New York legislature blocks ethics changes

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The New York state Senate voted against transparency last night when it failed to pass a plan that would reform the state’s ethics laws.

The rejected plan stemmed from Governor Paterson’s proposal back in May to eliminate the state Commission on Public Integrity, following an ethics scandal that involved commission members under ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer’s administration. The proposed legislation would have completely revamped ethics oversight in the state, creating three separate commissions to oversee lobbying, executive ethics, and legislative ethics. The measure also would also have established an independent office to investigate legislative ethics complaints.

As it stands now, the Commission on Public Integrity is responsible for state lobbying and the executive branch ethics, while the Legislative Ethics Commission oversees financial disclosure forms, issues advisory opinions, and follows up on ethics complaints in the legislature.

Our States of Disclosure project ranked New York 16th among all the states for its legislative financial disclosure laws. The state earned a total of 74 points, and lost potential points for not requiring disclosure of how much income lawmakers earned outside the legislature; not requiring information on private business clients; and not posting disclosure forms online. New York is also one of only four states that keeps tabs on who is requesting personal information about legislators.

The ethics package, which passed the Assembly in June, was ultimately blocked by Senate Republicans. The proposal did not address many of the categories on our survey, but it did include a provision that would require the disclosure of amounts of outside income — potentially bumping New York up to at least a B (above 80 points).

And there is still hope. This morning Senate Majority Leader John Sampson and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos issued a joint statement that called for bipartisanship and compromise. The statement claims that “the Senate, as a whole, remains committed to enacting laws that strengthen oversight and accountability.”

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