New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo kicked off his campaign last weekend by saying lawmakers in Albany need a healthy dose of ethics reform — a claim that has been repeatedly documented by the Center for Public Integrity’s States of Disclosure project.
In announcing that he was a candidate for governor, Cuomo promised to require more disclosure of lawmakers’ outside financial interests and pledged to create an independent commission to investigate ethics violations. Those initiatives would help improve the grade of C that New York received in last year’s Center survey, and a previous version in 2006.
The project ranks states according to the depth and detail of their personal disclosure laws for legislators. The Empire State is far from the bottom, but clearly has room for improvement. New York placed 16th out of all 50 states in the project last year with a score of 74, losing potential points for not requiring detailed disclosure of lawmakers’ outside income, or requiring any information on clients.
In what Cuomo has dubbed his “New NY Agenda,” the attorney general calls for greater disclosure of sources and clients that contribute to legislators’ income outside their official capacity. Like many states, New York’s legislature meets part time and elected officials often hold outside paid positions. Such an arrangement can lead to conflicts of interest between a legislator’s public duties and private financial gain.
Under current requirements, New York legislators are required to fill out employment information, including job titles and names of employers, but do not have to publicly disclose how much money they receive. Adding that requirement would increase New York’s score by a maximum of 5 points in the Center project. Similar dollar value requirements for other areas of disclosure — investments, real estate, and employment — could boost the state’s score by 10 points. Such improvements could potentially raise New York’s grade to a B, up to 7th place, with 84 points.
Since the Center first began reporting on state financial disclosure laws in 1999, New York’s requirements have remained largely unchanged. Gov. David Paterson tried unsuccessfully to push through ethics reforms twice in the past year, but his proposals lacked any significant changes to disclosure requirements.
Cuomo’s plan to toughen New York’s ethics laws would create a single independent ethics commission to replace the current system of dividing enforcement duties among several entities. Cuomo, a Democrat and son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, also vowed to outlaw “pay to play” practices and to reform the state’s campaign finance system.
Cuomo’s campaign office did not respond to requests for comment.