Campbell Public Affairs Institute, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University
Carey Institute for Government Reform, Wagner College
Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Columbia Law School
New York City Bar Association
Committee to Reform the State Constitution
Common Cause New York
League of Women Voters of the State of New York
New York Public Interest Research Group
Sexual Harassment Working Group
For immediate release:
February 26, 2020
CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS UNVEIL NEW WEBSITE WWW.JCOPEMUSTGO.ORG
NEW PUSH TO GET ALBANY TO SUPPORT
NEW, INDEPENDENT ETHICS WATCHDOG
(Albany, N.Y.) Calling for a comprehensive overhaul of ethics oversight in New York, a coalition of twelve civic groups kicked off their latest effort by unveiling a new website “www.jcopemustgo.org.” The groups’ effort is in support of legislation that, if approved, would replace the state’s current ethics watchdog, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), through a constitutional amendment. The proposal also replaces the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC) and moves oversight of New York’s campaign financing system to the new ethics watchdog.
The website features recent articles on political corruption in New York, various news reports on weaknesses within JCOPE, a 2015 national ranking that graded ethics enforcement in New York with an “F,” and details of the constitutional amendment (Senate bill 594/Assembly bill 1282) supported by the civic groups.
BACKGROUND ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL RESOLUTION TO
REPLACE JCOPE AND LEC
The Anti-Corruption Amendment (Senate bill 594/Assembly bill 1282) would create the Commission on State Government Integrity (the “Integrity Commission”) to replace the Joint Commission On Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission. These two bodies lack the independence needed to be effective enforcers of ethics laws.
In many states all three branches, legislative, executive and judicial, make ethics commission appointments. This is the case in New York only for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is a well-regarded enforcer of judicial ethics created in the State Constitution. A majority of the members of the Integrity Commission would be appointed by the judiciary and only a minority by the bodies being regulated.
BACKGROUND ON THE REFORM PROPOSAL
New York is the only state where the ethics commission does not operate by majority vote. Incredibly two (2) of the Governor’s appointees to 14-member JCOPE can veto an investigation or a finding of violation, as can three (3) of the appointees of the legislative leaders. The Integrity Commission would operate by majority vote.
New York is also marked by its division of ethics enforcement responsibility. JCOPE can find a violation by executive branch officials or employees and impose a fine but only the LEC can find a violation by or fine a legislative branch official or employee. The LEC may reject JCOPE’s interpretation of the law. In all cases, discipline (admonishment, censure, demotion, suspension of removal) is left to the discretion of the entity in which the official or employee works. The Integrity Commission would have full discipline authority over both branches except that as currently only the Legislature could remove an elected official. A constitutional amendment is needed to create a single enforcement body with full sanctioning power.
Nearly half the states give the responsibility for enforcing the campaign finance laws to their ethics commission. New York needs to do the same because the State Board of Elections is controlled by the political parties and therefore is not sufficiently independent to enforce campaign finance laws designed to limit the pay-to-play culture.
Ethics and other rules barring official misconduct are only as good as the mechanism able to enforce them. Without an adequate enforcement mechanism these rules exist only on paper without real world force or effect. “Paper” rules do nothing to combat what far too many see as a culture of corruption and pay-to-play in Albany.
Other key features of the Anti-Corruption Amendment include the following:
- Unlike JCOPE, where the person appointing a member can remove that member for what the appointing authority deems to be substantial neglect of duty, members of the Commission could be removed for cause only through a process by which a majority of the Commission votes to make an application for removal to the Court of Appeals.
- Ex parte communications between Commission members and their appointing authorities and related staff would be barred, and no member could have held office, employment in state government or any political party or been engaged as a lobbyist in the three years prior to his or her appointment or during his or her term.
- Transparency laws would apply equally to the executive and legislative branches.
- All state officers and employees would have an ethical duty to report known misconduct to the Commission and would be protected against retaliation.
- Sexual harassment would be barred as ethical misconduct.
- The Integrity Commission would have full authority to sanction officers or employees of public authorities.
Contact information for the groups:
- Campbell Public Affairs Institute, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University: Grant Reeher, gdreeher [at] maxwell.syr.edu;
- Carey Institute for Government Reform, Wagner College, Stephen Greenwald 718 420 7131;
- Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Columbia Law School: Berit Berger, 212 854 8379;
- Citizens Union, Rachel Bloom, 917 579 2727
- Committee on Government Ethics and State Affairs, New York City Bar Association: Eric Friedman, 212 382 6754;
- Committee to Reform the State Constitution: Evan Davis, 212 534 5876
- Common Cause/New York: Susan Lerner, 212 691 8421;
- League of Women Voters of the State of New York: Laura Bierman, 518 465 4162;
- New York Public Interest Research Group: Blair Horner, 518 727 4506.
- Reinvent Albany: Alex Camarda, 917 388 9087