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Cuomo’s latest scandal proves NY’s ethics laws are a total joke

What’s the point of having an ethics enforcement agency? To make sure that elected officials follow the law.

What’s the point of having an independent ethics enforcement agency? To make sure that justice isn’t obstructed by elected officials.

What’s the point of Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), New York’s independent ethics enforcement agency? Apparently there isn’t one.

Recently, news got out that after JCOPE held a confidential vote to determine whether or not to investigate one of Cuomo’s former aides, Speaker Heastie’s counsel confronted one of the Speaker’s appointees about her vote, which apparently was in favor of investigation. If true, this would mean that someone in JCOPE illegally leaked information about the vote to the Governor’s office, who told the Speaker’s office, who confronted the board member.

New York’s Inspector General, a Cuomo appointee, launched an inquiry – notably without interviewing Cuomo or Heastie – and wasn’t able to substantiate the allegation. The inquiry was apparently a joke, as just yesterday, Cuomo would not deny having been told about the vote. Speaker Heastie himself acknowledged last week that Cuomo had previously alluded to “something” with JCOPE, though he didn’t know what specifically. While the criminal liability is likely with the leaker, the whole fiasco confirms what most experts have known all along: JCOPE is not a serious enforcement agency. It serves largely to protect powerful people and their surrogates from prosecution.

State Senator Liz Krueger has a bill that would dissolve JCOPE (and the Legislative Ethics Commission) and establish a new, more independent enforcement agency. Despite wide support from good government groups, the Governor has yet to show any interest.

In other news…

  • In case you missed it, the Public Campaign Finance Commission held its final vote on the state’s new campaign finance program, and it is a true abomination. You can have your donation matched if you donate to a candidate within your district, but not if you donate to a candidate outside your district. With $6,000 per-cycle contribution limits for Assembly candidates, that basically means your contribution won’t matter at all.
  • Michael Blake, a Bronx Assemblyman running for Congress and no stranger to scandal, has been hitting up taxpayers for his travel. A Crain’s investigation found that the Assemblyman had been seeking reimbursements for trips to Albany while he’d actually been traveling out of state building up his national profile (Blake claims the trips were for “official business”). There have yet to be any announcements of investigations. Please see earlier description of JCOPE.
  • CORRECTION: Yesterday’s statement about the Commission’s proposal put the presidential contribution limit at $2,600. The limit is $2,800 per election and $5,600 per cycle. We regret the error.

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The Take

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