Watchdogs Urge Governor and Legislature to Make History, Defy Cynics, and Create a Truly Independent Ethics Commission in State Budget
Groups Encouraged by Reported Renewed Discussion of Ethics Reforms
Responding to reports of renewed negotiations over state ethics in this year’s state budget, leading watchdog groups and legal scholars call on the Governor and State Legislature to create a truly independent commission to replace the failed Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). JCOPE is a public embarrassment to the people of New York. JCOPE must be replaced by a new agency, and new agencies are best created and funded in the budget.
Our groups were encouraged by Governor Hochul’s executive budget plan to create a new ethics commission that created more space between elected officials and the commissioners enforcing ethics laws. Ultimately neither the Senate nor the Assembly accepted her proposal, or advanced plans of their own in their “one House” budget plans.
We have presented a common-sense proposal to the Governor and Legislature grounded in the real world success of independently appointed bodies in California, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin. Instead of elected officials directly appointing commissioners, we suggest that New York’s new ethics commission be selected and appointed by a seven-member Selection Committee using ranked choice voting. The following state elected leaders will each pick one member of the selection committee:
- State Comptroller
- Attorney General
- Senate Majority Leader
- Senate Minority Leader
- Assembly Speaker
- Assembly Minority Leader
The new Selection Committee will appoint a new five-member Ethics Commission, and will follow explicit guard rails to ensure transparency and integrity.
New Rules Guiding Selection of Ethics Commissioners
- Any member of the public can apply to serve
- Qualifications and criteria for who can serve: experience, education, diversity, etc.
- Disqualifications for who can’t serve: lobbyists, electeds, contractors, and big donors
- Term limits for commissioners
- Ranked Choice Voting used to create final list of candidates
- Final list of candidates released 15 days before public vote
- Public report released by Selection Committee after conclusion of vetting process, including data on number and diversity of applicants
A slideshow with infographics of the groups’ proposal is available here, which also includes additional recommendations to improve ethics enforcement and public disclosure.
We urge the Governor to veto any two house bill that does not have an appointment process that assures its independence from those whom it regulates. A commission directly appointed by elected officials or without sufficient safeguards would not meet this test.