ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new law Monday to strengthen ethics enforcement for New York state officials and workers.
The measure, which the Democratic governor proposed and lawmakers approved, establishes a new 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics to oversee and investigate compliance by lawmakers. It will also monitor statewide elected officials as well as executive branch and legislative employees while overseeing registration and conduct of lobbyists.
Six members will be chosen by the governor, with at least three from a different political party. Eight will be selected by legislative leaders: four Democrats and four Republicans.
Those functions have been handled by the Commission on Public Integrity, which will close, and the Legislative Ethics Commission, which will have authority to impose penalties following the new panel’s investigations. Until the new group is up and running, expected in four months, the current integrity commission with a staff of 46 and with 61 pending cases is stopping investigations and hearings but will continue to collect information.
Cuomo made “cleaning up Albany” a major theme of his 2010 election campaign.
“This new ethics reform law brings an aggressive new approach to returning integrity to the halls of our Capitol,” Cuomo said. “It provides for much-needed disclosure of outside income by lawmakers, creates an independent monitor to investigate corruption, and issues strong new rules for lobbyists.”
The law requires legislators to disclose more about their private outside income and their law firm clients that have business with the state. Financial disclosures to the commission will be published on the Internet.
A majority of eight board members is required to initiate an investigation, with a decision required within 45 days of receiving complaints or referrals.
The group can impose civil penalties in executive branch cases, refers legislative findings to the Legislative Ethics Commission for penalties, and where enough evidence is found must refer cases for prosecution. Investigative reports on lawmakers must be made public within 45 days of filing, and the legislative panel will have to disclose publicly what it did and why 90 days later.
Public officials could be forced to forfeit their pensions for felonies related to their office.
Anyone who has been a registered lobbyist within the previous three years, a statewide elected official, state legislator or political party chairman is ineligible for the board. So is anyone who has been a state officer or employee within the previous year.
The new commission and staff will be covered by confidentiality restrictions, and violations of those restrictions are Class A misdemeanors.
New provisions for lobbyists require disclosing the names of every state official and employee with whom they have a “reportable business relationship” over $1,000. The definition of lobbying is expanded to include advocacy to affect the introduction of legislation or resolutions. Lobbyists acting on their own behalf, rather than those hired specifically by a client, will have to disclose each source of funding over $5,000 for that lobbying.
Various nonprofit groups are exempt, specifically including those involved in civil rights and civil liberties issues.
The law directs the state Board of Elections to issue regulations by Jan. 1 clarifying requirements for individuals, corporations, political committees and other entities to disclose independent spending for advertisements or any other type of advocacy that expressly identifies a political candidate or ballot proposal and that is not coordinated or approved by the candidate in question.
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