Tuesday, January 28, 2014
By Karen DeWitt : NYS Public Radio/WXXI
A state ethics board has denied requests from groups on both sides of the abortion debate to keep private their donor lists.
The groups, including the pro-choice Family Planning Advocates and the Christian conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, had argued that making public their donor lists could pose a ...
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
By Karen DeWitt : NYS Public Radio/WXXI
New York's state ethics commission met Tuesday, and spent most of its time in a private session, as a key appointee of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver resigned from the board.
Thursday, May 02, 2013
A former prosecutor in then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office is resigning her post as executive director of the state’s Joint Committee on Public Ethics. Ellen Biben has led the ethics panel since its launch in February of last year, and is the second member to resign in recent weeks.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Karen DeWitt : NYS Public Radio/WXXI
The state’s ethics board is coming under criticism as it launches an investigation that’s believed to focus on a sexual harassment scandal in the Assembly. The secrecy rules imposed in the laws governing the commission are causing some unanticipated problems.
Friday, September 07, 2012
A state judge on Friday opened up the scope of the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations leveled against Assemblyman Vito Lopez, including the payout settlement approved by Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
The attorney for women who agreed to settlements in a New York Assembly sexual harassment scandal says she has received subpoenas from the state government ethics panel.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
The state's ethics panel emerged from a two-hour, closed-door meeting on Tuesday without commenting on whether it will investigate a sexual harassment scandal in the Assembly.
Monday, September 03, 2012
By Bob Hennelly
As New York's Democratic delegates and party leaders settle in for a week of party celebration in Charlotte, the group is operating against a backdrop of distress as the sexual harassment scandal involving Assemblyman Vito Lopez grew to include Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is hosting the delegation this week.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
By Karen DeWitt, New York State Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief
The seemingly recession proof business of lobbying grew once again in New York last year. The state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics found a total of $220 million was spent to influence the Governor and members of the legislature.
In particular, JCOPE found that a lobbying group closely associated with the Governor’s policies, The Committee to Save New York, was the biggest spender in 2011. The group, made up of business interests, financed nearly $12 million worth of lobbying and advertising campaigns.
In second place, is the health care workers union SEIU 1199, which spent nearly $7 million dollars on lobbying. Most of the largest lobbying clients were health care or education concerns.
Also on the top ten lobbying expenditure list: Wal-Mart and New Yorkers United for Marriage. The state approved same-sex marriage in June of last year.
Among the highest paying clients: the gambling conglomerate Genting, which wants to expand the Aqueduct race track’s gambling capacity, and Rudin Management, a major real estate firm.
The top lobbying firms include many with ties to government leaders. For example the firm of the Assembly Speaker’s former press secretary, Patricia Lynch Associates, netted nearly $8 million dollars form lobbying clients.
The report can be read here: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/pubs/annualreport2011/2011%20Annual%20Report.pdf
Thursday, February 02, 2012
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics announced today that it picked Inspector General Ellen Biben to be its new Executive Director. The move has reportedlyirked some lawmakers because of Biben's close ties to Governor Andrew Cuomo. He appointed her to the IG post, and she worked alongside him as a special deputy of public integrity when he was Attorney General.
But at least one good-government group is praising the commission and the Governor's pick: the League of Women Voters.
The League supported the establishment of JCOPE and its strong oversight role as a step toward restoring trust in state government. We believe the appointment of Ms. Biben will contribute to that goal.
Former Chief Judge Judith Kay--the first woman to be a chief judge, and a Cuomo I appointee--said of Biben, "Ellen and I worked closely together for well over a year on an important public integrity investigation. Based on my daily experience with her, I found her to be a consummate professional, totally trustworthy, and knowledgeable in the law. Ellen's experience and integrity make her the perfect person for this position."
A JCOPE spokesperson said that Biben will resign her position as inspector general.
Speak Silver is on board with the Biben pick:
I respect the independence and integrity of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and honor its decision to name Ellen Biben as its new executive director. A former federal prosecutor, Ms. Biben is a highly qualified individual who is well respected by her peers throughout the legal community. I believe she will be a fair and capable executive director who will help hold our government to the highest ethical standards.
Friday, December 16, 2011
On Fred Dicker's radio show yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo responded to some of thecriticism his pick to chair the new JCOPE ethics panel has been receiving. To be fair, many picks for the committee have been catching heat, but chairwoman Janet DiFiore, the Westchester District Attorney, has drawn the editorial equivalent of scandalized eyebrows raising over her role as president of the state's district attorney association.
Questions about her role as a potential Albany lobbyist heading the commission that regulates Albany lobbyists did not sit well with the Governor.
"She is a sitting district attorney, which, by the way, you can't make an appointment to this body that instills more credibility and seriousness than a sitting DA. But as a sitting DA, she's an elected official. As an elected official, she runs for office. She raises money. From lobbyists, from bankers, from lawyers who appear before her, from accountants, from people on the street," Cuomo noted. "Every DA in the state, Attorney General, judges all raise money. But now maybe you couldn't be an ethics chairperson? With, by the way, no criminal jurisdiction, and no civil jurisdiction--a much less impactful position."
The Governor sort of sidestepped the DiFiore-as-potential-lobbyist issue, but what followed gave a bit of insight into why his office operates the way does. As I and others have noted before, the Governor is a master political operator. A significant amount of his work is done out of public sight--something the press has been critical of. The tax reform package is a perfect example: the actual bill wasn't seen by the public, let alone many--most?--lawmakers, until 26 minutes before it was set to be voted on.
