Bigger, Better Ethics Bill?

Daniel L. Squadron

November 17, 2009

By Elizabeth Benjamin

Feature article in The Daily Politics

Good government advocates today decried the lack of action on ethics reform on the extraordinary session agenda, but also sounded a hopeful note that behind-the-scenes negotiations are underway to strengthen a bill passed by the Assembly earlier this year.

    "The Senate is taking the Silver bill and expanding it and improving it and trying to reach an agreement on a Bigger Better Assembly Ethics Bill," said Citizen Union Executive Director Dick Dadey.

    "We understand (they) are involved in rather intense and heavy negotiations to produce a piece of legislation that both houses can pass."

The Senate bill, which hasn't yet been introduced, is being circulated by Sens. Eric Schneiderman and Dan Squadron.

According to the League of Women Voters' Barbara Bartoletti, the measure would include campaign finance enforcement - a top priority for her organization and the sticking point that prevented the Senate from passing the Assembly bill in September.

The GOP voted en masse against a chapter amendment proposed by Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson that would create a seven-member, Democrat-controlled unit to enforce campaign finance rules. The Republicans considered this a "poison pill," Sen. Frank Padavan called it a partisan star chamber."

NYPIRG's Blair Horner was in rare form at the goo-goo press conference, accusing the much-maligned Legislative Ethics Commission of having a Lake Woebegone standard of self-policing: "Everyone's above average, and no one makes mistakes."

Asked if he's optimistic about an ethics deal this year, Horner said he thinks the lawmakers will first focus on the DRP - an effort he predicted would take "some time" yet (groan), adding:

    "We think this is an issue where we have not heard anything about ideological or philosophical differences between the houses, so we’re hoping that the Kumbaya moment happens soon," Horner said.

Bartoletti then suggested it's likely the governor will bring the Legislature back yet again before the end of the year (double groan), so there's still time to get a deal. Common Cause/NY's Susan Lerner added: "Frankly, we’d like to see a bill that’s agreed on that’s going to pass put on the schedule rather than just a placeholder."