Senate Gives Final Passage To Ethics Reform Legislation

Thomas P. Morahan

March 07, 2007

New York State Senator Thomas P. Morahan announced that theNew York State Senate has given final legislative passage to landmark legislation that creates new ethics and lobbying reforms in state government. The legislation (S.2876) represents an agreement reached earlier this year between the Legislature and the Executive that implements higher ethical standards for public officials, significantly strengthens penalties for ethics violations and establishes an independent public integrity panel to enforce ethics and lobbying laws.

"These reforms build on those earlier efforts and continue our commitment to promoting ethical and responsible government that is accountable to New York’s hardworking taxpayers, " said Senator Morahan.

The agreed upon legislation significantly reforms current lobbying and ethics laws, including:

> Prohibits all gifts from lobbyists and their clients of more than nominal value, including travel, lodging and other expenses, and broadens the types of lobbying activities that lobbyists must disclose;

> Prohibits all gifts of more than "nominal value" from non-lobbyists to public officials where such gifts might appear designed to influence the official;

> Bans virtually all honoraria for statewide elected officials, agency heads and legislators;

> Prohibits state employees from participating in any personnel decision or contracting matter concerning a relative;

> Bars non-legislative employees from asking about the political affiliation, contributions or voting records of prospective employees;

> Prohibits non-legislative employees from using their authority or influence to "compel or induce" any other employee to make political contributions;

> Prevents agency heads from becoming a candidate for any compensated elective office unless they resign or take an unpaid leave of absence;

> Prohibits elected government officials and candidates for elected local, state or federal office from appearing in taxpayer-funded advertisements; and

> Closes the "revolving door" loophole by prohibiting former legislative employees from directly lobbying the Legislature for two years, and expands the revolving door restrictions for Executive Chamber employees to preclude appearances before any state agency.

The agreement also strengthens penalties for violations of the state Public Officers Law and state Lobbying Law. The maximum civil penalty for public officers who commit ethics violations will be increased from $10,000 to $40,000 plus the value of any associated gain. Lobbyists who repeatedly flout lobbying laws will be subject to suspension.

The agreement combines the current State Ethics Commission and State Lobbying Commission and creates a new State Commission on Public Integrity with broad authority to enforce ethics and lobbying laws. It would also replace the current Legislative Ethics Committee with a new Legislative Ethics Commission that has a majority of independent members and new disclosure requirements.

Two years ago, the State enacted an historic procurement lobbying reform law sponsored by Senator Winner that implemented comprehensive reforms to more effectively regulate the lobbying of government contracts. At the time, it represented the most sweeping reform and overhaul of the State’s lobbying law in generations.