But, from the Governor's point of view, getting it done this way--not hammered out day and night, in full view of the public (i.e. the press), having every single person weigh in--was the most effective way. Government worked. If that's the goal--to make government work--sometimes you have to close the door.
You can hear the frustration in Cuomo's voice over the scuttlebutt made over DiFiore. After his breakdown of why he finds the criticism "nonsensical" he gives insight into the belief that defends his pick to chair JCOPE and keeps massive tax overhauls under wraps until less than a half-hour before it gets passed by the state legislature.
Here Cuomo is discussing the impact of the hyper-scrutiny of government and how that affects bringing good people into it:
Why subject yourself to this? Why? Well, I want to make society better. In Albany, in this process? That's part of what I've been battling...
To the extent that we are enhancing the reputation of state government in Albany…that actually helps me in the recruitment process...If good people come then government is actually improved. But part of it is this, just negativity and nonsensical criticism for the sake of criticism.
I'm sure there would be a healthy gap between what the Governor may consider "nonsensical criticism," and what reporters and good government groups see as necessary. Still, it's interesting to see the wheels turning, even if it's just glimpse through a crack in the door.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
By Yasmeen Khan
The members of New York's new ethics panel, named Monday by Governor Andrew Cuomo, reported for their first day of work on Tuesday. The 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, replaces the state's Commission on Public Integrity which officially went out of business more than three months ago (critics say that panel, created by Eliot Spitzer in 2007, was too tightly controlled by the governor).
Governor Cuomo touts JCOPE as "an independent monitor that will aggressively investigate corruption and help maintain integrity in state government." Here's a quick overhead view on how JCOPE will work:
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Since its appointment announcement yesterday, the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics has been criticized for some of the people picked by elected officials to serve on the commission that oversees elected officials in Albany. Here are some of the appointments that are raising the biggest questions:
1. Ravi Batra – appointed by Senate Minority Leader John Sampson
The biggest red flag being waved about Batra was his connection to incarcerated former Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman. Norman worked at Barta’s law firm, before being let go shortly after arrests were made that eventually led to Norman’s conviction on corruption charges. But it’s Batra’s position as a Democratic insider with connections to everyone, including as a fundraiser for the man that appointed him and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau praised Barta in a letter of recommendation for the position, saying, “His independent judgment, informed by real life, will serve the best interests of New Yorkers who deserve a government that above all serves the public good.”
But Chris Owens, a Brooklyn Democratic Party official, said the move raised serious questions about both the appointee and the elected official who appointed him: “Why would John Sampson, after all the questions about the Aqueduct scandal which everyone’s trying to put behind them, nominate somebody who has any kind of taint attached to his name?”
2. David Renzi – appointed by Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb
Back in 2008, as a candidate running for State Senate against then-Senator Darrel Aubertine, Renzi was accused of inappropriately accruing retirement credit with the State as an employee of Pamelia, New York, even though he wasn’t technically an employee. At the time of the report in the Watertown Daily Times, both of Renzi’s partners in his law firm were being investigated by the State Comptroller’s office for similar violations.
Renzi defended himself against the accusations, saying, "I have always held myself to highest ethical standards." The Pamelia town supervisor, Lawrence Longway, said Renzi is still employed by the town as an attorney and that the issue was overblown during an election year.
“It wasn’t like he was getting so much money from us and getting benefits on top,” Longway said. “Everyone in this area laughed, because if there’s anyone in this area that doesn’t give money away, it’s me.”
But that didn’t stop Aubertine from airing attack ads back in 2008 that accused Renzi of unethical behavior.
Additionally, Renzi’s wife is reported to be employed by State Senator Patty Ritchie, which the Watertown Daily Times has Dick Dadey of Citizens Union quoted raising concerns over:
For a JCOPE appointee to have his spouse employed by a state senator, while legal, crosses the line ethically…It doesn't look good to have such a tight association between an appointee and a state senator, over whom one has oversight.
3. Mary Lou Rath and Mitra Hormozi – appointed by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Governor Andrew Cuomo, respectively
While neither Rath nor Hormozi were specifically targeted in the past over ethics (in fact, Hormozi was lauded by some for her work in the AG’s office), both violate a rule that says elected officials and government employees need to be out of Government for at least three years to be allowed to serve on JCOPE.
Rath was a State Senator from Erie County until she retired in 2008. Technically, she was in office until January 2009, when the current Senator, Michael Ranzenhofer, succeeded her, meaning she has at the time of her appointment not been out of government the full three years.
Hormozi served as the Attorney General’s special deputy chief of staff under Andrew Cuomo, before heading up the now-defunct New York State Commission on Public Integrity. This would make her ineligible under the rules.
Now, it’s not that everyone on the panel is facing fierce scrutiny. In fact two people in particular were highlighted as perfect picks for such a commission:
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Today on "The Capitol Pressroom":
- We’ll take a look at the new crop of commissioners tapped to run JCOPE.
- This year CSEA President Danny Donohue has walked a fine line between supporting the Governor’s programs, including last week’s package of tax reforms, and criticizing him on issues like pension reform. Today we speak with this long-time labor leader about his expectations for the coming session.
- Apparently there are loads of ways that New York State can help you pay for college. Unfortunately, they’re hidden behind walls of bureaucracy. Today the Chairperson of the Assembly Higher Education Committee Deborah Glick and former Assistant Vice President of Financial Aid Services at HESC, Brian Matthews, will help to unearth these funding gems.