I voted today in favor of the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011, which contains the necessary reforms to make government and elected officials more accountable to the people that they represent. Governor Cuomo has touted this bill as important and historic. I agree that this legislation is of utmost importance in the effort to clean-up government, but I believe it lacks the ambition to be considered truly historic.
The legislation contains many of the crucial steps toward true reform, including efforts to increase disclosure of outside finances and activity, as well as a provision that would strip the pensions of officials convicted of felonies related to their office. These are clearly steps in the right direction, but these efforts and others lack the true teeth and fairness required of a historic piece of legislation. The commission created by this legislation to police ethics requirements, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCPE), is flawed. It will be made up of primarily the governor’s appointees, creating a clear imbalance in the membership. The narrow definition on what is required to be disclosed also creates rather obvious loopholes that will allow abuse to continue.
This legislation is far from perfect, but it is a move forward nonetheless. Oftentimes, it takes incremental change to deal with problems as large as ethics, and I hope this legislation is merely one part of a larger, more comprehensive ethics reform effort.