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Lancman opts to make grant info open to public

So-called member items are special legislative grants of taxpayer money each member of the state Assembly and Senate gets to distribute to organizations in the district.The newly elected Lancman, who serves the 25th Assembly District, replaced Brian McLaughlin, who was indicted in October on racketeering and fraud charges, including accusations he had taken member item funds from the Electchester Athletic League.Cuomo announced a program Monday requiring recipients of member item grants to reveal potential conflicts of interest and financial relationships with sponsoring legislators or their staff. The certification process also request information about the background, legal status and good standing of the organization as well as the public purpose of the funds."We are dedicated to fundamental reform in the way we do the people's business in Albany. The people have the right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and what relationship exists between government officials and grant recipients. Transparency and accountability must be the signature of the new day in Albany," said Cuomo.Lancman's office said the assemblyman had not been aware of the Cuomo plan when he scheduled a news conference Friday to open up his own member item process to voters.The assemblyman will ask constituents requesting member item funds to fill out a form to determine whether the organizations, their officers, board members, staff or relatives had donated to his campaign and stipulating that they may not do so for 12 months following the grant. The form asks the purpose of the grant and states that the information will be disclosed publicly. The results will appear on his Web site."One of the perennial issues about Albany and scandal is the member item process," Lancman said. "The governor and the state Legislature reached an agreement that each member item will be itemized in the budget."One reason for his caution: "We all know what happened to my predecessor," Lancman said."What I'm going to do is establish a system, at least in my office, that's transparent and honest in accounting for the grants," Lancman said. He expects organizations that receive grants to deposit the funds into a separate checking account, which his office may check periodically to see how the money is used. Lancman said the money is granted to legislators based on longevity and "a junior member of the Assembly would get somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000," he said.Lancman said he does not yet know his budget."The budget is determined after the governor's address on Jan. 31. I'm not sure if on Feb. 5 they say 'you've got X' or if it's a more fluid process. I suspect it's more fluid," Lancman said.The culture of "reluctance regarding the disclosure of member item grants is less to do with corruption than it's politically uncomfortable" to have it known which agencies receive more money than others, he said.Among members of the state Assembly, it is common for delegations to pool money for certain projects. Lancman said he was not sure how he would account for those grants.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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