Ethics Reform Must Be Made Into Law With Significant Consequences

Legislative Column from Assemblyman Marc W. Butler (R,C,I,Ref-Newport)
March 5, 2018

The corruption case involving Gov. Cuomo’s close aide Joseph Percoco is now in the stage of jury deliberation. Most good government watchdog groups and other reformers are waiting with bated breath to hear the final verdict as to whether Mr. Percoco is guilty of taking $315,000 in bribes.

This case is only the latest federal trial involving a public official, while years before it was former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Majority Leader of the Senate Dean Skelos, who are both awaiting retrial. There have also been arrests of numerous elected officials for various charges of public corruption and the misuse of public dollars meant to serve and aid the people of our state.

Even as the Percoco trial was unfolding, the New York Times reported the governor armed his campaign coffers with funds collected from his political appointees, despite there being an executive order prohibiting both donations to the governor and efforts to fundraise on his behalf. This was a ban Cuomo took up himself when sworn as governor, as the executive order first originated from former Gov. Spitzer. Spitzer is not exactly the paragon of ethics and morality, but he did have the right idea here.

From his own appointees, Gov. Cuomo amassed at least $4.4 million into his campaign account. These questionable donations were suspiciously tied to periods right before an individual was appointed by the governor. In fact half of the collected total, $2.2 million, was donated before an appointment was received. The other $2.2 million was donated after these appointees held their positions, often around re-appointment. There were several occasions where his appointees were named to the committees of fundraising events with their names atop invitations, violating the prohibition of fundraising for the governor. The appeal of these appointments to various state boards is that they wield significant power, weighing in on how the state spends billions in numerous areas from the arts to housing.

The governor over the years has touted himself as a reformer, yet little has been accomplished in the way of reform. The governor and others have entangled themselves in so many compromising activities and behaviors that it is doubtless reforms are as serious to them as they are for the people of this state.

The sad truth is that corruption is synonymous with New York State government. Many of my colleagues of both houses and both sides of the aisle are here for the right reasons – to serve others rather than themselves. However, our work is being weighed down and marred by the efforts of officials breaking the law and breaking the public trust. So it is time for rank and file members to stand up and demand reform.

We have frameworks that can be adopted immediately, such as the Public Officers Accountability Act (A.5864), which I sponsor. This legislation would create some of most stringent ethics reforms in our country. Its provisions target campaign finance reform, set term limits of legislative leaders and create tougher penalties for those who would break the public trust. As we can see with the governor’s violation of his own executive order on donations from appointees, executive orders have no teeth and no real consequence. We need to pass real reform in the form of legislation to make it law.

I welcome your input on this or any other legislative issue. Please contact me at my district office at 315-866-1632 or by email at butlerm@nyassembly.gov.