrew Cuomo.
While Cuomo’s office eventually released emails sent from official accounts, it maintained that Spitzer's use of a private account put any of those emails beyond its reach.
“[T]he reality is that the Office of the Attorney General lacks access to this account and possession of whatever e-mails it may contain, thus rendering them beyond the scope of petitioner's FOIL request both practically and legally,” Cuomo's office said in a 2009 court filing.
A judge ruled against the attorney general’s office, which has appealed. Seven years since the original request, the case is still in the courts and Spitzer's private email account – which he was known to use in his capacity as a state official – has never been searched for records.
Lawyers for Spitzer joined the case this year, arguing in a March filing that because Spitzer is now a former employee and a private citizen, the Freedom of Information Law doesn't apply.
Beyond the governor's office, the state is reportedly moving toward an email system that would automatically delete emails after 90 days except for those marked by users to save.
It's not clear how that process would work or how the state will ensure that records are not destroyed. The Office of Information and Technology Services declined to provide the memo describing the new policy, requiring that I file a formal public records request to get it.
Transparency advocates have criticized 90 days as too short a period because emails may only become relevant months later after a scandal or other event.
A document on the IT office's website references the possibility in a state email system for “recovery of deleted mailbox contents for the length of the retention period” – another capability that would not exist for officials using private accounts.
Across the river in New Jersey, private email accounts are at the center of the Bridgegate scandal.
The infamous “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email was sent from a Christie aide's Yahoo account to another official's Gmail account. That tactic held off public access to the email for a time.
In December, the Christie administration claimed it did not have records in response to a request from the Record of Bergen, N.J. The emails became public later, only after the officials were subpoenaed by the state Assembly.
If you have gotten emails from the private account of an official in the governor’s office or other state or city agencies, email me at [email protected]
Nifty has to close above 6,715 to regain strength
On Monday the Indian indices opened higher and then managed to move up till around 1.30pm. After that, both the benchmark started giving up gains and closed marginally higher than Friday’s close.
S&P BSE 30-share Sensex opened at 22,413 while NSE 50-share Nifty opened at 6,682. Sensex hit a low of 22,354 while the Nifty hit low of 6,680. Sensex, however, moved lower after hitting a high of 22,592 and closed at 22,445 (up 41 points or 0.18%). Nifty hit a high of 6,741 and closed at 6,699 (up 5 points or 0.07%). The NSE recorded a volume of 64.16 crore shares.
Among the other indices on the NSE, the top five gainers were Metal (1.35%), Energy (1.22%), CPSE (0.93%), PSU Bank (0.71%) and Commodities (0.70%). The top five losers were IT (1.03%), Pharma (0.96%), Media (0.89%), Realty (0.75%) and Service (0.68%).
Of the 50 stocks on the Nifty, 25 ended in the green. The top five gainers were Hindalco (5.13%), Jindal Steel (2.01%), Tata Steel (1.77%), Reliance Industries (1.76%) and ONGC (1.73%). The top five losers were HCL Technologies (3.21%), HDFC (2.64%), Cipla (2.23%), Tata Power (1.93%) and NMDC (1.84%).
Of the 1,544 companies on the NSE, 619 companies closed in the green, 855 companies closed in the red while 70 companies closed flat.
Nearly a year after it blocked India's $5 billion deal to take stake in Kashagan oilfield, Kazakhstan has offered ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) a stake in a medium sized Abai oil block in the Caspian Sea. OVL, the overseas arm of ONGC, has been offered 25% interest in the Abai block, which according to Kazakhstan government had an estimated 2.8 billion barrels of oil reserves. ONGC was among the top two gainers in Sensex 30 pack.
Cipla was among the top two losers in the Sensex. Cipla has said that "essential" medicines be made available to people at affordable rates.
Century Textiles revenue and operating profit were up for March 2014 quarter over the year ago period. The company declared a full year dividend of Rs5.50 per share or 55%. In the previous year the same amount was paid as dividend. The stock was the top gainer in ‘A’ group on the BSE.
Financial Technologies has informed BSE that the board met on 2 May 2014 and took note on the progress on the divestment of 24% stake in MCX, since the last Board meeting held on 25 April 2014. The Board was to deliberate on the final bidder at Board Meeting held on 2 May 2014. However, in the light of developments of MCX releasing executive summary of the Report of special audit conducted by PwC, some of the bidders have requested for the full report and also further information about MCX. Their request has been sent to MCX by the investment bankers. In view of this, the bidders have not submitted binding bids. Accordingly, the Board has decided to meet again on 10 May 2014 to review the progress on the divestment of 24% stake in MCX. Financial Technologies, top loser in ‘A’ group on the BSE, fell 4.99% to close at Rs285.70 on the BSE.
