The newly-established New York Commission on Ethics in Lobbying and Government recently took over as the state’s regulator of lobbying and government ethics, replacing the old Joint Commission on Public Ethics. This change in the enforcer and a new group of commissioners could spell more rigorous enforcement of the state’s lobbying disclosure and ethics rules.
The new body was created by the Ethics Commission Reform Act of 2022, a portion of the state budget bill enacted this spring. While there are no changes to any substantive law, the effort is part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to clean up the operations of the ethics regulator and increase its transparency and independence.
Its creation comes after the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“JCOPE”) faced controversy over enforcement of public ethics and lobbying laws.
As part of the reforms, members of the new commission will be barred from making or soliciting contributions to candidates, PACs, parties, committees, newsletter funds, or political advertisements for candidates for the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, the Legislature, Attorney General, and Comptroller. The members, who will serve for staggered terms, will elect a chairperson to serve for a two-year term.
The Governor, state Senate, Assembly, Comptroller, and Attorney General will each submit nominees for the 11-member commission. This number is down from the 14-member composition of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, but adds appointments by the Comptroller and Attorney General. The nominations will then be reviewed by law school deans for approval or denial. Gov. Hochul announced her first two proposed appointees last week.
Although the changes do not alter or revoke any regulations or advisory opinions, the commission has the authority to adopt, amend, and rescind rules and regulations. The commission also has the power to develop training programs on ethics and lobbying. We expect the commission might make an early effort to show its independence by making changes to the regulations or announcing new enforcement initiatives, but time will tell.