Bloomberg News

New York Lawmakers Agree With Cuomo on Ethics Law for Officials

June 03, 2011

June 3 (Bloomberg) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on an ethics law with stricter rules and enforcement for disclosure of financial assets and income.

The accord obligates legislators and public officials to name their business associates and requires lawyers such as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to reveal their clients. The announcement came in an e-mail today signed by Democrats Cuomo and Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

“This bill is the tough and aggressive approach we need,” Cuomo said in a news release. “It provides for disclosure of outside income by lawmakers, creates a true independent monitor to investigate corruption, and spells out tough, new rules that lobbyists must follow.”

The ethics agreement marks a victory for Cuomo after he and lawmakers concurred on a proposed property-tax cap last week. Of a three-item agenda the governor promoted in appearances throughout the state, only a same-sex marriage bill remains unaccomplished. Lawmakers have until the June 20 scheduled end of the legislative session to pass the items.

The legislation proposed today would create a 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics, replacing the existing Commission on Public Integrity with a bipartisan panel. Six members would be appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor, of which three must be from a political party other than the governor’s. Eight would be appointed by leaders of each house of the Legislature. The proposed law also would take away pensions of public officials convicted of a felony.

Part-Time Job

Serving in the Legislature is a part-time job, meaning members receive outside income, which prompted Cuomo to call for more precise disclosure of the sources of pay. He signed an executive order his second day in office requiring executive- chamber staff, agency commissioners and other officials to undergo ethics training.

Since 2008, federal or state prosecutors have arrested at least 10 state lawmakers on corruption charges. They include former Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, 82, convicted of federal charges of mail and wire fraud in 2009. Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., 57, was indicted on six federal counts of embezzlement in 2010.

The existing ethics commission hasn’t uncovered or reported wrongdoing by lawmakers while they were in office.

‘Historic Actions’

Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union, a government watchdog, called today’s ethics agreement “an important and much-needed achievement.”

“It brings about several historic actions such as the first-ever client and rainmaker disclosure by legislators, narrower bands of income disclosure, publicly available financial disclosure statements,” and creation of a revamped and independent state ethics panel, Dadey said in the release.

Silver, who’s affiliated with the New York personal-injury law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, had opposed requiring attorneys in public service to disclose their clients. He had also resisted a property-tax cap, saying it could reduce funds for school districts, before accepting a compromise bill.

“I am proud to sign on to today’s agreement because I believe that transparency and accountability are the pillars of good government,” Silver said in the news release.

Spending Cuts

Cuomo, 53, the son of three-term Governor Mario Cuomo, took office in January after he was elected with 63 percent of the vote. Holding to a campaign promise, he reduced total state spending 2 percent in his $132.5 billion budget to help close a $10 billion deficit three months into his tenure.

Lawmakers approved the spending plan at his urging on March 31, the first time since 2006 that lawmakers passed a budget before the April 1 start of the fiscal year.

“After passing an on-time, fiscally responsible budget and reaching an agreement on a property-tax cap, this ethics agreement signals that we’ve taken another step in restoring the public’s trust in their government,” Skelos said in the release today.

Cuomo’s policies receive support from 61 percent of the state’s voters, including both Democrats and Republicans, a Quinnipiac University poll found last month.

“His poll numbers bolster his strength in negotiating with other politicians,” Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Connecticut, said by telephone. Politicians have “figured out that Andrew Cuomo is a governor for whom there are a lot of advantages to working with rather than against him.”

--With assistance from Stefanie Batcho-Lino in Toronto. Editors: Jerry Hart, Stephen Merelman

To contact the reporters on this story: Esmé E. Deprez in New York at edeprez@bloomberg.net; Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net


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