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Report

Meaningful Ethics Reform for the "New" Albany

Published: February 11, 2011

Introduction

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.