NYS Seal For Immediate Release:
February 14, 2007


Assembly Passes Sweeping Ethics Reform Legislation

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Governmental Operations Committee Chair RoAnn Destito announced the Assembly today overwhelmingly passed legislation aimed at reforming ethics and lobbying laws in Albany. The landmark reform agenda would crack down on gifts from lobbyists to legislators, toughen penalties for ethics and lobbying law violations and create a permanent watchdog to ensure compliance.

Provisions of A.3736-A call for a direct ban on gifts from lobbyists to legislators and create a comprehensive ethics agency to ensure the integrity of state government.

"For more than a decade, the Assembly has advanced comprehensive measures aimed at strengthening public confidence by curbing the influence of money and lobbyists on our democratic process," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "These reforms continue the Assembly's long-standing commitment to changing fundamentally the way state government functions."

"Elected officials have a responsibility to put the needs of their constituents ahead of the needs of lobbyists. Our reforms get serious about improving the transparency of legislating in Albany," said Destito (D-Utica/Rome).

"As elected officials, we owe nothing less to our constituents than abiding by the highest standards of accountability," said Kevin Cahill, chair of the Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance. "This comprehensive measure 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."

"With its ban on gifts and honoraria and its strengthened restrictions on the revolving door of high-level legislative employees going to lobbying positions, this bill advances the reform agenda and will help restore public confidence in the integrity of government," said Assemblyman Pete Grannis (D-Manhattan).

"This reform package is a major step in the right direction," said Assemblyman Jack McEneny, chair of the Assembly Majority Steering Committee. "With these measures, there will be a reasonable ban on gifts and honoraria. And, in addition, we are bringing clarity to our disclosure laws."

Provisions of the bill, agreed to by the Senate and Gov. Eliot Spitzer, would:

  • ban all gifts of more than a nominal value from registered lobbyists to public officials, and expand the prohibition so that lobbyists who appear before boards that include unpaid members cannot give gifts to those officials either;

  • strictly limit lobbyists from paying or reimbursing travel and accommodation expenses of a public official;

  • strengthen the revolving-door provisions that apply to legislative employees by prohibiting them from lobbying the Legislature for two years after leaving their government position;

  • prohibit public officials from being paid for speeches;

  • forbid elected officials and candidates for elected local, state or federal office from appearing in taxpayer-funded advertisements;

  • ban gifts from the spouses or children of lobbyists to the spouses or children of public officials in order to gain influence; and,

  • require lobbyists to list their actions seeking grants on their lobbying reports.

Toughening penalties for ethics and lobbying law violations

The measure increases maximum penalties for violations of the lobbying law and public officers law. The first lobbying offense would result in a civil penalty of up to $25,000 or three times the amount the lobbyist failed to report or unlawfully gave or received. If a lobbyist files a false report, the bill would set a fine of $50,000 or five times the amount that was erroneously reported. A second offense within five years of a previous violation could trigger a one-year debarment.

And under the agreed-upon legislation, the maximum fine for violations by public officials would increase from $10,000 to $40,000, with a maximum fine of $10,000 for certain code of ethics violations. Violators could also be required to pay back any monetary gain if it was found the person knowingly and intentionally violated the law.

Creating a permanent watchdog

The legislation also creates a permanent watchdog on ethics issues by merging the Temporary State Commission on Lobbying and the State Ethics Commission into a new entity, the Commission on Public Integrity.

The new commission would have 13 members, with seven appointed by the governor, one by each legislative leader, one by the comptroller and one by the attorney general. In addition, the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee would be reconstituted as a nine-member commission, with four legislators appointed by legislative leaders, four non-legislators chosen by legislative leaders and one legislator jointly appointed by the Assembly speaker and temporary president of the Senate.

Under the bill, both the Commission on Public Integrity and the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission would be required to maintain Web sites and make publicly available notices of reasonable cause to initiate an investigation, disposition agreements, settlement agreements and summaries of advice.