Pushing for Fossil Fuel Divestment and Calls on Comptroller Candidates to Refuse Pay-to-Play Contributions
(Rensselaer, NY) Environmental and anti-poverty activist Mark Dunlea won a contested election at the Green Party state convention in Rensselaer to win the party’s nomination to run for State Comptroller.
Dunlea, a resident of Poestenkill, said that the refusal of the current Comptroller to divest the state pension funds from fossil fuels is the main focus of his candidacy. For the last five years Dunlea has helped coordinate the NYC and state campaigns for 350.org to divest public pension funds from fossil fuels.
Dunlea also said that New York needs a comptroller who will be more aggressive in addressing the epidemic of political corruption in New York State. He said that as Comptroller he would investigate state contracts which were awarded to campaign contributions, otherwise known as pay-to-play. Dunlea said he would not take any funds from individuals who have contracts with the state government and called on DiNapoli and other comptroller candidates to do the same. Green Party candidates are already prevented by party rules from taking any corporate donations.
“A campaign donation is still the best investment that Wall Street can make. We need to get money out of politics, starting with banning the practice of pay-to-play. Four years ago the State Comptroller race had a flawed pilot program on public campaign financing which DiNapoli decided not to participate in. It would be great if this time we had a real full public campaign finance pilot,” noted Dunlea.
Earlier this week it was reported that the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan is investigating Crystal Run Healthcare, a Hudson Valley company that received an extraordinary $25.4 million in state grants following a series of campaign contributions to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Crystal Run, its executives, their spouses or company doctors have given at least $400,000 to Cuomo’s campaign, with most of that coming in a flurry of 10 donations of $25,000 apiece that were made at a Cuomo fundraiser in October 2013.
“That pattern of campaign contributions to Cuomo should have triggered a thorough investigation by the Comptroller before a contract was signed. Cuomo has turned the state’s economic development program into a piggybank for campaign contributors. The State Comptroller needs to be the taxpayer’s first line of defense against such financial abuses,” stated Dunlea.
Earlier this year Cuomo’s former right hand man was found guilty for taking briber related to state approval and funding of several projects. A new trial will take place in June over the Cuomo’s handling of the so-called Buffalo Billion. This week, Kevin Schuler, formerly an executive at Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, admitted to wire fraud and conspiracy charges, admitting that he was involved in a bid-rigging scheme that allowed his company to win a lucrative contract as part of “Buffalo Billion.”
Dunlea also called for raising additional state revenues by increasing taxes on the wealthy; enacting single payer health care (which would lower overall annual health care spending by more than $50 billion while ending local property taxes for Medicaid); a return to the sound and economically fair policy of increased state revenue sharing with local governments, as was done until recently; and, increased oversight of the state’s multibillion economic development program — “aka corporate welfare,” as Dunlea put it.
As an elected Town Board member (1991 – 95) in his hometown of Poestenkill, NY, Dunlea was able t0 cut local property taxes every year during his tenure on the board.
“Prudent financial oversight combined with fairer taxes would enable most New Yorkers to get relief especially from property and sales taxes, while providing the essential funding for investments in education, local services and infrastructure. New York’s present fiscal policy is to starve the poor, tax the middle class and enrich the wealthy,” noted Dunlea.
Climate Change is the Greatest Threat to Humanity
While NYC officials recently voted to begin the divestment process (and had already divested from coal), the present state Comptroller has refused to divest, arguing instead that he wants to keep $6 billion in Exxon and other fossil fuels companies so he can push them to study climate change. The State Attorney General’s office along with Massachusetts meanwhile has been investigating Exxon and other companies for lying to the public, lawmakers and investors about the reality of climate change.
“Time is running out for us to solve climate change. We need a State Comptroller who will be a national leader in standing up for effective climate action, starting with divesting our state pension funds from fossil fuels,” stated Dunlea.
Dunlea stated for five years DiNapoli has refused to even meet with climate change groups, advocates, Bill McKibben and elected officials to discuss divestment. Dunlea said he has had a few brief conversations with DiNapoli at public events and was given 2 minutes at an Environmental Roundtable earlier this year by the Comptroller to raise the issue. Dunlea said that they have many meetings with the Comptroller staff, who make it clear that they were not in a position to make any decision.
“I look forward to finally having a public discussion with the other state comptroller candidates about divestment. I will be encouraging climate change groups across the state to hold public forums with the candidates about divestment, a state carbon tax and other issues related to climate change,” stated Dunlea.
Dunlea is the legislator coordinator for People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE), the 350 affiliate in Albany. He has been a steering committee member of 350 NYC, an organizer for 350 Brooklyn, and co-chair of the legislative committee of the People’s Climate Movement (NYC), the host of the 400,000 strong climate change rally in NYC four years ago. He is also on the state coordinators of Divest NY.
“Since 350.org and other groups started the divestment campaign five years ago to address global warming, we have convinced more than 700 institutions worldwide to divest more than $6 trillion in funds from fossil fuel companies.” noted Dunlea,
Instead of divesting, DiNapoli has pushed for shareholder advocacy despite it having virtually no impact over the past 50 years. Federal security rules also prohibit shareholder resolutions from addressing the core business of a company – such as the need to keep 80% of the fossil fuels in the ground rather than burning it.
350.org commissioned a study several years ago that showed if the state had divested when DiNapoli was first urged by divestment advocates to do so, the pension fund would have an extra $5 billion in revenue. Dunlea said that investing in fossil fuels is a risky financial decision following the worldwide agreement to phase them out due to their significant contribution to climate change.
Dunlea also said that the next Comptroller should push for legal action to hold fossil fuel companies liable for the tens of billions of dollars in damages caused by their burning of fossil fuels, including the damage from Hurricane Sandy. New York City recently filed such litigation. The candidate said that as Comptroller he would also push for a state carbon tax to make corporate polluters pay for the damage they have caused — following up on legislation that Dunlea himself helped draft that was introduced in the state legislature three years ago.
The Governor in December 2017 announced that he supported the divestment of fossil fuels.
Building on More Than Three Decades of Public Service
Dunlea was Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS for nearly 30 years. While at Hunger Action he helped draft the Corporate Accountability Act to increase state oversight of corporate welfare programs, including requiring companies to return their state payments when they failed to create or retain the jobs they promised. Dunlea also has pushed for the state to stop rebating to Wall Street speculators the $14 billion collected from the stock transfer tax.
As Comptroller, Dunlea said he would increase oversight of the performance of local and state governments. At Hunger Action he pushed the state comptroller to improve the performance of the NYS Department of Labor in collecting the more than $1 billion stolen annually from low-income workers in wage theft and to ensure compliance by local departments of social services with laws to provide assistance to needy households.
A graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a Bachelor of Science degree in management, Dunlea earned a law degree from Albany Law School and was admitted to the NYS Bar. He is a former member of the Legal Aid Committee of the NYS Bar Association and is a former board member of the Fiscal Policy Institute, where he also served on the economic advisory committee. He served on the Poestenkill Town Board from 1991 to 1995.
Dunlea is one of the co-founders of the Green Party of NY, which is committed to ecology, nonviolence, grassroots democracy, and social and economic justice.
The Green Party advocates for a Green New Deal, which would transition the state to 100% clean energy by 2030 while creating a sustainable economy that includes a jobs guarantee for all New Yorkers. “In contrast to continued reliance upon fossil fuels, as Tom DiNapoli insists on doing, investing in renewable energy could create as many as five million jobs while lowering energy costs for all New Yorkers,” Dunlea concluded. “If elected Comptroller, that’s the path I will put New York State on.”