Meaningful Ethics Reform for the "New" Albany
Rocked by scandal, Albany is both in dire straits and at the precipice of potentially positive change. In the coming months, as the State makes hard choices that will greatly impact every New Yorker, our elected leaders need to regain their standing with the public by reforming a system that far too many see as corrupt and lacking legitimacy.
The Public Employees Ethics Reform Act (PEERA) of 2007 was the only comprehensive modification to lobbying and ethics laws in New York State in more than 20 years. The legislation was negotiated, drafted and adopted without public discussion or debate. While PEERA included a strict ban on honoraria, increased penalties, and reduced the allowable value of gifts, critical reforms were absent. In particular, calls for an independent, bipartisan commission with jurisdiction over all public officials, including the executive and legislative branches and lobbyists, were ignored, and New York was left with the bifurcated and confusing system of ethics oversight that has largely stood by, mute, through a series of scandals on the legislative side.
As this study details, PEERA has in many ways been a complete failure. Since its passage, the number of scandals in the legislature has only increased, and the influence of special interest money seems to have gained even greater currency, corrupting government officials and cheating the people of the State.
The purpose of this report is to emphasize the core reforms that we believe are vital to fundamentally change Albany. Ultimately, the success of reform legislation will reside in the details, so we urge lawmakers to invite all stakeholders in this process, including our existing ethics overseers, law enforcement officials, the academy, good government groups, but especially the public, to have an opportunity to review and comment on their bill.
Lawrence Norden is Senior Counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. Mr. Norden has authored numerous articles and reports detailing the need to reform New York State's legislative process, and he manages and writes for the Brennan Center's blog on New York State, ReformNY. Mr. Norden is an Adjunct Professor at the NYU School of Law, where he teaches the Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic. Mr. Norden is also a recognized expert on issues of voting technology and Director of the Brennan Center's Voting Technology Project.
Kelly Williams is Corporate General Counsel to the Brennan Center. In addition to serving as internal general counsel, she advises various programs at the Center on corporate, non-profit, tax, disclosure and ethics law matters and writes for our blog ReformNY.
John Travis is a Research Associate with the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. His work focuses on government accountability, voting rights and elections and he also writes for our blog ReformNY. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, Mr. Travis worked for the Lawyer Referral Service at the Bar Association of San Francisco. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from U.C. Berkeley in 2008 with a degree in Political Science.