Multi-Pronged Proposal Includes Creating the Nation's First Code of Conduct for State Lobbyists, Banning Political Consultants from Lobbying Elected Officials They Helped Elect, Lowering the Threshold of Lobbying Expenses that Require JCOPE Disclosure, and Increasing Penalties for Lobbyists Who Fail to Follow Disclosure Rules
Video of the Governor's Remarks on Lobbying Reform is Available Here
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a comprehensive proposal to enact lobbying reforms is included in the 2019 Executive Budget. This multi-pronged legislative package would create the nation's first Code of Conduct for state lobbyists, ban political consultants from lobbying elected officials they helped elect, decrease the financial threshold that triggers a required JCOPE disclosure to $500, increase penalties - including potential debarment - for lobbyists who fail to follow disclosure rules, among other measures. Video of the Governor's remarks on lobbying is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.
"We can do more to ensure the public trust and that's why we want to enact a public Code of Conduct for lobbyists that stops self-dealing and conflicts of interest so everybody knows who they're working for," Governor Cuomo said. "With this proposal, we will ban political consultants from lobbying the politicians they helped elect, expand the lobbying ban to crack down on the proverbial revolving door and increase penalties for lobbyists who fail to follow the law."
As part of the 2019 Executive Budget, Governor Cuomo has proposed several measures to limit unscrupulous lobbying activity and increase transparency in state government:
Create First-in-the-Nation Code of Conduct for State Lobbyists. The Code of Conduct would promote a duty of honesty, loyalty, disclosure to the government and clients, and duty of accuracy of information. If the Code of Conduct is not enacted by the legislature this year, it will be imposed upon lobbyists who wish to work with the executive chamber.
- Decrease the financial threshold that triggers a required JCOPE disclosure to $500: Lobbyists and clients of lobbyists only need to register with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and disclose their lobbying activities when their compensation and expenses total over a certain threshold amount. The Governor proposes lowering that threshold for reportable lobbying to $500. Additionally, the Governor proposes lowering the threshold for a "reportable business relationship." Together these proposals will mean lobbyists duty to register and disclose detailed information about their practice and their business relationships with elected officials would be trigged at $500. These new lower thresholds and increased filing requirements for lobbyists and clients of lobbyists, would mean that many more people engaged in lobbying activities would be required to file disclosure documents with Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
- Require lobbyists to disclose campaign contributions: Presently there is no disclosure requirement that connects to lobbyists directly to the campaign contributions they bundle and make on their own behalf. This proposal would require lobbyists to disclose campaign contributions to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
- Ban political consultants from lobbying elected officials whose campaign they previously worked for: Currently, political consultants who work for political candidates may lobby those same candidates after they are in elected office, creating appearances of preferential access to certain elected officials for clients of those political consultants who worked with the politicians on their campaigns. Under this proposal, political consultants who worked on a campaign for a state elected official would be prohibited from lobbying that elected official, and it would no longer be permissible for an individual engaged in lobbying an elected official to then act as their political consultant.
- Prohibit lobbyists from making loans to political candidates: Under current law, lobbyists are legally permitted to make loans to candidates, fostering an undesirable relationship before a candidate is even elected. By prohibiting lobbyists from making loans to candidates, we can begin to restore the public's trust in government.
- Raise the 2 year Bar to 5 Years, Prevent Lobbying within that time, and subject Policy Makers only to post-employment restrictions: This would increase the existing post-state employment bar that prohibits state employees from working in front of their former agency for two years, to a period of five years. The proposal would also subject all policy-making legislative staff and elected officials to the higher post-employment bar, and prevent all former policy making state employees from lobbying or registering as a lobbyist for a period of five years after leaving state service.
- Amend the Little Hatch Act to prevent an employee of an elected official from volunteering for that elected official's political campaign: This amendment would still allow for employees to take a leave of absence from their government position and be paid by the political campaign.
- Increase penalties, including potential debarment, for lobbyists who fail to follow disclosure rules: Those found to be in violation of the law -- including failing to file the required statement or report; filing a false statement; failing to comply with a random audit; or violating the prohibition on gifts to public officials -- would face significant penalties and disbarment.
Require certain local elected officials to file financial disclosure statements with JCOPE. Currently, only state elected officials and their employees are legally obligated to file financial disclosure statements with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. This provision would expand this requirement to certain county and municipal elected officials, empowering New York voters with the information they need to choose who represents them at the local government level as well.
Strengthen Disclosure Laws. In June 2016, amid an increased lack of transparency in politics, Governor Cuomo advanced ethics reform legislation to address the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that resulted in strengthened campaign finance regulations. Upon passage of ethics reform bills by both the Senate and the Assembly, the Governor signed New York Executive Law § 172, requiring disclosures of political relationships and behaviors widely recognized to be influential but which operate without exposure. This year, Governor Cuomo is proposing strengthening this law by streamlining the reporting process for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, including by providing a mechanism for organizations to apply for a statutory exemption before the start of a reporting period.