January 20, 2010

Assembly Approves 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

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 passage of sweeping ethics and campaign finance reform legislation.

The legislation (A.9544) includes provisions that 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 measure creates a body within the New York State Board of Elections to enforce greater adherence to campaign finance laws. A second measure (A.9559) expressly prohibits public officers and employees from using state property, services or resources for private business purposes.

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 bill also reinstates an independent state commission on lobbying and increases disclosure requirements for lobbyists who have business relationships with public officials. Legislators will also be required to reveal in greater detail their sources of outside income. Current law governing judiciary ethics will 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 passed 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 remain 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 passed 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 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
Today's ethics reform legislation separates the Legislative Ethics Commission into two bodies.

The first, the Joint Legislative Commission on Ethics Standards (JLCES), will be the ethics compliance arm. Legislative leaders will appoint two members each, including four legislators and four non-members. This body will 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 also: The second body, the Legislative Office of Ethics Investigation (LOEI) will 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:

The legislation also requires 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 reforms 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 will 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: Commission on Lobbying Ethics and Compliance
This legislation restores 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: Financial Disclosure
This bill increases financial disclosure requirements by splitting an existing category into two new categories on financial disclosure forms. The first covers amounts between $250,000 and $1 million; the other covers amounts of $1 million or more.

Additionally, the legislation: Ethics Reports
Under this legislation, the Committee on Open Government will 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: Public Officers Law
This legislation prohibits the use by public officers and employees from using or obtaining state property, services or resources for private business or other non-governmental, compensated purposes, or scheming to use such resources that would deprive the government of $1,000 or more.