Supporters Press release

Campbell Public Affairs Institute, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

Carey Institute for Government Reform, Wagner College

Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Columbia Law School

New York City Bar Association

Committee to Reform the State Constitution

Common Cause/New York

League of Women Voters of the State of New York

New York Public Interest Research Group

 

END OF SESSION COUNTDOWN:  ELEVEN WORKING DAYS UNTIL THE END OF THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION;

CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS CALL FOR OVERHAUL OF ETHICS ENFORCEMENT TO RESTORE PUBLIC TRUST IN GOVERNMENT

 

FIRST PASSAGE THIS YEAR OF THE ANTI-CORRUPTION CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT NOW PENDING IN BOTH HOUSES OF THE LEGISLATURE

 

Albany, NYMay 31, 2018 – The clock is ticking as Governor Cuomo and State Lawmakers begin their final push to end the 2018 legislative session and civic organizations today demanded action to respond to New York’s unprecedented scandals.  The groups stated that a necessary reform is to create an independent anti-corruption entity before the end of session, which consists of eleven working days.  Eight leading reform and education groups have called for first passage this year of a constitutional amendment that would put some teeth into New York State’s ethics enforcement structure, which is widely dismissed as lacking the independence, will and structure effectively to combat corruption.. 

 

The Anti-Corruption Constitutional Amendment advocated by these groups is now pending in both Houses of the Legislature – Senate bill 8309 (Krueger) and Assembly bill 10651 (Carroll).  If passed by August 7[1], the Amendment can receive second passage in the 2018-2019 legislative session and be submitted to the voters in the high turnout 2020 presidential election.  Otherwise it could not be considered by the voters until 2021 at the earliest. 

 

            The Anti-Corruption Amendment would create the Commission on State Government Integrity (the “Integrity Commission”) to replace JCOPE[2] and the LEC[3].   These two bodies lack the independence needed to be effective enforcers of ethics laws. 

 

In many states all three branches, legislative, executive and judicial, make ethics commission appointments.  This is the case in New York only for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is a well-regarded enforcer of judicial ethics created in the State Constitution.   A majority of the members of the Integrity Commission would be appointed by the judiciary and only a minority by the bodies being regulated.  A constitutional amendment is needed to give this role to the judiciary.

 

Senator Liz Krueger, prime sponsor of S8309, said:

 

"New York State has become notorious for the number of public officials who have abused the public trust," said Senator Krueger.  "It is clear that the current entities entrusted with addressing public corruption have failed, and that we need a truly independent body capable of investigating allegations of misconduct in the legislative and executive branch.  This amendment would achieve that goal by establishing an independent, non-partisan Government Integrity Commission in our State Constitution, where it would be protected from the interference of the very officials subject to its oversight."

 

            Assemblymember Robert Carroll, prime sponsor of A10651, said:

 

"Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant and our proposed amendment would do just that by creating a truly independent Government Integrity Commission to investigate ethical offenses in the legislature and executive branches.  Our current ethics commission does not run by majority vote and allows for a small minority of members to stop substantive investigations. Furthermore, our current commission has no direct role in campaign finance violations; thus, leaving it toothless to some of the more precious ethics violations. Having an independent non-partisan Government Integrity Commission, enshrined in our State Constitution, will help generations of dedicated public servants do their jobs, while making it clear to those who have looked towards Albany to serve their own personal interests - that a new day has dawned and that behavior will no longer be tolerated."    

 

Contact information for the groups:

 

Campbell Public Affairs Institute, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University:  Grant Reeher, gdreeher@maxwell.syr.edu;

Carey Institute for Government Reform, Wagner College, Stephen Greenwald 718 420 7131;

Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Columbia Law School: Rachel Pollan, 212 854 6186;

Committee on Government Ethics and State Affairs, New York City Bar Association: Eric Friedman, 212 382 6754;

Committee to Reform the State Constitution:  Evan Davis, 212 534 5876

Common Cause/New York: Susan Lerner, 212 691 8421;

League of Women Voters of the State of New York: Laura Bierman, 518 465 4162;

New York Public Interest Research Group: Blair Horner, 518 727 4506.

 

BACKGROUND ON THE REFORM PROPOSAL

 

New York is the only state where the ethics commission does not operate by majority vote.  Incredibly two (2) of the Governor’s appointees to 14 member JCOPE can veto and investigation or a finding of violation, as can three (3) of the appointees of the legislative leaders.  The Integrity Commission would operate by majority vote.

 

New York is also marked by its division of ethics enforcement responsibility.   JCOPE can find a violation by executive branch officials or employees and impose a fine but only the LEC can find a violation by or fine an legislative branch official or employee.  The LEC may reject JCOPE’s interpretation of the law.  In all cases, discipline (admonishment, censure, demotion, suspension or removal) is left to the discretion of entity in which the official or employee works.   The Integrity Commission would have full discipline authority over both braches except that the Legislature could overrule censure[4] or removal of an elected official.   A constitutional amendment is needed to create a single enforcement body with full sanctioning power.

 

Nearly half the states give the responsibility for enforcing the campaign finance laws to their ethics commission.  New York needs to do the same because the State Board of Elections is controlled by the political parties and therefore is not sufficiently independent to enforce campaign finance laws designed to limit the pay-to-play culture.

 

Ethics and other rules barring official misconduct are only as good as the mechanism available to enforce them.  Without an adequate enforcement mechanism these rules exist only on paper without real world force or effect.  “Paper” rules do nothing to combat what far too many see as a culture of corruption and pay-to-play in Albany.

Other key features of the Anti-Corruption Amendment include the following:  

  • Unlike JCOPE, where the person appointing a member can remove that member for what the appointing authority deems to be substantial neglect of duty, members of the Commission could be removed for cause only through a process by which a majority of the Commission votes to make an application for removal to the Court of Appeals.
  • Ex parte communications between Commission members and their appointing authorities and related staff would be barred, and no member could have held office, employment in state government or any political party or been engaged as a lobbyist in the three years prior to his or her appointment or during his or her term.
  • Transparency laws would apply equally to the executive and legislative branches.
  • All state officers and employees would have an ethical duty to report known misconduct to the Commission and would be protected against retaliation.
  • Sexual harassment would be barred as ethical misconduct.
  • The Integrity Commission would have full authority to sanction officers or employee of public authorities.

 

[1]  The Constitution requires that after first passage the proposed amendment must be published for three months prior to the next general election, in this case for three months prior to November 7. 

[2] The Joint Commission on Public Ethics

[3] The Legislative Ethics Commission

[4] Censure entails the obligation of the violator at his or her own expense to inform all applicable voters that he or she has been censured.

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