The Assembly has long-championed ethics reforms and it has been a top priority of the Assembly Majority this Legislative Session. The agreement announced today will create a new, independent ethics commission, require full disclosure of all outside income of public officials and strip the pension benefits of officials convicted of a felony.
The measure will create the new independent Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) which will be empowered to investigate wrongdoing, ensure financial-disclosure compliance, and hold lobbyists to higher disclosure standards. In a powerful step toward cleaning up state government, JCOPE will refer violations of state and federal law to appropriate law-enforcement agencies, and will issue any such findings to the Legislative Ethics Commission, where penalties will be enforced and violations made public to ensure swift and open resolutions.
The Commission will consist of 14 nonpartisan members, serving 5-year terms. To ensure fairness and integrity, members cannot have been lobbyists, members of the Legislature, statewide elected officials, agency commissioners or political party chairpersons during the past three years.
The Assembly measure will also enhance disclosure of all income and clients of public officials with outside employment, curbing the chances of conflicts of interest and satisfying the public's right to know who their legislators are being hired by and at what fee. Additionally, provisions that currently make income and asset categories of value confidential will be removed and full disclosure will be granted.
The Assembly's ethics reform will also strip pension benefits from officials who violate the public trust by being convicted of a felony. Taxpayer dollars will no longer be able to be used for pensions paid to such public officials. The legislation would allow courts to reduce or remove the pension of a public official convicted of a felony directly related to that official's public office.
The far-reaching ethics reform package also accomplishes the following:
- require lobbyists and clients of lobbyists to disclose the names, compensation and subject of transactions with any statewide public official who has a "reportable business relationship" with them;
- require the state Board of Elections to clarify the requirement under existing law regarding independent expenditures that expressly identify a political candidate or ballot proposal; and
- increase the penalty for failure to file a campaign statement required by election law from $500 to $1,000 and create a new $10,000 penalty for failing to file three or more statements throughout the course of an election cycle.