Joe Bruno corruption case sparks talks on ethics reform

Daniel L. Squadron

November 25, 2009

By Kenneth Lovett

Feature article in The Daily News

ALBANY - The Joe Bruno federal corruption trial has sparked a new round of talks on ethics reform, the Daily News has learned.

Sens. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan) and Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn) have quietly been circulating a bill to overhaul the state's porous ethics law.

"Out of crisis comes ... opportunity," Schneiderman said, also crediting The News' "State of Shame" series.

After three weeks of testimony, a jury began deliberating yesterday on whether Bruno, the Senate majority leader for 14 years, used his office to pocket $3.2 million in consulting contracts and failed to disclose the conflicts.

Jurors late yesterday decided to break for the Thanksgiving Day weekend and will start again on Monday.

Squadron said the fact the feds brought this case, as well as a number of others against lawmakers in recent years, is proof state oversight laws need major fixing.

"I call it the Bruno gap, and it needs to be filled," Squadron said.

The draft bill would abolish the much-criticized Public Integrity Commission and replace it with two different bodies - one to oversee the executive branch and another the lobbying industry.

A third commission, with an independent investigatory arm, would be created to police the Legislature.

That commission also would have the power to randomly review lawmakers' financial disclosure forms.

Any recommendations investigators made would be public, a change from current law.

Lawmakers would also be subject to more stringent public disclosure laws.

For the first time, they would be required to publicly report the range of their outside income.

Lawmakers with consulting businesses, like Bruno, would be required to list all clients, their compensation level and what services they did for them.

The bill would not require legislators who are lawyers, like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, to list their clients. Schneiderman, a lawyer, said that's because of lawyer-client issues.

The bill has an anti-nepotism provision that would bar the hiring of relatives of elected officials to high-level positions in the same house or for state jobs with salaries over $84,000.

The bill would also revamp the toothless Board of Elections and make it easier for investigations to move forward.

Discussions between both houses are ongoing, Assembly majority spokesman Dan Weiller said.

"The last series of scandals, the Bruno trial, have really made even the most hard-hearted cynical Albany insiders conclude something needs to be done," Schneiderman said. "These scandals have really empowered the reformers here."