ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)– The Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government was created just last year to replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics group. However, a new ruling said the independent oversight group has too much power and not enough oversight.
“His basic argument is that the governor cannot cede authority to other people. That the commission has to stay under her thumb unless there is a constitutional amendment which would change the whole system,” explained Blair Horner, Legislative Director of NYPIRG.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by Andrew Cuomo after J-COPE, the previous ethics commission he created, charged him with violations over his pandemic published book “American Crisis.”
“What triggered the lawsuit is the former governor’s efforts to protect his $5 million dollar book deal what has been under scrutiny by the previous ethics commission and the current ethics commission because there is an allegation that the governor violated the rules of the book deal and pocketed the money in an unfair way,” said Horner.
Now, New York State Supreme Court Justice, Thomas Marcelle, ruled in Cuomo’s favor, noting the commission answers to no elected officials, removing enforcement power from current Governor Kathy Hochul.
Cuomo’s spokesperson released a statement saying, “As we’ve said all along, this was nothing more than an attack by those who abused their government positions unethically and – as the judge ruled [Monday] – unconstitutionally for political purposes.”
The decision essentially renders the ethics commission obsolete. Blair Horner said this raises all sorts of questions.
“If the courts rule that the judge is right, obviously that blows up ethics enforcement in New York State and we are back to the drawing board,” said Horner. “If the courts overrule this decision, it’s possible too. Then I think the debate over how to better enforce ethics in New York will continue to chug along, but it won’t have the same sort of violent impact of blowing up the state ethics commission that essentially the judges decision found.”
The ethics commission’s chair and executive director saying in a statement:
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s result and are reviewing all options, including, if appropriate, interim legislation…The Commission intends to move forward, deliberately and with zeal, to fulfill its mission to restore New Yorkers’ faith in government…”
Hochul’s spokesperson said they are working with the commission to support an appeal.