Common Cause/NY Testimony for Ethics Oversight and Enforcement Hearing

NEW YORK, NY (07/12/2021) (readMedia)-- Today, Common Cause/NY Executive Director, Susan Lerner, submitted testimony before the New York Senate Senate Ethics Committee about New York State's system of ethics oversight and enforcement. The full testimoney, as written, is below and here.

New York State's System of Ethics Oversight and Enforcement Hearing


July 12th, 2021

As many of our esteemed partners have undoubtedly noted and presented in excruciating detail, the state of ethics oversight and enforcement is so lax it is, in effect, nonexistent. The New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) is operating as it was intended- a farcical structure that was created through political wheeling dealing by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver who've both since been convicted on federal corruption charges.

Reforming JCOPE is no longer an option, it must be torn down and replaced with something entirely new that instills confidence in New Yorkers and is not the punchline to a bad joke. We must break the cycle where demand for ethics reform results in an ineffective entity being replaced with a new ineffective entity. Our testimony therefore will not focus on JCOPE's greatest failures, but instead focus on the road ahead:

Ethics oversight must be truly independent. The status quo is simply broken. While this will require a constitutional amendment, it is imperative a balance be struck so that the public has confidence in any future ethics oversight body. Commissioners can not be indebted to their political appointer and function as a rubber stamp for that elected official.

Any future ethics oversight body must expand to represent the millions of New Yorkers who are politically unaffiliated voters. The current appointment structure for Commissioners is simply a function of the two major political parties despite the fact that there are more politically unaffiliated voters than registered Republican voters statewide.

The leadership of the future ethics oversight body should reflect New York. There needs to be diversity from the top down which should reflect the geographic, gender and ethnic diversity of the state.

Ethics oversight must be accompanied by enforcement ability.

We commend Senator Biaggi for convening this public hearing and hope to see an ongoing public conversation that will shape the future of ethics oversight in New York.