ALBANY – Governor Andrew Cuomo and the leader of the Democratic-controlled Assembly have struck a two-way deal on ethics overhaul. The focus is now on whether Republican-controlled State Senate will accept the plan so it can be structured within the framework of the state budget.
The agreement between the Governor and the Assembly covers the following five essential points that the Governor previously outlined as his priorities for the budget:
1. New Disclosure Requirements
Public officials will be required to disclose all outside earned income they receive, from whom they receive it, the actual services performed to receive the income, and whether there is any connection to the state government or the office that they hold or their public duties. Specifically:
- All public officials must disclose the nature of each source of outside compensation in excess of $1,000.
- No legislator, legislative employee or state officer may receive any kind of compensation, directly or indirectly, in connection with a pending bill or resolution.
- All public officials who personally provide services whether they work individually or as a member or employee of a business or firm, such as lawyers and real estate brokers, and receives compensation from a client/customer in excess of $5,000 must disclose the name of the client/customer, the services rendered, the amount of compensation and whether the services were related to governmental action. Certain sensitive activities will be exempted from client disclosure such as child custody cases, preparation of wills, matrimonial proceedings, cases involving minors, bankruptcies and criminal proceedings and residential home closings.The agreement amends the law to empower prosecutors to prosecute the filing of fraudulent financial disclosure statements without the approval of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. It would also expand the Lobbying Law to cover lobbying of municipalities that have a population of 5,000 or more – current law is set at municipalities with populations of 50,000 or more.
2. Pension Forfeiture
Public officials who are convicted of public corruption should not have taxpayers pay for their retirement. The agreement will apply New York’s pension forfeiture law to all public officials who are convicted of public corruption, including those who entered the retirement system before enactment of the pension forfeiture law in 2011. The law allows a judge to protect an innocent spouse and goes into effect after a second passage of a constitutional amendment by the legislature and voter approval in 2017.
3. Per Diem Reform
The agreement will immediately reform per diems by establishing a new set of verification requirements including:
- To ensure an official is where they claim to be, the legislature will install an electronic system that verifies personal attendance of legislators at an official event.
- The Speaker will develop and implement policies to verify attendance at official events and establish standards and limits for reimbursable events.
- Reimbursements will be governed by federal regulations.
- Legislature will create a publicly accessible website showing members’ reimbursement and travel.
4. Prohibition of Personal Use of Campaign Funds
The agreement also would bar using campaign contributions for personal use. Such personal use will be defined as expenditures that are exclusively for personal benefit of the candidate or any other individual, not in connection with a political campaign or holding of a public office or party position. The law will include an illustrative list of prohibited uses including using campaign contributions for expenses unrelated to a campaign or the holding of public office such as residential home purchases, mortgage payments, rent, clothing, tuition payments, salaries for individuals not performing campaign work, admissions to sporting events, fines and penalties and dues for country clubs and health clubs.
5. Campaign Finance Disclosure
The agreement will further expand the requirement for disclosing independent expenditures to include independent expenditures on communications made within 60 days before a general, or special election, and 30 days before a primary election that reference a clearly identified client. The agreement also turns over enforcement of independent expenditures rules the new chief enforcement counsel.
The Executive and the Assembly continue to support additional ethics reforms already included in the Governor’s Executive Budget, which include limits on campaign contributions, the authorization of a new public financing system for elections, and the closing of the LLC loophole.
Cuomo has been pushing ethics changes since his State of the State address earlier this year. In February he issued an ultimatum: Pass five points of his ethics plan or risk a late budget.