Why We Need the Anti-Corruption Amendment

It is self-evident that our state government should take all reasonable steps to secure public confidence that government is free of corruption.  At this time the public has no reason for such confidence. 

New York voters need the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment (A1282A, S594A) that will secure effective deterrence of corruption.  Action by both Houses on the Anti-Corruption Amendment is required to give them that chance. 

Limitations of Current Anti-Corruption Measures

Robust and independent ethics enforcement can be a strong deterrent to corruption, but the current ethics enforcement bodies lack needed independence and protection from political control.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC) were established in 2011 with the stated goal of cleaning up New York state government, but these bodies have not stemmed New York’s corruption problem.   Top state legislative leaders have been convicted of corruption as have top state employees entrusted by the Governor with great responsibilities.  JCOPE and LEC have failed to deter corruption because they were designed to fail.

All of their members are appointed by the officials they regulate.     JCOPE has 14 members evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.  As few as two of the Governor’s appointees and three of the legislative leaders’ appointees can veto an investigation or adverse finding.  Appointing authorities are free to tell their appointees how to vote.  Executive Directors can be and often are former top aides to the Governor.  The Chair serves at the pleasure of the Governor.

The State Inspector General (SIG) is not a reliable  deterrent.  The SIG reports to the Secretary to the Governor, which undermines public confidence that the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) will take action contrary to the interests of the Governor.

Just recently OSIG showed its lack of independence by failing adequately to investigate a claim of improper disclosure to the Governor that a JCOPE Commissioner had voted in a matter affecting the Governor in a way that caused  him to complain about her vote.

The Governor recognized this inadequacy when, in the wake of numerous corruption scandals involving state officials, he appointed a Commission to Investigate Public Corruption in 2013.  He said it would restore public confidence that New York government meets the highest legal and ethical standards.  Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect when he disbanded it before it had finished its work.

The Proposed Anti-Corruption Constitutional Amendment 

The Anti-Corruption Amendment is structured to provide effective deterrence to governmental corruption and improve public confidence in government. The Anti-Corruption Amendment would establish a thirteen member commission that would replace both JCOPE and LEC and oversee both the legislative and executive branches.

Most important, the Commission will be independent:

  • As is the case with the effective Commission on Judicial Conduct, where a minority of the members are appointed by the judiciary, a minority of the members of the new enforcement body will be appointed by the Governor and the legislative leaders.  The majority will be appointed by persons the Commission does not regulate, the judiciary. 

  • There will be at least one Commissioner who is not a member of any political party. 

  • Voting will be by the majority without political veto by a minority.   

  • Appointing authorities will be barred from communicating directly or indirectly with their appointees.  

  • No person employed by the state within the past five years can serve as Executive Director. 

  • The Commissioners, not the Governor, will choose one of their number to be Chair.

The Commission will also have teeth:

  • In addition to fines It will have the power to impose disciplinary sanctions up to removal from office for non-elected state employees. 

  • It may fine and censure elected officials and recommend their removal through constitutional mechanisms. 

  • State employees will have a duty to report misconduct and will be protected as confidential whistleblowers. 

  • Once probable cause is found, adjudicatory hearings will be public.    

Adopting the Anti-Corruption Amendment will make New York a leader in its commitment to deter corruption.  No state will have a stronger law.  It is time to go beyond tinkering and smoke and mirrors and enshrine in the Constitution an enforcement body with independence and real enforcement.

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