Times Union: Tkaczyk ethics bill would close loophole as part of Senate plan

 

State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk has introduced a bill that she says would close a disclosure loophole allowing outgoing state lawmakers to shield potential conflicts of interest from public view.

The measure, part of a package of nine ethics reforms offered by Senate Democrats Tuesday, would apply to lawmakers who are out of office by the annual May 15 deadline to disclose their outside financial interests to state ethics watchdogs.

Those disclosures are retroactive for the previous year, meaning that lawmakers who don’t run for re-election or are defeated at the polls will be out of office by the deadline to file for their last year in the Capitol.

The Legislative Ethics Commission has said it interprets that to mean they are no longer obligated to file — a loophole that came to light, Tkaczyk’s office acknowledges, when one of her supporters lodged a complaint against her opponent in this year’s election.

In March, Schenectady Democratic Chairman Brian Quail filed a complaint against former Assemblyman George Amedore with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics alleging Amedore should have filed a disclosure last year because he briefly claimed to have won a disputed 2012 Senate race with Tkaczyk, a Duanesburg Democrat.

Quail’s complaint led to the revelation that the Rotterdam Republican was never formally seated in the Senate before court-ordered ballot counting handed the race to Tkaczyk in early 2013. It also prompted the Legislative Ethics Commission to clarify its interpretation that neither Amedore, who served in the Assembly until 2012, or any other employee covered by the disclosure law, is obligated to file if they no longer hold a covered post on the filing deadline.

Tkaczyk’s bill would change that, forcing any statewide elected official, lawmaker, candidate, legislative staffer or party leader to file a disclosure if they were in that post “for any portion of the calendar year.”

“You should disclose your outside income for every day that you’re in office,” Tkaczyk said Tuesday.

Amedore’s campaign had no immediate response.

Her bill is part of an effort by the Senate Democrats and good-government advocates to prod the chamber’s ruling coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats to take up a raft of ethics reforms left out of March’s budget agreement.

That reform package includes a full public-private campaign finance system sponsored by Democratic conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and a bill sponsored by state Sen. Neil Breslin, a Bethlehem Democrat, that would trigger a constitutional amendment to strip public officials of their public pension if convicted of a felony breach of the public trust.

Also included are bills that would lower individual contribution limits, close a loophole that allows donors to use limited liability companies to evade spending caps and ban the use of campaign money to pay lawyers to battle corruption charges.

Earlier this year, reform advocates insisted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s insertion of much of their agenda into his proposed budget provided the best leverage yet to pressure opponents to compromise.

But they were infuriated when Cuomo struck a deal with Legislative leaders that they perceived as gutting the most central reform by creating a public financing system that applied only to the state comptroller’s office.

“We still have this opportunity,” Stewart-Cousins said, “and what we’re here saying is we need to do what we know needs to be done.”

Publication date: 
Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 00:00