Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed to “blow up” the state’s dysfunctional ethics panel, but the “reforms” announced in her budget deal with legislative leaders fall far short.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, JCOPE, was mocked as JJOKE for one central reason: The very people it was supposed to police — the governor and state lawmakers, in particular — got to pick its members. That lack of independence rendered it toothless from the moment it began 11 years ago.
JCOPE’s three main architects included two legislative leaders, Shelly Silver and Dean Skelos, who both later went to prison on federal corruption charges, plus Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also driven from office over his own numerous ethical lapses.
Hochul vowed to replace JCOPE with a real, hard-nosed, independent watchdog. But lawmakers insisted on retaining their role in picking commissioners — to make sure the panel never came after them.
They shot down Hochul’s plan to have the state’s law-school deans choose the panel’s commissioners the moment she proposed it, giving the deans only the right to “vet” the names for any “issues,” as state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins puts it.
Hochul insists the deans won’t be “a rubber stamp,” and she did win improvements like greater transparency on the panel’s decision-making and better staff training.
Nice try, gov, but as long as its members are chosen by the people they’re supposed to police, it’ll be hard to see the new Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government as truly “independent.”
The acronym CELG may end the JCOPE-JJOKE schtick, but the new ethics body is all too likely to deserve the same contempt.
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