To the Editor:
We read with great dismay the recent letter to the editor by Doug Kellogg, Communications Director of Reclaim NY regarding an article by Victor Feldman on this organization. The letter to the editor attacked The Edge and the reporter for writing “inaccuracies and gaps in information.”
We applaud The Edge for publishing Mr. Feldman’s portrayal of Reclaim NY, a portrayal we have also experienced. For more than eight months, we have followed Reclaim NY, read its colorful reports and citations, attended its colorful presentations and workshops and challenged its facilitators of its own “inaccuracies and gaps in information.”
What we have found is on the surface, Reclaim NY is just another far-right conservative group that alleges NYS taxes are high because state and local governments are secretive, wasteful and corrupt. Reclaim asserts that public schools are wasteful, unions and pensions are zapping our economy, subsidies and revitalization programs are just for “crony corporations,” and Medicaid is nothing more than squandered giveaways to the poor. And, while discussions of high taxes in NYS are welcomed, Reclaim NY focuses like a laser beam on government as the sole problem.
Reclaim is gathering data from more than 2,500 local governments and schools in NYS to prove their case that NYS is in an “affordability crisis.” And, yes, Reclaim did sue 11 schools and local governments, but it was not for “egregious violations of state transparency laws,” as Mr. Kellogg alleges. Rather, it was against public entities that were in general attempting to protect the privacy of students and adults, or resisting the expansive nature of Reclaim’s requests.
Attending Reclaim NY workshops was a surreal experience. Subliminal statements insinuating waste and secrecy bounce off the walls during Reclaim’s presentations. “People are leaving NYS in droves because they can’t afford to live here.” “When was the last time NYS elected a Governor from upstate?” “What’s with sub teachers… substitute teachers are double dipping.” “State workers make four times more than the rest of us.” Reclaim facilitators in their khaki pants and blue blazers railed against high taxes due to public schools, subsidies, revitalization projects and Medicaid. Privatizing public schools, eliminating subsidies and other giveaways, and promoting fracking were Reclaim’s answers to repair tax anomalies.
Reclaim urges workshop attendees to join their “citizen-owner army” to help in uncovering waste and corruption. Facilitators brag about Reclaim FOIL’ing (Freedom of Information Law) 2,500 NYS small towns and schools for broad financial information, information already available to the public. Afterwards, facilitators urge attendees to also FOIL their local government or school. Invariably, some attendee would ask, “Why should we FOIL if you already did?” The Reclaim answer was always, “To let them know we have our eyes on them.”
‘The government is our enemy” was the insinuation we heard over and over again during the various Reclaim presentations and workshops we attended. What were the consequences to Reclaim’s messages and activities that feed on distrust of and frustration with the government? What was Reclaim really up to?
Digging deeper into Reclaim directs us toward a more truthful representation of their organization. In fact, Reclaim NY was established in 2013 by Steve Bannon, former Senior Counsel to President Trump, and Rebekkah Mercer, who was on the Trump transition team and whose father is Robert Mercer. Robert Mercer is the billionaire hedge fund manager who owns a primary share of Cambridge Analytica, funded the Trump campaign, and financed Breitbart News.
Given the involvement of Bannon, the Mercers and Cambridge Analytica (which shares the same address as Reclaim), who mainly support “alt-right and white supremacist” groups like Breitbart News, we MUST ask ourselves what are Reclaim NY’s real interests? Reclaim presents itself as a 501(c)3, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, but does not discuss it’s 501(c)4 lobbying group that is run by the same staff as its nonprofit. Nor will Reclaim facilitators discuss the relationship between Reclaim NY and Bannon, the Mercers or Cambridge Analytica. Nor will they provide names of their donors.
Mr. Feldman based his article on his experience at a Reclaim NY presentation in Utica, N.Y., and research he did on the organization. It wasn’t just Reclaim’s overly simplistic far-right policies and citations that Mr. Feldman’s article spoke to; it was more about the subtle divisive messages of how, as Steve Bannon says, “to deconstruct the administrative state.” And knowing that Bannon, the Mercers and Cambridge Analytica are closely tied in with Reclaim NY should cause all New Yorkers to look deeper into this organization.
Joyce St. George
Delaware County, New York