August 24, 2023
Senator James Skoufis
Chair, Committee on Investigations and Government Operations
Senator Neil Breslin
Chair, Committees on Ethics and Internal Governance and Insurance
Assemblymember John T. McDonald III
Chair, Committee on Governmental Operations
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon
Chair, Committee on Ethics and Guidance
Re: Please hold a hearing on NYS ethics oversight, including implementation of new ethics laws and alternative, more independent commission structures
Dear Senators Skoufis and Breslin, and Assemblymembers McDonald and Simon:
It has been more than a year since the Legislature approved and the Governor signed 2022 budget legislation replacing the discredited Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) with the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government (COELIG). We ask that your committees hold a hearing this fall to evaluate the effectiveness of the law, how COELIG is working so far, and legislative and constitutional changes needed to improve ethics oversight and public confidence in state government.
Our groups opposed the creation of COELIG because we felt that it fell far short of a truly independent ethics commission: Its membership is appointed by the very people it is supposed to oversee. While we are hopeful that COELIG will be an improvement over JCOPE, we continue to believe that the Legislative Ethics Commission should be abolished, and that a unified, independent state ethics commission be established. We have offered recommendations on how a new ethics commission could be structured.
The Legislature should also consider the possibility that former Governor Cuomo’s litigation against COELIG could result in the agency being gutted or thrown out, and be prepared to act should this occur. New Yorkers should be assured that there will be an effective ethics enforcement body in place, rather than an extended period of limbo – particularly given that a new ethics body was just created.
In order to prepare for that outcome, as well as to contemplate legislative changes and funding needed for the FY 2024-2025 state budget, we ask your committees to hold an oversight hearing prior to the beginning of the 2024 session. We recommend that the hearing consider the following:
- Constitutional and statutory changes needed to create a more independent ethics commission.
- Implementation of the 2022 law creating COELIG, and actions by the commissioners and staff to enforce the state’s ethics and lobbying laws.
- Whether COELIG investigators are properly trained to handle cases related to harassment and discrimination.
- COELIG’s forthcoming 2022 annual report and its legislative recommendations, as well as additional legislative recommendations from the public.
- COELIG’s funding needs ahead of the FY 2024-2025 state budget, particularly with regard to staffing levels and IT needs for training requirements and improvements to its lobbying and financial disclosure databases.
Thank you for your consideration.
Committee to Reform the State Constitution
Laura Ladd Bierman
League of Women Voters of NYS
Director of Advocacy
NYC Bar Association
Sexual Harassment Working Group
Click here to view the letter as a PDF.