Assembly Unveils Comprehensive Ethics Reform Package

Legislation Calls for Public Official Gift Ban, Restrictions on the Use of Campaign Funds and Mandatory Ethics Training
June 16, 2006

Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D – Ulster, Dutchess), Chair of the Legislative Ethics Committee, today announced the introduction of legislation to ban gifts to public officials from lobbyists; further restrict the ability of former legislative employees to lobby and direct the state Board of Elections (BOE) to promulgate regulations prohibiting the personal use of campaign funds. The proposal, a product of months of deliberations amongst key members of the Assembly, a group which included Assemblymember Cahill in his capacity as the Ethics Chair, is aimed at significantly strengthening the ethics laws that govern the conduct of public officials, government employees and lobbyists.

“The secret to a successful and effective government is the maintaining the public’s confidence in our ability to lead,” said Mr. Cahill. “As elected officials we owe nothing less to our constituents than abiding by the highest standards of accountability. These comprehensive measures will bring consistency and clarity to our ethics and campaign finance laws and will provide public officials with a clear path towards keeping the public's trust.”

Under the Assembly's ethics reform bill (A.11900), gifts from lobbyists to public officials would be prohibited, while the current $75 limit would continue to apply to non-lobbyists. The bill does allow for certain exemptions, including when items are of insignificant value, when complimentary tickets or attendance is to a charitable or political event or when expenses for travel to and/or accommodations at informational events (seminars, conferences, training, etc.) that are directly related to the duties of the public official. In such cases, the public official may only accept lodging for the night before and nights of the days on which the official actually attends the event.

In addition, the bill bans the acceptance of honoraria by public officials, prohibits high- ranking legislative employees from lobbying the Legislature for a minimum of one year after leaving their position and requires the Legislature and each state agency to provide ethics training for its members and employees, with the assistance of the State Ethics Commission or the Legislative Ethics Committee. The state Lobbying Commission would be required to provide training for lobbyists and their clients. The legislation also directs the state Board of Elections to promulgate regulations prohibiting the personal use of campaign funds. The Board, would also be required to issue binding opinions regarding the use of campaign funds and make them available for public review.