Assemblymembers Jaffee and Zebrowski Announce Joint Legislation to Overhaul Ethics Law

Sweeping campaign finance and ethics reform will lead to stiffer penalties, greater oversight and increased disclosure to make government more accountable
January 14, 2010

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) announced the Assembly and Senate have reached an agreement on major ethics reform legislation that will increase disclosure of outside income for legislators, enhance enforcement and create independent ethics entities. This legislation continues the Assembly’s commitment to making state government more open and accountable, and has the support of good-government groups like New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Citizens Union, the League of Women Voters and the former executive director of the New York State Lobbying Commission.

Jaffee and Zebrowski noted that this bill – for the first time – sets up an independent legislative investigative body and requires public disclosure of legislators’ outside income categories. The agreement creates commissions to address the influence of special interest money, lobbying and ethics, and to perform investigations in state government.

“Ensuring that ethics board commissioners are truly independent is an important step toward reforming state government and making it more accountable,” said Assemblywoman Jaffee. “It is important that we build a system that provides greater oversight of lobbyists.”

“We must close every loophole, expose all inappropriate influence and impose strict penalties on unethical behavior. I think this bill goes a long way towards meeting these goals,” said Assemblyman Zebrowski. “We hope the governor will join us in our efforts to make state government more responsible and transparent.”

Assemblymembers Jaffee and Zebrowski said the legislation lifts the veil on financial disclosure information by making more categories of value no longer confidential. The measure requires additional financial disclosure – especially with respect to consulting services, business and appearances before state agencies. The legislation increases financial disclosure requirements by requiring two new categories on financial disclosure forms – amounts between $250,000 and $1 million, and amounts of $1 million or more.

This legislation also strengthens enforcement of the state’s campaign finance laws. It 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.

Two key features of the legislation are: comprehensive campaign finance measures that shine a light on candidates, financial disclosures and increased penalties for failure to follow the law. The increased penalties will be for failure to report financial filings, requires more detail on campaign expenditures and creates a new financial filing period to enhance transparency.

“We are striving to enact the best, most independent, transparent and accountable ethics oversight structure that we can,” said Assemblywoman Jaffee. “We who serve in government must continue to restore public confidence in our democratic process.”

“Transparency, oversight, and tough enforcement are essential. This ethics reform will further open the door of politics to the public,” concluded Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski.