Thursday, September 18, 2008

Argument for an Activist CPI

One of the quirks of ethics reform ushered through in 2007 is that the new Commission on Public Integrity (CPI), which combined the Temporary Commission on Lobbying and the Ethics Commission, has jurisdiction over the executive branch, but not the Legislature. However, CPI also has jurisdiction over lobbyists who do business with both branches of government.

As we know, the lobbying reform, called "sweeping" by the Assembly, made mostly cosmetic changes where the Legislature was concerned. And, the ethics charges others keep on coming.

The recent charges against Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio present an interesting situation, The compliant alleges that nearly $400,000 was paid to a consulting company controlled by Seminerio by a Queens hospital since 2000. According to a NewYork Times story earlier this week: "several hospital industry officials said that the hospital described in the complaint fit the profile of Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens."

Now, several of our reform colleagues have filed a request with the CPI to compel an investigation of the Seminerio matter through jurisdiction over lobbying.

I've argued before that CPI should take an activist stance with its jurisdiction and issue opinions that may only affect the executive branch, but nonetheless would serve as a warning to the Legislature. That was in the case of a city public school, er, campus naming for Queens Senator Frank Padavan, who was and is in the midst of a reelection fight tied to control of his chamber. (The city Chancellor's regulations forbid naming public school after the living, but is silent as to a campus.)

In Padavan's example, the CPI could have issued an opinion that naming public property for people serving in the executive branch is a violation of the public officers law since there is an obvious value attached. (Elected officials cannot receive extra compensation or any gift of more than nominal value.) For proof look no further than the multi-million dollar annual price tags for naming rights for the area stadiums under construction. I wasn't arguing then or now that public schools are on the order of sports stadiums, merely that naming rights have some value.

True a CPI opinion about naming public would have no force on the Legislature, however it would have served as notice by a respected body and a warning that somebody is minding the ethics store.

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