Reclaim New York, a conservative advocacy group funded by the Mercer Family Foundation, is undergoing a staff shakeup that's being called a "period of re-evaluation."
In recent years, Reclaim New York has scrutinized government spending by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration as well as local villages and school districts.
The non-profit organization's Board of Directors issued a statement on Tuesday, July 9 announcing organizational changes: “Given the scale of the challenges, and our own commitment to fiscal responsibility, we are reevaluating Reclaim’s role in the engagement of citizens and our staff in holding government accountable. To that end, we have determined to pause daily programming and to reduce our workforce. We intend to migrate to more of a web-based operation rather than a fully staffed field operation."
Spokesmen for Cuomo, a Democrat from New Castle, have accused Reclaim of being a front to espouse the political views of Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer, a leading donor to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
Founded six years ago, Reclaim New York peppered state and local agencies with Freedom of Information Law requests to challenge public spending. The group even sued school districts in Peekskill and Beacon and the village of Spring Valley over public records.
Reclaim New York's Board of Directors includes two of Mercer's three daughters: Rebekah Mercer, a native of Yorktown, is chairman and treasurer of Reclaim New York. Her sister, Jennifer Mercer, is secretary of Reclaim's Board of Directors. Their father spent his early career as a computer scientist at IBM in Westchester.
Political strategist Stephen Bannon stepped down from Reclaim's Board of Directors and Cambridge Analytica -- and took a leave from running Breitbart News -- to lead Trump's presidential campaign in August 2016. At the time, Robert Mercer owned a stake in Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica, a voter-data firm based in the same Manhattan office building as Reclaim New York.
According to national media accounts, Robert Mercer has been distancing himself from President Trump. Last year, the Mercers donated $400,000 to the pro-Trump Great America PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Mercer family's total political spending dropped to $2.9 million in 2018.
In November 2017, in this LoHud article, Reclaim NY's staff denied suggestions that their group is tied to far-right causes. "There is no connection of any kind between Reclaim and the disgusting, racist 'alt right', and any suggestion otherwise is a lie," Doug Kellogg, Reclaim's communications director, said at the time.
Brandon Muir, Reclaim's executive director at the time, called the group a "non-partisan, non-profit organization that empowers citizens to take ownership of their government." Muir remains on its Board of Directors.
Here is the rest of the statement issued on Tuesday, July 9 by Reclaim New York's Board of Directors:
"We love New York and believe that informed and engaged citizens are the only solution to the continuing decline of the Empire State. Reclaim New York’s dedicated staff has been a powerful voice in defense of taxpayers, fighting for fiscal transparency, a more accountable government and a more affordable state. Together we have exposed corruption, waste, and failed policies that make New York the highest taxed state and one of the most inhospitable to business. Additionally, Reclaim staff has trained members of the public to better understand their government and to be citizen advocates for open, fair, and responsive government.
"Reclaim New York believes strongly that our state is facing a multitude of significant challenges that makes our central mission all the more crucial, at the same time that state and local government are being profligate in supporting unsustainable programs. . . ."
"Reclaim New York’s supporters, staff and the Board have a great deal to be proud of – from spotlighting government corruption, to pushing for county-level legislation reining in spending, to mobilizing against congestion pricing, and exposing local town and school budgets for informed citizen review. Together we have worked hard to make the Empire State a better place to live and to grow our families. Indeed, a place where our children can stay and raise their families, buy a home, and sustain a decent standard of living.
"As we go through this period of re-evaluation we thank our dedicated employees who fought for each and every one of you, bringing light where there was none, and empowering New Yorker’s to carry the torch forward. We wish them the best as they pursue a future in New York made brighter by their hard work, as we chart our new path to holding government accountable to the people who placed their trust in their elected leaders.
"Stay tuned for new developments on our website," Reclaim New York's statement concluded.