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New York State Ethics Oversight: Timely Implementation

Legislative leadership and the executive must ensure the new ethics watchdog, set to start next week, has everything it needs to roll up its sleeves and get to work.

  • Kelly Williams
December 9, 2011

Crossposted at ReformNY.

When New York State’s new ethics law was announced in June of 2011, editorial boards and citizens responded in typical New York fashion — some with praise, others with the proverbial “Bronx cheer.” The law is both a product of many political compromises and, at the same time, a vast improvement over the ineffective self-policing system of legislative ethics enforcement that existed before, so timely and orderly implementation of the new joint commission on public ethics will send an important message to New Yorkers.

The law requires that the new ethics watchdog be fully operational on December 12, just 120 days after enactment. This means that by next week, 14 new commissioners must have been appointed by legislative leaders and the executive branch, who in turn will have hired an executive director approved by a bipartisan majority of the new commission. The law requires that the new commission also approve a staffing plan for the day-to-day work, adopt rules and regulations to govern its procedures, make forms available, review financial disclosure statements, continue investigations that were suspended earlier this year and begin receiving and investigating complaints and referrals.

It is an ambitious mandate and we hope legislative leadership and the executive will ensure the new commission has everything it needs to roll up its sleeves and get to work.

From the archives:

We thought it worthwhile to reprint our reasons for supporting the new joint commission on public ethics:

  • For the first time ever, we will have an ethics overseer that includes both gubernatorial and legislative appointees, and excludes the persons being policed.
  • New commissioners will serve fixed five-year terms, and may only be removed for cause: we hope that this degree of independence, coupled with a broader mandate and penalties for leaks about proceedings, will enable people to have thoughtful deliberations and vote their conscious.
  • Officials will be required to provide unredacted financial information including sources and amounts of income, including the identity of clients for whom they perform state business, even clients of a law practice. And this information will be available, in its entirety, to the public.
  • A new database will identify all firms representing everyone with state business, and since officials must disclose their business partners on their financial disclosure forms, the public will be able to also evaluate these relationships.
  • Lobbyists now will be required to disclose their business relationships, if any, with public officials.
  • A review commission will look at the efficacy of this in 2015, after it has been up and running.

Criticism has been aimed at the make up of the commission: the legislative leaders appoint 8 of 14 commissioners and the Governor appoints the other six. Appointments are party based and will exclude minority parties. In order for an investigation to proceed, the votes of two of the target’s appointees are required in some circumstances. There is a danger that such a large commission will be unwieldy and that the provisions requiring affirmative votes could be exercised like vetoes, as per the commissioner’s appointer, not her conscious.