Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Public Ethics—New York’s ethics enforcement agency—selected Seth Agata as its new executive director. We believe this is a big mistake and further undermine the credibility of an agency that has struggled to independently and effectively investigate and enforce violations of state ethics laws by the governor, legislature, state employees, and lobbyists.
It is simply not credible that Mr. Agata, who was Governor Cuomo’s lawyer and represented him on ethics issues, can objectively investigate potential ethical violations by the governor or his political enemies. Mr. Agata is the third top Cuomo aid selected to run JCOPE in the last five years. To us, this is a clear sign that the governor has an undue influence on JCOPE, and that JCOPE is subject to the same political forces that have mired Albany in endless corruption scandals.
In our eyes, JCOPE will have little credibility until new laws are passed which prohibit the Committee from appointing an executive director, or senior managers, who have worked for a sitting governor, attorney general, comptroller, the legislature, or a firm which lobbies the state of New York. There are plenty of experts in investigating and enforcing complex government regulations, including ex-US assistant attorneys, former FBI agents and ex-SEC officials to name a few. Albany may not want an independent executive director for JCOPE, but it badly needs one.
This is not a criticism of Mr. Agata personally. He is widely respected as a knowledgeable and hardworking professional. But we believe that it is incredibly difficult for any person to discard long-held loyalties and personal obligations. Mr. Agata served in a trusted position very close to Governor Cuomo, and even represented the governor before JCOPE. The conflict of interest is obvious, and Mr. Agata is the wrong choice to run JCOPE less than six months after Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos were convicted in corruption trials which laid bare Albany’s culture of legal and illegal corruption.