A coalition of good-government organizations on Wednesday backed Gov. Kathy Hochul's plans to scrap the state's main ethics and lobbying watchdog entity and replace it with a new panel that is more responsive.
At the same time, however, the groups have their own vision for how the new ethics commission should be formed to better regulate corruption and government influence in New York state.
“The governor’s proposal is easy to understand, realistic, and creates a smaller commission with simple majority voting rules," said the groups backing the change, including Reinvent Albany, Citizens Union, the Committee to the Reform the State Constitution, Common Cause, the League of Voters, NYPIRG and the New York City Bar Association as well as the Sexual Harassment Working Group. "Plus, the governor proposes subjecting the new ethics commission to the Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law.”
Policing Albany has not been an easy task, and the current Joint Commission on Public Ethics, created a decade ago, has come under a firestorm of bipartisan criticism in recent months. The panel has become embroiled in a battle with former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to claw back money earned from a book deal first approved in 2020; Cuomo has threatened legal action over the situation.
More broadly, the commission is appointed by the elected officials its members are supposed to regulate. Good-government critics have complained actions are taken behind closed doors with little public explanation.
“Barely a year goes by without an enormous scandal in Albany," the groups said. "Before the sexual harassment, book deal, and COVID-19 nursing home death scandals erupted around the former governor, there was the Buffalo Billion bid-rigging corruption, and, before that the speaker of the Assembly, Attorney General, Senate Leader and various legislators were engulfed in unethical behavior.”
The groups made a half dozen recommendations for the ethics panel, including having a more transparent process for selecting commissioners, increased independence, enough resources to perform its duties, an expanded state ethics code and improving disclosure reports for lobbying.