US indices closed lower on Friday. The labor market shifted into a higher gear in April with payroll gains showing the most widespread advance in two years, a sign the US economic expansion is on the verge of speeding up. The 288,000 increase in employment marked the biggest upside surprise since February 2012 and followed a 203,000 rise the prior month, Labor Department figures showed in Washington. An index measuring the share of industries hiring climbed to 67, the highest level since January 2012. The jobless rate dropped to 6.3%, the lowest since September 2008.
Except for Shanghai Composite (0.05%), Jakarta Composite (0.08%) and Taiwan Weighted (0.04%) all the other Asian indices closed in the negative. Hang Seng (1.28%) was the top loser.
European indices were showing mixed performance while US Futures were trading lower.
In a fresh setback to Maharashtra's former chief minister Ashok Chavan, the Supreme Court dismissed his plea challenging the Election Commission’s jurisdiction to enquire into paid news
The Supreme Court on Monday said that the Election Commission has the jurisdiction and can enquire into complaints on paid news against a political leader if the expenditure incurred on it is not disclosed.
A bench headed by Justice AK Patnaik dismissed the plea of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan challenging the Commission’s jurisdiction to enquire into such issues.
It also directed the Commission to enquire into the complaint against Chavan within 45 days.
The apex court passed the order on an appeal filed by Chavan challenging the Delhi High Court verdict, which had refused to grant any relief to Chavan on the issue of paid news. The apex court in 2011 had stayed a probe by EC into the authenticity of Chavan’s spendings during the 2009 state assembly polls allegedly involving expenses on “paid news”.
In the 2009 Assembly elections, Chavan had shown only Rs5,000 as his campaign expenditure whereas the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has lodged a case against him in the Commission, has been able to show that tens of crore were spent by him on paid news.
Paid news is the phenomenon where politicians pay newspapers and channels to run stories favourable to them. Basically, this is an advertisement that is camouflaged as news amounting to betrayal of the reader’s trust.
According to The Hindu, the Ashok Chavan case involves some of the top newspaper groups in the country who have vigorously denied charges of wrongdoing. The issue broke into print when three major newspapers carried exactly the same hagiographical story on Chavan — under different bylines. It also involved scores of full pages of “news” appearing in these and other publications singing Chavan’s praises while completely blacking out any mention of his rival in the Bhokar constituency of Nanded, Dr Madhav Kinhalkar. The publications defended these full pages as 'news'.
“Chavan’s poll expenditure account also stated that he had spent less than Rs7 lakh on his entire campaign and a mere Rs5,379 on newspaper advertisements, well below the expenditure limit. If his accounts are valid, then he managed to hold two rallies involving Bollywood superstar Salman Khan — and drawing tens of thousands of people — at a cost of less than Rs 4,500 each,” senior journalist P Sainath wrote in the report published in The Hindu.
The probe was launched by EC on complaints filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Kirit Somaiyya.
The Press Council of India later released the report on Paid News (dated 30 July 2010) on its website, following the direction by the Delhi High Court. The report prepared under the chairmanship of Justice GR Ray (former head of the Press Council) has been placed in the public domain (more details at http://presscouncil.nic.in/HOME.HTM ).
Concerned over the serious dimensions acquired by the phenomenon of payment for news in the media in the General Elections 2009, the Council not only took cognizance of the matter suo moto, but also considered representations from various eminent persons. The report records that “Sections of the media in India have willy-nilly become participants and players in such practices that contribute to the growing use of money power in politics which undermines democratic processes and norms— while hypocritically pretending to occupy a high moral ground.”
After the ‘paid news' scandal surfaced, the Press Council under Justice GN Ray set up a subcommittee to inquire into the racket. The committee comprising Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, senior journalist, and Sreenivas Reddy, produced an explosive 71-page report which clearly mentioned the names (and details) of the personalities who were involved in this racket.
However, the recommendation of the Press Council report were withheld from the public until an RTI (Right to Information) Application from journalist Manu Moudgil forced Press Council to come out with all the relevant details by 10th October after an order from the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC).
Later in May 2013, in a major twist to the Ashok Chavan vs. Madhav Kinhalkar legal battle, leading civil society organisations and eminent individuals have approached the Supreme Court to implead themselves into the case. According to a report from The Hindu, the line-up of distinguished individuals included veteran journalist and editor BG Verghese, former Chief Election Commissioners of India (CEC) N Gopalaswami and JM Lyngdoh, and former adviser to the ECI, KJ Rao. Gopalaswami told P Sainath that, “The government had joined Chavan in challenging the Election Commission’s power to disqualify a candidate under Section 10A of the Act for his failure to submit a correct and true rendering of his election expenditure”.
This action followed the Union Law Ministry filing a counter-affidavit on behalf of the Government in the Ashok Chavan case. That affidavit, first reported by The Hindu on March 20, asserts that “the power of the Election Commission to disqualify a person arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason, including the correctness or otherwise of such accounts.” Simply put: the government claims the ECI has no right to disqualify a candidate even if his accounts are found to be improper or fraudulent. If accepted, this would virtually gut the powers of that Constitutional body, senior journalist Sainath wrote in a report published by The Hindu.