Agreement Reached on Comprehensive Ethics Reform Package
Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D – Ulster, Dutchess), Chair of the Legislative Ethics Committee, today announced an agreement between the Governor, Assembly and Senate on legislation that will implement some of the most sweeping reforms of ethics and lobbying in the history of New York State. The proposal, a product of months of deliberations amongst key members of the Assembly, Senate and the Governor’s administration, a group which included Mr. 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.
“In the past few years there have been a number of high profile scandals within our state government that have severely shaken the public’s confidence in our ability to properly and effectively conduct the people’s business,” said Mr. Cahill. “These comprehensive measures will bring consistency and clarity to our ethics and lobbying laws and will provide public officials with a clear path towards restoring the public's trust.”
“These reforms will deliver the message, loud and clear, that we are only accountable to the communities that entrusted us with the responsibility and privilege to represent them and we are not here to do the bidding of lobbyists and special interests,” said Assemblymember Cahill.
A key provision in the agreement will replace the current Legislative Ethics Committee with a new Legislative Ethics Commission that has a majority of independent members and new disclosure requirements. “Two years ago, when I was named Chair of the Legislative Ethics Committee, I pledged to use the position as a platform to reform the way this important committee works,” said Mr. Cahill. “The increased disclosure requirements and the inclusion of private citizens on this new commission will allow the public the insight they deserve into the process that governs and guides the ethics of elected officials, candidates and party leaders.”
The legislation also strengthens penalties for violations of the state Public Officers Law and state Lobbying Law. The maximum civil penalty for public officers who commit ethics violations will be increased from $10,000 to $40,000 plus the value of any associated gain. Lobbyists who repeatedly flout lobbying laws will be subject to suspension.
Under the agreement the current State Ethics Commission and State Lobbying Commission will be combined to create a new State Commission on Public Integrity, under control of the Governor, with broad authority to enforce ethics and lobbying laws.
Additional provisions included in the legislation are as follows:
- Revolving Door – Closes the “revolving door” loophole by prohibiting former legislative employees from directly lobbying the Legislature for two years, and expands the revolving door restrictions for Executive Chamber employees to preclude appearances before any state agency;
- Lobbying Reforms – Prohibits all gifts from lobbyists and their clients of more than nominal value, including travel, lodging and other expenses, and broadens the types of lobbying activities that lobbyists must disclose;
- Gifts – Prohibits all gifts of more than “nominal value” from non-lobbyists to public officials where such gifts might appear designed to influence the official;
- Honoraria – Bans honoraria for statewide elected officials, agency heads and legislators;
- Anti-Nepotism Policy – Prohibits state employees from participating in any personnel decision or contracting matter concerning a relative;
- Political Hiring – Prohibits state officers, supervisors and agency staff from asking about the political affiliation, contributions or voting records of prospective employees;
- Running for Elective Office – Prevents agency heads from becoming a candidate for any compensated elective office unless they resign or take an unpaid leave of absence; and
- Taxpayer-Financed Advertisements – Prohibits elected government officials and candidates for elected local, state or federal office from appearing in taxpayer-funded advertisements.
“I am proud to have been apart of this sweeping ethics and lobbying reform agreement,” said Mr. Cahill. “This is just one more example of Governor Spitzer’s and the Assembly’s commitment to making government work for the people.”