Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Day 2: Some Friendly Suggestions

The New York Times leads with stories about Spitzer's likely push to change Albany's culture, and more particularly to overhaul the state's ethics laws.

The Brennan Center, Citizens Union, Common Cause New York, League of Women Voters New York and NYPIRG think the new Governor is on the right track. In Albany today, at 11 a.m., we have presented our "top 10 list" of needed ethics reforms. They are as follows:

Create an Independent Ethics Commission. Create a commission with jurisdiction over statewide elected officials, state officers and employees, state legislators, and legislative employees.

End “Pay to Play.” The infusion of large sums of money by businesses and unions with public contracts and lobbyists into the campaign coffers of elected representatives has generated a widespread public belief that contributors are “paying” those officials for the opportunity to “play” with the government. New York should join a growing number of states and localities with “pay to play” restrictions on lobbyists and public contractors.

Ban honoraria. As of January 2006, at least 23 states prohibited honoraria in some manner if offered in connection with a legislator’s official duties. Giving speeches and participating in public policy discussions are important parts of a public official’s job. To allow groups to offer state lawmakers honoraria for performing these duties, however, creates a real or apparent conflict of interest for public officials.

Restrict the personal use of campaign contributions. Restrictions on the personal use of campaign funds must be strengthened and enforced.

Strengthen the “revolving door” ban. Bans on “revolving door” lobbying seek to restrain former state government and party officials from using their government connections to benefit themselves, their clients or their business interests after they leave office.

Create more stringent requirements for financial disclosure for public officers. Financial disclosure requirements for state employees must be strengthened. It’s important that any ethics reform include ways to enhance the requirements for disclosure of financial information by state employees in various ways.

Require ethics training for lobbyists and for the governor, legislators, legislative employees, state agency officers, and state agency employees. Once good laws are on the books, the good way to prevent ethics violations is through education. A reform package should expressly require ethics training for all state officials, including the governor, and legislators, as well as continuing education in these areas provided by the state ethics commission.

Strengthen accountability of “member items” and other lump sum appropriations. Some of the most recent scandals have resulted from misuse of “member item” spending. Any ethics reform package should address such abuses. At the very least, the choices made about how to spend this money should be made public. If a member item system is to be continued, then a fairer allocation system coupled with better oversight must be established.

Strengthen ethical standards for public officials. We recommend that a new ethics law prohibits business relationships between public officials and lobbyists and those with receive government contracts. Moreover, a new law must make it clear that public officials cannot use public employees in order to provide personal services.

For more detail on these recommendations, look here.

Categories: General, Government Ethics

1 comment:

John said...

Tomorrow's State of the State address will be big news throughout the state and perhaps the nation. The lights will shine once again on the executive branch leaving the legislative branch, once again, outside the the public view.

Tomorrow's 'other' story is Citizens for Better Government in NY's delivery of the E-March petition to both houses of the legislature.

Citizens from 172 towns statewide have signed the electronic petition and their names will be delivered to both the Assembly and Senate as our members exercise their constitutional right to petition the government.

Governor Spitzer asked for citizens to act. We're taking action!