Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell (D-Theresa) announced the Assembly and Senate passed major ethics reform legislation to create independent oversight of legislators and other government offices, enhance enforcement, and shine more light on outside income earned by legislators (A.9544). The legislation has the support of David Grandeau, the former executive director of the State Commission on Lobbying, as well as good-government groups like the New York State League of Women Voters, Citizens Union and NYPIRG.
“These are unprecedented times, and just as the culture of taxing to feed our bloated budget must end, so must the culture of corruption and influence in Albany,” Assemblywoman Russell said. “As we make these tough budget decisions it is vital the people of New York can trust that these decisions were made based on deep research and sound policy instead of political and financial influence.”
Assemblywoman Russell said the following oversight bodies will be created to address the influence of special interest money, lobbying and ethics, and to perform investigations in state government:
- Joint Legislative Commission on Ethics Standards: This body would be responsible for ethics disclosure, enforcement training and education for legislators and staff.
- Legislative Office of Ethics Investigation: This new, independent office would consist of eight members and receive referrals for investigation as well as complaints about ethics violations from the public.
- New York State Commission on Lobbying Ethics and Compliance: This body would oversee increased disclosure for lobbyists who have business relationships with public officials.
- Executive Ethics and Compliance Commission: This commission would be reconstituted to oversee the executive branch’s ethics compliance and review and post financial disclosure statements of elected officials on the commissions web site.
In addition, lobbyists and clients of lobbyists will be required to disclose business relationships with public officials and will increase financial disclosure requirements.
Campaign finance reform
This legislation creates an enforcement unit within the New York State Board of Elections with a mandate that at least 35 percent of the board’s annual budget be dedicated to the unit to promote increased enforcement of campaign finance laws. It expands the jurisdiction of the enforcement unit and promotes the independence of the enforcement counsel by making the office a 4-year term.
Also included in the legislation are campaign finance measures that shine a light on candidates and their financial disclosures and increase penalties for failure to follow the law. The legislation:
- requires public disclosure of independent expenditures costing more than $1,000;
- creates a new penalty for accepting an excessive contribution and requires a refund and a potential fine of two times the amount of the excess plus a civil penalty up to $10,000;
- requires itemization of credit card payments and other similar payments; and
- requires a third periodic filing of campaign finance statements during the legislative session to promote greater transparency.
“This is a good first step and moves us in the right direction,” Assemblywoman Russell said. “It is my hope that this legislation will weed out those legislators who are only here for their own self interest and not in the best interest of the people they represent. It is my hope the governor reconsiders his pledge to veto this legislation, because the time for reform has long been over.”