The New York legislature recently cooperated with Governor Andrew Cuomo to approve badly needed and long awaited ethics legislation. In recent years Albany has been plagued with one political scandal after another including bribery, illegal gifts, perjury, and more.
The Clean Up Albany Act of 2011 attempts to address New York’s need for more transparency in the legislature. Most notably, the bill will require that part-time legislators report not only how much they earn from their outside business ventures, but also the names of any of their clients who are also doing business with the state. The bill will also create the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which will be the watchdog of ethical standards.
While the efforts of the New York legislature may be commendable, they fall short of the requirements for truly transparent government. As reported by the New York Times, the newly created Joint Commission on Public Ethics is to be composed of six members appointed by the governor and eight members appointed by legislative leaders. In order for an investigation on an elected official to ensue, eight members of the commission must consent, including two members from the party of the accused. This allows legislative leaders to protect their party members from investigations, making this bill all bark and no bite.
Speaking of all bark and no bite, one might be reminded of Georgia’s ethics legislation in 2010. SB 160 required tighter financial disclosure requirements for legislators; however, it did not require them to report any of their clients, making it harder for the public to find out who is in their pocket. They also gave the Ethics Commission a new title, but no new money. In a blog post this Monday we discussed how the commission has received $5,000 in funding to do work that is estimated to cost $421,700!
So it seems that Georgia legislators are not the only ones publicly trumpeting ethics in government yet inserting loopholes in legislation that undermine true honesty and openness in government. At this point it’s up to the constituents to recognize token legislation for what it is and demand real legislation that addresses our need to keep our government accountable.
Written by CCGA Intern: Vineece Verdun