Addabbo Among Top Council Spenders
There are many benefits to being an incumbent City Council officeholder. One of those benefits is being able to use taxpayer money to reach constituents through mailings or advertisements in local media.
The city charter forbids elected officials from using government funds for any type of media ad from January first of an election year through Election Day. Yet, that is exactly what is happening in the City Council, according to a local non-partisan watchdog group, the Citizens Union. Among the top five spenders is Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr.
In its report, "Tax Dollars At 'Work': City Council Spending On Advertisements," released earlier this month, Citizens Union, using the Freedom of Information Act, found that for fiscal years 2003 through 2006, council members spent a total of $782,491 on advertisements. While many of these ads did provide information on public meetings, hearings or about city services, most were for holiday greetings or ads that were congratulatory in nature.
In the interest of full disclosure, The Wave does run these types of ads during the various holiday seasons.
The Rockaway councilman comes in fourth in expenditures behind Council members Michael Nelson (Brooklyn), who spent $82,099; Domenic Recchia (Brooklyn), who spent $50,889; and James Gennaro (Queens), who spent $49,130.
During these four years, Addabbo spent $41,222. Rockaway's other councilman, James Sanders Jr., spent $2,841. In two of those years, records show Sanders spent no money on advertisements.
"It gives an opportunity for a council member to extend wishes, because we are the City Council, and we are the frontline of defense to address certain quality of life issues," Addabbo told the Gotham Gazette in defending the practice.
"I think we're more visible, given the nature of our jobs…whether we're there in person or we're there in a journal ad. We're not saying, 'Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, by the way vote for us'.
"It's taxpayer dollars going right back to the taxpayer."
In response to the report, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has proposed rule changes to the ways council members can spend money on ads.
"Together with the Rules Reform Working Group, I am recommending several internal rules changes that will strictly limit council members' use of taxpayer dollars to advertising which informs about a public service or event," said Quinn in a prepared statement. "These proposed rules changes will set restrictions on advertising placements made by council members."
The changes being proposed include requiring all ads to be informational or educational in purpose and prohibiting holiday and congratulatory ads. The new rules would also prohibit ad placement in fundraising journals and require a copy of the ad be submitted with its corresponding invoice.
"With these proposed changes, we will protect taxpayer dollars while allowing for essential communication about community events or forums on important and timely issues," concluded Quinn.
Speaking with The Wave on Wednesday, Addabbo announced the council is about to adopt Quinn's measure.
"Tomorrow we [council members] are having a meeting with the speaker about the proposal, which will zero out the ability for members to pay for ads from their budget, except for educational ads," said Addabbo. "That means no more holiday ads from the council. The Citizens Union report caused a significant change for budgetary issues in terms of journal ads."