March 11, 2016

Speaker Heastie Announces Ethics Reform Package Aimed at Restoring Public Trust

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie today said he will introduce comprehensive legislation to address ethics reforms and restore New Yorker's faith in their government. The legislation, which builds on measures implemented last year, limits outside income, prohibits payment for referrals when no services are rendered, closes the LLC loophole, regulates housekeeping accounts and enhances transparency in lobbying funds so that dark money is exposed.

While pension reform is not part of this proposal, the Assembly Majority is committed to reaching an agreement for a constitutional amendment that would strip corrupt officials of their pensions. Taxpayers should not foot the bill to pay the pensions of officials convicted of felonies. Conversations on this issue are ongoing and an agreement will be reached this session.

“The Assembly has pledged to enact comprehensive ethics reforms, and we take that commitment very seriously,” said Speaker Heastie. “Last year, we took significant steps to strengthen ethics compliance. Today we will put forward a proposal that will increase transparency and accountability as well as help restore the public’s trust in government.”

The Assembly created an Office of Ethics and Compliance and enhanced the oversight of its own per diem reimbursements in 2015. Previous steps also include increased disclosure requirements and new limitations on the use of campaign funds for personal use.

Earlier this week, the Assembly Majority introduced legislation to increase transparency in funding of lobbying activity and exempt from the definition of lobbying any communications with a journalist and communications relating to news, a protection of the First Amendment.

Outside Income

Heastie said, “The majority of legislators come to Albany to serve their constituents and build stronger communities. Our plan to address outside income will help rebuild the public’s faith in their representatives and ensure serving in the Assembly is the primary focus.”

This legislation would define outside income as compensation for services actually rendered and limit annual outside income for legislators to 40 percent of the annual salary of New York State Supreme Court Justices.

It also prohibits a legislator from receiving any payment for the use of his or her name in promotional materials such as letterhead or websites unless the legislator performs work for the firm and any compensation earned by a legislator who is part of a business or firm must be reasonable and proportional to the work performed.

The proposal also spells out rules for lawyers regarding referral fees and the splitting of fees. Legislators would not be able to collect any payment for simply recommending a lawyer or obtaining employment by a client and any splitting of legal fees must be proportionate to the services performed by each lawyer.

Election Law

Taking steps to clean up elections and make campaigns more transparent, the Assembly Majority will once again advance measures to close the limited liability companies (LLC) loophole and regulate the handling of “housekeeping money” by political party committees.

“We cannot continue to let dark money and special interests drown out the voices of every day New Yorkers,” said Heastie.

Under the LLC proposal, the contribution limit is drastically lowered and the individuals behind the LLCs would be subject to transparency for the first time.

LLCs would be subject to the existing corporate contribution limit of $5,000 annually, and all members of the LLC would be named and reported to the State Board of Elections with the exact amount of their individual contribution.

To promote the proper use of, and prevent the comingling of, “hard money” and “housekeeping money,” segregated accounts would be required for each, and the proper use and transfer of housekeeping money would be further clarified to promote transparency and accountability.

“Ethics reform is a priority for our conference. We implemented important measures last year and will move to pass this legislation next week,” said Heastie. “At the same time, we will continue to focus on growing our economy and making New York a better place for our working families."