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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Ethics board proposes sweeping, landmark campaign finance measure

ALBANY - ALBANY -- The state's ethics board Thursday proposed a potentially sweeping reform that would prohibit elected officials from accepting campaign contributions from companies and individuals subject to the officials' investigations, audits and other enforcement power.

"It is the single greatest piece of campaign finance reform that I have seen in my 20 years in Albany," said David Grandeau, an attorney and former executive director of the state lobbying commission, who has been a frequent critic of the ethics board.

The proposal by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics states that governors, attorneys general, comptrollers and legislative leaders would be prohibited from accepting campaign cash from "someone who could be subject to the official's enforcement powers." Other aspects of the proposal refer to companies and individuals that are the "active subject of enforcement powers." The proposal fails to define if that means an official can't accept donations from a company or person already under investigation or simply within the jurisdiction of the official.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman already requires contributors to sign a document that states they aren't under investigation and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli prohibits the state pension fund from doing business with investment advisers who contribute to candidates running for comptroller.

JCOPE's proposal would rescind a 1998 ruling by its predecessor board that exempted elected officials from the state Public Officers Law while campaigning. The Public Officers Law prohibits state officials "from engaging in activity that creates a conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict, with respect to their public responsibilities."

The measure could be most restrictive to the attorney general and comptroller, whose enforcement powers for investigations and audits cover most corporations in the state. JCOPE is led by appointees and former staffers of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has had a rocky relationship with Schneiderman and DiNapoli.

Spokesmen for Cuomo, Schneiderman, DiNapoli and legislative leaders had no immediate comment.

"It seems like a good idea," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "But it's very, very narrow, like a laser beam, and it seems to be a beam directed at the attorney general and comptroller."

"It may be more smoke than fire," he said.



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