Good Government Groups Present Ethics Reform Plan

Could State Legislators soon face outside income restrictions similar to those of congressional representatives? Good government groups hope so-joining together Monday, to put forth their proposed plan for ethics reform. Nick Reisman has more.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Governor Andrew Cuomo's amended budget would force a new level of income disclosure for state lawmakers. But the good-government advocates say Cuomo is not going far enough. 

"We think New York is in its own Watergate moment right now and actually seize that moment and enact meaningful strict reforms on outside income," said NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner.

The latest ethics push in Albany comes after the arrest of then-Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges. Silver is accused of masking nearly $4 million of bribes as legal referrals. For the New York Public Interest Research Group, the scandal shows lawmakers should be restricted in earning outside income. 

"Essentially, New York lawmakers can serve two masters. We believe that state lawmakers should serve only one master and that master is the public," said Horner.

Ethics advocates argue it's the only way to ensure state lawmakers are representing their constituents, not outside business interests. 

"If your obligation is first and foremost to the public, it's inconsistent and in fact it's conflicting to represent someone who you have to put their interests ahead of those of the public," said NYPIRG's Russ Haven.

But Cuomo's ethics legislation does not go as far as the good-government advocates would like. The governor's package would require new disclosure and force attorneys and others with private clients to reveal them. 

"It's a part-time Legislature, so you can be a lawyer, yes, and you have clients. But we want to make sure there's not a conflict problem," Cuomo said.

Cuomo is playing hardball by linking the bill to spending in the budget, but state lawmakers have indicated they're willing to back some new disclosure requirements. A broader compromise on the issue could be reached.  

"I think the only way people will feel comfortable with the arrangement now after everything they've seen and all the cases and scandals, tell them who the client is, tell them who is paying you and why," said Cuomo.

Cuomo also wants lawmakers to submit receipts for their travel reimbursements. This, along with the disclosure measures, are tied to actual spending measures  in the $142 billion plan due April 1. 

"There are limits to how far they can go. How you do it is less of a concern than whether or not they do it," said Horner.

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