Reinvent Albany Calls for Conflicts of Interest Board
To Restrict Gifts of Travel to Public Officials
At today’s 3pm Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) hearing, Reinvent Albany will call for COIB to further restrict gifts of travel donated to public officials.
Reinvent Albany’s testimony asks COIB to:
- Prohibit elected officials from receiving corporate or nonprofit funding for City travel
- Require public servants to receive approval from COIB for all travel funded by third parties
- Require public servants to transfer all frequent flyer miles acquired through official business to the City
The hearing on rules proposed by the Conflicts of Interest Board regards gifts of travel from third parties to City public servants and elected officials. If a third party offers to pay for a public or elected official’s travel to an event, the individual may accept the offer as a gift to the City if the trip is for a reasonable City purpose and the third party does not have a pending matter before the public servant. While the practice has been in effect for years, COIB’s revisions make important clarifications about its application.
Reinvent Albany urges COIB to bar elected officials from receiving corporate or nonprofit funding for City travel. Under the rules, if a trip has a public purpose, a third party may cover the travel expenses. But the conflicts that can arise from these gifts, such as recently at the New York City Board of Elections, have revealed the potential for abuse under such a system.
Reinvent Albany also believes that public servants (including agency heads) should have to receive approval for all City travel funded by third parties. COIB’s proposed rules allow agency heads and elected officials to approve their own third-party-funded travel. Officials overseeing their own conflicts of interest is a practice with a concerning history, as seen with Joe Lhota when he was Chair of the MTA Board and a director on the board of the Madison Square Garden Company. JCOPE eventually determined that the conflict precluded Lhota from continuing his position.
Reinvent Albany also asks that public servants be required to transfer all frequent flyer miles acquired through official business to the City, as is the practice in several states, such as Ohio. Currently, public servants may use frequent flyer miles accrued through City travel for their own private use. This risks the abuse of City resources: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was known to use public funds to fly through Washington D.C. on his way to Albany solely to get more frequent flyer miles. If other governments require public servants to transfer miles, Reinvent Albany does not see why New York City cannot as well.