Watchdogs Again Ask JCOPE to Publish Financial Disclosures
of Senior Agency Officials Online
JCOPE Should Use Regular Rulemaking Process,
Not Pass Board Resolutions to Make Policy
Watchdog groups Reinvent Albany, Citizens Union of the City of New York, Common Cause NY, the League of Women Voters of New York State, and New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) again asked the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) to publish the financial disclosure statements of senior agency officials online, which is already done for state elected officials.
This would follow the best practice of other jurisdictions like the District of Columbia, which posts financial disclosure statements online for all of its public officials.
The groups asked that JCOPE amend its proposed regulations to make this change, not pass a separate board resolution. Following the regular rulemaking process through the State Administrative Procedures Act (SAPA) would require public notice and the opportunity for the public to provide additional input before the policy is finalized.
The groups also asked that JCOPE testify publicly to the Senate at its upcoming hearing on ethics oversight. (Note that the hearing has been rescheduled for August 25th since our letter was sent).
The letter follows a June 24th request from the groups made in response to formal draft regulations and a separate resolution discussed by JCOPE Commissioners at their May 2021 meeting.
The letter is available in full below and in PDF here.
Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE)
July 8, 2021
Re: JCOPE Should Publish Financial Disclosure Forms of Senior Agency Officials Online and Participate in Public State Legislative Oversight Hearings
Our groups write to address two areas of concern:
- We write to again ask that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) publish online the financial disclosure statements of senior agency officials, and follow the standards set in the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) for access to JCOPE’s public records. This should be done by revising your proposed regulations, not passing a new resolution.
- We want to clarify that our groups have asked the Legislature to hold a public hearing on ethics enforcement, at which JCOPE and other bodies can be publicly held accountable for their performance. We have not asked the Legislature to solely take testimony in private. A public hearing will help New Yorkers better understand how well our state’s ethics laws are working.
We appreciate that you discussed our June 24th letter at your June 28, 2021 meeting. In that letter, we asked you to publish the financial disclosure forms of senior agency officials online as you already do for elected officials. We also asked that you amend your proposed regulations, rather than a separate resolution, to include our recommendations about treating the requests for financial disclosure forms as public records subject to FOIL, similar to the FOIL logs of state agencies.
Amending the draft regulations will allow the public to comment on any revisions before they are finalized. We agree with the statements made by commissioners and staff that JCOPE should follow formal processes like the State Administrative Procedure Act (SAPA), which requires public notification and a comment period, to develop policies and procedures, rather than make policy through resolutions.
Lastly, while we understand that the motion made by Commissioner Lavine to allow JCOPE commissioners and staff to testify to the Legislature was intended to allow for discussion of confidential matters that might be of interest to legislators, our groups asked the Legislature to hold public hearings to discuss ethics reform and enforcement. Since our letter was sent, the State Senate has scheduled an oversight hearing on ethics for July 12, 2021. While the Legislature may wish to issue subpoenas and conduct interviews of commissioners and staff regarding confidential JCOPE matters, these procedures should not replace JCOPE’s testimony at a public hearing.
Given recent ethics scandals in Albany, ethics reform is of great public interest and should be discussed and examined in a public hearing at which stakeholders can provide their views and the public can hear directly from JCOPE.
Thank you for your consideration of these matters.
Citizens Union of the City of New York
Common Cause NY
Laura Ladd Bierman
League of Women Voters of New York State
New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)
Cc. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt
Senator Alessandra Biaggi, Chair, Ethics and Internal Governance Committee
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie
Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay
Assemblymember Kenneth Zebrowski, Chair, Governmental Operations Committee
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, Chair, Ethics and Guidance Committee