Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today outlined significant reforms to New York State’s ethics laws and rules. The reforms are included in the 30 day amendments to the 2015-16 Executive Budget.
“We must prove once again that state government can be trusted, and that means passing tough new ethics laws and creating a system that deters, detects and punishes individuals who seek to abuse and corrupt,” Governor Cuomo said. “We must bring sunlight to ethical shadows. New Yorkers deserve nothing less.”
These 30 day amendment proposals build on the other ethics reforms already included in the the Governor’s Executive Budget, which include limits on campaign contributions, the authorization of a new public financing system for elections, and the closing of the LLC loophole.
New Disclosure Requirements
Public officials will be required to disclose all outside earned income they receive, from whom they receive it, the actual services performed to receive the income and whether there is any connection to the state government or the office that they hold and the work performed. Specifically:
- All public officials must disclose the nature of each source of outside compensation in excess of $1,000.
- No member or legislative employee may receive any kind of compensation in connection with a pending bill or resolution. Additionally, no legislator or legislative employee may refer individuals who are lobbying or advocating for a proposed or pending piece of legislation to firms or businesses where that legislator or legislative employee is also affiliated.
- Lawyers, real estate agents and certain other professionals must provide a description of services for which they received compensation and the source of the compensation.
- All public officials who personally provide services or work as a member or employee of a business or firm, and receives compensation in excess of $5,000 from a client/customer, must disclose information on that client/customer, the services rendered and whether the services were related to pending legislation governmental action.
- Requirements to disclose outside income will apply to all legislative discretionary capital funding.
This proposal will also enhance penalties for failure to comply with the law. Under current law, individuals cannot be prosecuted for filing false instruments under the Penal Law. Under the reforms advanced by the Governor, the officials can be prosecuted for not just filing a false financial disclosure statement but other crimes, as well. Further, the proposal would bar anyone convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to disclosure information under the financial disclosure law from holding public office for five years, or possibly up to 10 years if a misdemeanor plea was a plead down.
This proposal would also amend the Public Officers Law to expressly bar legislators from representing entities in legislative matters or referring such legislative matters to their firms. It would also amend the Lobbying Law to cover lobbying of municipalities that have a population of 5,000 or more – current law is set at municipalities with populations of 50,000 or more.
Public officials who are convicted of public corruption should not have taxpayers pay for their retirement. This proposal will amend the New York State Constitution (and related pension forfeiture law enacted in 2011) to apply New York’s pension forfeiture law to public officials who entered the retirement system before enactment of the pension forfeiture law in 2011.
Per Diem Reform
This proposal will end the practice of misusing per diems as backdoor salary supplements. Specifically, legislators and statewide elected officials would receive reimbursement only of reasonable and necessary travel expenses, for which receipts must be submitted, that are actually incurred while in the performance of their duties at the same rate as otherwise allowed state employees.
Further, the proposal would operationalize these reforms. The Office of State Comptroller will be prohibited from reimbursing expenses for a member of the legislature or statewide elected official until expanded disclosure provisions are met. Additionally, new caps are placed on the amount of reimbursement authorized under the law at the same level as the caps that currently apply to all other state employees. This proposal also repeals current law that gives great discretion to legislative leaders to broaden and increase per diems.
Campaign Finance Disclosure
The proposal will further expand the requirement for disclosing independent expenditures to include independent expenditures on communications made within 60 days before a general, or special election, and 30 days before a primary election to that reference a clearly identified client. This proposal also turns over enforcement of independent expenditures rules to new chief enforcement counsel.