"Two years ago we took a major step forward by passing reforms that banned gifts from registered lobbyists, restricted former employees from lobbying government for two years and created stronger penalties for lobbying law violations," Silver (D-Manhattan) said today at a meeting with the governor and legislative leaders. "Today we are proposing a set of proposals to strengthen ethics and lobbying law enforcement, provide greater transparency and financial disclosure and reform New York's campaign finance laws."
Among the proposals Silver laid out at a public leaders meeting today was the restoration of the former Temporary Commission on Lobbying, which was merged into the Commission on Public Integrity (CPI) in 2007.
"There is near unanimous agreement that the Lobbying Commission was a strong, independent body that effectively policed lobbying activities in New York and we should restore it," Silver said.
Silver said the Assembly would also push for the creation of an executive oversight body comprised of appointees from the governor, attorney general and comptroller, focused exclusively on ethics. The appointees would select an executive director with a fixed term. "The creation of this oversight panel would help to ensure independence in any investigation of statewide office holders," Silver said.
Additionally, Silver said the Assembly seeks to replace the current Legislative Ethics Commission with an independent ethics panel based upon the recently formed Office of Congressional Ethics, which is charged with investigating complaints against members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
"This new entity would be an independent panel comprised of appointees from outside the Assembly; three appointments each would be made by the Assembly Majority and Minority conferences," Silver said. "It would have its own staff and be empowered to look into allegations of unethical behavior and misconduct. It is important that the public know that investigations will be conducted evenhandedly and without political considerations. We are confident that the creation of an independent, bipartisan legislative ethics body will help us more effectively investigate complaints against Assembly members and staff. "
Silver said the Assembly bill would require increased financial disclosure by all public officials by ending the practice of redacting categories of value on legislative ethics disclosure forms, adding an additional category of value to better identify higher level financial interests, and require better descriptions of outside employment including information about the subject matters undertaken with respect to law practice and detailed information about consulting arrangements.
Silver committed to again passing legislation - approved repeatedly by the Assembly - that would phase in public financing of legislative and statewide campaigns starting with the race for state comptroller in 2010. "By providing public financing options that are fair and accountable to taxpayers and voters, we can limit the amount of private fundraising involved in campaigning and increase competitiveness in legislative and statewide elections," Silver said.
Silver announced a public hearing to examine these and other various proposals to change the state's ethics laws, lobbying and campaign finance laws. The forum is scheduled for Tuesday, June 9 at 12:00 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building, Hamilton Hearing Room in Albany.
The hearing will be conducted by Assembly Committees on Governmental Operations, Ethics and Guidance and Elections Law and will provide a vital opportunity for public input on ethics reform.
The committees will study the proposals Silver announced today as well as the strengths and weaknesses of current ethics law and the impact of the 2007 merger of the state Ethics Commission and Temporary State Lobbying Commissions into the CPI. The hearing will also examine the recent proposal by Governor David Paterson to create an independent Government Ethics Commission that would have authority over all of state government, the lobbying industry and campaign finance laws.
Click here to view Public Hearing Notice