Albany ethics reform ending corruption – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the June 17-23, 2011 issue of the Long Island Business News:

It was terrific news for taxpayers when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that his ethics reform legislation had passed both houses of the state Legislature.

Under the Public Integrity Reform Act, legislators will no longer be policing themselves. A newly structured Joint Commission on Public Ethics will now have oversight jurisdiction over all state elected officials and employees in the executive and legislative branches and registered lobbyists.

The bipartisan commission will have 14 members, six appointed by the governor and eight by the leaders of the Legislature. Because the commission cannot be dominated by one political party, half the appointees must come from a permanent political party that is not that of the governor.

Lobbyists, state-elected officials, state commissioners or leaders of a political party during the previous three years will be ineligible to serve. Also, public ethics commissioners will be prohibited from contributing to candidates for state office during their five-year term of office.

Other provisions of the new law:

  • Transparency concerning those who have business within the state: A database will contain the name and affiliation of every person who appears before any state government body.
  • Expanded financial disclosure: Elected officials’ financial disclosure forms will require greater details and will be posted on the state’s website. Those filing will now have to report their firm’s clients or customers who do business or are seeking contracts or legislation from the state or are involved in proceedings before the state.
  • Registered lobbyists: The new regulations will require lobbyists to report business relations of more than $1,000 with state public officials. Lobbying will also be redefined to include advocacy efforts to “introduce” legislation or resolutions.
  • Forfeiture of pensions: Officials who are convicted of crimes related to their public duties may have their pensions forfeited or reduced.

Finally, the Joint Commission will have the authority to investigate potential violation by legislators and their employees. If violations of law have been found to have occurred, the commissioner will report findings to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which will have jurisdiction to impose penalties. The Joint Commission will have the jurisdiction to impose penalties on executive employees and lobbyists.

Why did Cuomo succeed in obtaining genuine ethics reform while his three predecessors failed? Unlike Pataki, Cuomo possesses the drive to pursue legislation with teeth; unlike Spitzer he effectively wields the power of his office; and unlike Paterson, Cuomo is not hapless.

To persuade the Legislature to act, Cuomo waved the most powerful weapon in his arsenal: a Moreland Commission. (Readers will recall that this writer in the pages of LIBN called for the appointment of a Moreland Commission to investigate the Legislature well over a year ago.)

The Moreland Commission vests the governor with unilateral authority to create an investigative commission with power to issue subpoenas and take testimony under oath, to document waste, mismanagement, corruption, fraud or wrongdoing. It is funded with money already appropriated in the executive chamber budget.

The very threat of empanelling a Moreland Commission was, in my judgment, too much for members of the Legislature whose chambers have been deemed the most dysfunctional in the nation by the Brennan Center at New York University.

In recent years, the state Legislature has become a rogue’s gallery. Too many have been caught stealing, abusing power as well as engaging in other unsavory behaviors. The Public Integrity Reform Act will begin the process of rehabilitating Albany and restoring the fundamental tenet that state government exists to serve taxpayers and not special interest groups.

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One Comment on “Albany ethics reform ending corruption – By George J. Marlin”

  1. PASNY MAN Says:

    Remains to be seen if this is a good thing. I work for a state agency and we are seeing more political appointments than ever. Business as usual.

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