Cuomo, legislative leaders announce agreement on ethics reforms package

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced an agreement Friday night on a five-point ethics reform plan, including a deal on pension forfeiture for “any public officer.”

After repeatedly failing to vote on the same bill, the plan calls for the state Legislature to adopt a joint resolution that will require pension forfeiture if “any legislator or policymaker” is convicted of a crime related to their office. Without the bill language, it is unclear whether this only pertains to lawmakers or if it also includes state workers.

There was also an agreement last year on pension forfeiture, but the bill ultimately failed to be passed by both houses.

“Today, we have taken another critical step forward in restoring the public trust and giving hard-working New Yorkers a government they can be proud of,” state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a statement. “Under our agreement, elected officials and policymakers who commit a felony will no longer be eligible for a public pension, a priority of our Senate Republican Conference since we first passed the measure last year.”

The deal includes independent expenditure reforms that would strengthen the definition of “coordination” between independent expenditures and candidates. Independent spending groups cannot be run by the candidate’s family members or former staffers and also requires independent spenders to report the identity of anyone exerting control over the group.

The deal did not include a proposal to close the so-called “LLC loophole,” despite the fact Cuomo had pushed for its closure earlier this month in an email and suggested six different ways to close the loophole.

“This reform package includes new disclosure requirements and stiffer penalties that will shine a light on what now is the shadowy intersection of government, lobbying, and political consulting,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Together, this legislation will help bring more transparency, trust and faith to state government.”

The plan also establishes disclosure requirements for political consultants, strengthens requirements and increases penalties for lobbying violations. The agreement lowers the lobbying financial threshold for lobbying organizations from $50,000 to $15,000 and from $25,000 to $2,500 for lobbying individuals. It also lowers the size of a contribution that triggers JCOPE disclosure from $5,000 to $2,500.

Additionally, it would require 501(c)(4) organizations to disclose financial support and in-kind donations from 501(c)(3) organizations, which are banned from political activity.

The deal also “explicitly excludes communications with journalists, including editorial boards, from the definition of lobbying” and provides for more due process rights for persons under investigation by JCOPE.

“Restoring the public’s trust in our government is essential,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement. “This agreement builds on the accomplishments we enacted last year by further limiting the influence of outside money in our elections and taking pensions away from corrupt public officials.”