Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny (D-Coney Island, Dyker Heights) announced that the Assembly, Senate and governor have reached agreement on a landmark ethics reform package that will curtail gifts from lobbyists to legislators, and create a comprehensive watchdog agency to ensure the integrity of state government.
Cracking down on gifts from lobbyists to legislators
“It’s vitally important that we strengthen New York’s ethics laws and limit the influence of special interest money in state government,” Brook-Krasny said. “The reforms agreed upon by the Legislature and governor will close loopholes, reduce the influence of lobbyists on our democratic process and help restore public confidence in state government.”
Specifically, the agreement would:
- ban virtually all gifts of more than a nominal value from registered lobbyists to public officials, and expand the gift ban so that lobbyists who appear before boards that include unpaid board members cannot give gifts to those unpaid board members;
- strictly limit lobbyists from paying or reimbursing travel and accommodation expenses of a public official;
- strengthen the revolving door provisions that apply to legislative employees by prohibiting them from lobbying the Legislature for two years;
- prohibit public officials from being paid for speeches;
- prohibit elected officials and candidates for elected local, state or federal office from appearing in taxpayer-funded advertisements;
- prohibit gifts from the spouses or children of lobbyists to the spouses or children of public officials in order to gain influence; and
- require lobbyists to list their actions seeking grants on their lobbying reports.
Toughening penalties for ethics and lobbying law violations
The measure increases penalties for violations of the lobbying law and public officers law. The first lobbying offense would result in a civil penalty of up to $25,000 or three times the amount the lobbyist failed to report or unlawfully gave or received, and $50,000 or five times the amount that was falsely reported. A second offense within 5 years of a previous violation could trigger a one-year debarment.
And under the agreement, the maximum fine for violations by public officials would increase from $10,000 to $40,000 and provides for a maximum fine of $10,000 for certain code of ethics violations. Violators could also be required to pay back any monetary gain if it was found the person knowingly and intentionally violated the law.
“The agreement makes sure that the new rules are taken seriously, and puts some teeth into the penalties for violations,” Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny said. “From the first offense, stiff penalties are enforced with the intent to show we’re committed to raising the standards of state government.”
Creating a permanent watchdog
The legislation also creates a permanent watchdog on ethics issues by merging the Temporary State Commission on Lobbying and the State Ethics Commission into a new entity, the Commission on Public Integrity.
“Having a permanent, wide-ranging ethics watchdog will help ensure better compliance with the state’s lobbying and ethics laws,” Alec Brook-Krasny said. “The commission will make its information available to the public on the Internet, ensuring that the commission’s work is open and accountable.”
The new commission would have 13 members, with seven appointed by the governor, one by each legislative leader, one by the comptroller and one by the attorney general. In addition, the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee would be reconstituted as a 9-member commission, with four legislators appointed by legislative leaders, four non-legislators chosen by legislative leaders and one legislator jointly appointed by the Assembly Speaker and Temporary President of the Senate.
Under the agreement, both the Commission on Public Integrity and the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission would be required to maintain Web sites and make publicly available notices of reasonable cause, disposition agreements, settlement agreements and summaries of advice.
“The new era of reform in Albany continues,” Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny said. “First it was budget reform, now ethics reform, and we’re going to keep going. I’ll keep pushing for more ways to make state government more open, efficient and accountable.”