A New Call for State Ethics Reform
February 4th, 2009

“I don’t know how many of them have to work on their hedge-clipping skills at a state penitentiary, but at some point the demand of the public will be overwhelming, said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Group yesterday as he and representatives of a number of civic groups called for new ethics reform in Albany.

Their call for reform comes in light of recent scandals involving the legislature — foremost among them the indictment of former Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno on federal corruption charges.

Groups including Citizens Union of the City of New York (Gotham Gazette is published by its sister organization, Citizens Union Foundation), Common Cause New York, the League of Women Voters and New York Public Interest Research Group proposed the Ethics Reform Act of 2009 that would establish an independent state ethics commission, require more financial disclosure for public figures, and limit campaign contributions from contractors and lobbyists. The goal is to reduce incidences of pay to play and strengthen the ban on personal use of campaign contributions.

Currently, two organizations exist to enforce ethics law in state government. The Legislative Ethics Commission oversees the legislative branch, and the Commission on Public Integrity monitors the executive. Good government groups say that their problem with these commissions is the membership: The Legislative Ethics Commission is made up of legislators from both houses, and seven members of the Commission on Public Integrity are appointed by the governor.

Good government groups want to see more transparency. They say New York is in the dark ages when it comes to openness in government, and point to states like Missouri, where there is a movement to put the state’s checkbook online.

Horner said, I view this as a giant scale. At some point it is going to tip in the direction of reform. Susan Lerner of Common Cause said that legislators themselves are tired of laboring under a cloud, in the sense that people think politicians are corrupt.

After meeting with legislators, Lerner said she did not get a sense one way or another about how legislators felt about the package d. She stressed that this particular proposal might not be the best answer, but she said legislators need to start working on the issue. They have a lot on their plate, she noted, and suggested, They need to hear from constituents about it.

By on February 4, 2009, 2:58 pm
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