The New York Times Saturday Editorial “Three Men in Room” adequately captures the irony behind the governor’s ethics reform negotiations with the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Majority Leader as plans to create a more open government are negotiated behind closed doors. On the table are the issues which form the backbone of a meaningful ethics reform package: the creation of a unified ethics commission, financial disclosure requirements of all outside income for public officials (including from the 45 attorney-legislators), and a system of publicly financed elections.
Aside from the irony of advocating for openness and transparency behind closed doors, recent history suggests that an ethics bill negotiated without public discussion will result in failure. As we have previously noted, Albany’s last attempt ethics reform, the Public Employees Ethics Reform Act (PEERA) of 2007, was negotiated, drafted and adopted without public discussion or debate. Since then, Albany has consistently continued to be rocked by scandals in the legislature and special interest money has continued to flood the state. An ethics bill that does not allow for public input will likely result yet another failure.
Now that the budget has been passed and the focus is on ethics the Three Men in a Room must make their draft bill available for public comment. The legislature must debate, hold hearings, and allow amendments on this bill. Good government groups, academics, reformists, current ethics overseers and the general public must be given the opportunity to review and comment on the bill. As the Times rightly notes: voters “are the governor’s best allies for real reform.”