January 13, 2010

Assembly Unveils Sweeping Ethics And Campaign Finance Reform Legislation
Measure includes stricter campaign finance rules and greater penalties for violations, increased disclosure of outside income for legislators, enhancements to the lobby law, strengthened legislative and executive oversight

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (center), Senate Majority Conference Leader John Sampson (left, first row) and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (right, first row) held a joint news conference in Albany to announce agreed-upon, sweeping ethics and campaign finance reform legislation. Among the those who also participated in the event were Assemblymen (from left, second row) Felix Ortiz and Nick Perry and NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner, former head of the Temporary Commission on Lobbying David Grandeau and Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari.

New Independent Ethics Investigation Body  video camera
Ethics Board's Findings To Be Disclosed  video camera
Reporting Legislator Income and
Business Relationships
 video camera
Former Lobby Commission Restored  video camera
Campaign Law Enforcement Unit Established  video camera
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Ethics and Guidance Committee Chair William Magnarelli, Governmental Operations Committee Chair RoAnn Destito and Election Law Committee Chair Joan Millman today announced the introduction of sweeping ethics and campaign finance reform legislation (A.9544).

The legislation will include provisions that would create an autonomous, fixed-term investigative body to oversee legislative ethics, require greater disclosure from lobbyists, restore an independent lobbying commission and provide greater information regarding legislators' outside sources of income. Additionally, the legislation would create a body within the New York State Board of Elections to enforce greater adherence to campaign finance laws.

The legislation revamps current ethics law by dividing the Legislative Ethics Commission into a compliance and investigative arm, and replacing the Commission on Public Integrity by a six-member board to oversee ethics compliance in the executive branch. The legislation would also reinstate an independent state commission on lobbying and increase disclosure requirements for lobbyists who have business relationships with public officials. Legislators would also be required to reveal in greater detail their sources of outside income. Current law governing judiciary ethics would remain unchanged.

"We who serve in government must always strive to restore the people's faith in their government," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "The legislation we are announcing today will significantly strengthen the ethics laws which apply to all public officials in this state and to those who lobby government by expanding public disclosure of outside income, strengthening oversight of our ethics and campaign finance laws and creating a truly independent oversight body for each branch of state government. My colleagues and I in the Assembly are committed to working in a bi-partisan manner to increase transparency and accountability in the Empire State."

"Public officials must be held accountable to those they serve - the citizens of New York State," said Magnarelli (D-Syracuse). "Through comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform we will help enforce adherence to the law and weed out those who may be taking advantage of the system."

"For years, too many New Yorkers have looked upon Albany as a place lacking in transparency and accountability," said Destito (D/WF-Rome). "The bill we announced today will help to restore the trust of those who have lost faith in state government. By replacing the weak Legislative Ethics Commission with a stronger enforcement body with the independence to carry out thorough investigation, New York's ethics laws will be upheld the way they were intended."

"I am proud to have played a role in crafting this legislation, which will help clean up Albany," said Millman (D-Brooklyn). "These sweeping campaign finance reforms will create stiffer penalties for violators and bring much-needed transparency to the electoral process. These reforms are our first step towards regaining the public's trust."

The new commissions overseeing the executive and legislative branches would both take effect on July 31, 2010. The enhanced disclosure requirements would take effect January 1, 2011. The new commissions would sunset on July 31, 2014.

Joint Legislative Commission on Ethics Standards and the Legislative Office of Ethics Investigation

The ethics reform legislation introduced today would separate the Legislative Ethics Commission into two bodies.

The first, the Joint Legislative Commission on Ethics Standards (JLCES), would be the ethics compliance arm. Legislative leaders would appoint two members each, including four legislators and four non-members. This body would be responsible for conducting ethics training and education for legislative staff, issuing advisory opinions and imposing penalties for violations of the public officers' law.

The legislation would:

The second body, the Legislative Office of Ethics Investigation (LOEI) would also be governed by an eight-member board. Each legislative leader would have two appointees, and legislators and legislative staff would be prohibited from serving on the board.

This body would:

The legislation would also require the appropriate legislative oversight body to conduct a hearing on the effectiveness of these provisions within six months of the sunset date of the legislation.

Executive Ethics and Compliance Commission

Currently, the Commission on Public Integrity oversees ethics compliance by the executive branch. The agreed-upon ethics reform legislation would replace this body and create a six-member Executive Ethics and Compliance Commission (EECC), made up of two appointees each by the governor, the comptroller and the attorney general. The members would appoint an executive director, who would serve a three-year term and could only be removed by a majority vote of the board.

Additionally, this legislation would:

Commission on Lobbying Ethics and Compliance

This legislation would restore an independent state commission on lobbying that would consist of six commissioners: two appointed by the governor and one by each of the legislative leaders. Each appointee would serve for a fixed four-year term.

The legislation would:

Financial Disclosure

This bill would increase financial disclosure requirements by splitting an existing category into two new categories on financial disclosure forms. The first would cover amounts between $250,000 and $1 million; the other would cover amounts of $1 million or more.

Additionally, the legislation would:

Ethics Reports

Under this legislation, the Committee on Open Government would prepare an annual report summarizing the actions of the JLCES, LOEI, EECC, the State Commission on Lobbying and the Senate and Assembly Standing Committees on Ethics.

Campaign Finance

To promote increased enforcement of campaign finance reform laws, the legislation creates an enforcement unit within the New York State Board of Elections (BOE) and mandates that at least 35 percent of the board's annual budget be dedicated to the unit. Additionally, it expands the jurisdiction of the enforcement unit and promotes the independence of the enforcement counsel by making the office a four-year term. The legislation also promotes compliance with campaign finance laws by increasing current penalties and creating new penalties for violations, and requires greater disclosure and transparency of campaign finance information.

The legislation would: