In June 2006, the Albany Times Union filed a suit against Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver after the two leaders refused to comply with Freedom of Information Law requests for documents related to certain spending in the Legislature. The Times Union sought information about the legislative sponsors and recipients of discretionary grants, commonly referred to as “member items,” that amount to at least $200 million each year.
The Brennan Center joined with the Citizens Budget Commission, Citizens Union, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and NYPIRG in an amicus brief in August in support of plaintiffs’ position, arguing that keeping information about member items secret allows legislators to avoid accountability for their actions and presents a significant opportunity for corruption.
In October 2006, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs, writing that “the public has a right to know the names of legislators associated with the funding of member item projects.” Both legislative leaders moved to comply with the Court’s order that they fully disclose this information. The Times Union was also awarded attorney’s fees because the state should not have denied the request in the first place.