Ethics in the News 2013
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In addition to Ethics in the News, the Ethics Center is now providing links to state-specific ethics newsletters. If your state ethics commission issues a newsletter that you would like the Ethics Center to highlight, please contact us at email@example.com.
ALASKA The Advisor – a bimonthly newsletter issued by the Alaska Ethics Office
LOUISIANA Ethics Quarterly Newsletter – selected opinions from the Louisiana Board of Ethics
KENTUCKY Ethics Reporter – monthly newsletter from the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission
WEST VIRGINIA WV Ethics Review – official newsletter of the West Virginia Ethics Commission, "published from time to time" by the to inform public servants of developments regarding the state’s ethics and open meetings laws
The links to these newsletters and the articles below are provided for information purposes only. NCSL does not endorse any views these news stories provide. Links more than two weeks old may no longer be active. If you are interested in reading an article whose link is inactive, please contact the ethics commission or newspaper in which the story was published.
To view archived versions of Ethics in the News, visit our 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007 links.
Updated November 22, 2013
ALASKA. After lengthy debate, the legislature approved certain legislative staff to use Facebook at work, as long as it is for business purposes. The proceedings of the Legislative Council, the body that approved the policy, cited NCSL recommendations that urge legislators and staff to think through the ethical dilemmas social media can pose.
Alaska Dispatch. November 1, 2013. View story.
ARIZONA. A former house member is suing two county officials, alleging that they violated his right to legislative immunity by charging him with misdemeanors during an altercation with his girlfriend that occurred when he was in office. The member resigned from the legislature last year after an ethics committee recommended expulsion. The committee’s report suggested that the incident was only one in a series of incidents involving his “temper and dishonesty.”
Courthousenews.com. November 18, 2013. View story.
CALIFORNIA. The Senate Rules Committee stripped a member of committee assignments and the Latino Caucus removed him from a leadership position pending the outcome of a federal bribery investigation. The member issued a statement expressing disappointment and noting that he has not been charged with a crime. The Senate President Pro Tem said that the chamber’s ethics committee will wait on conducting an investigation of the member’s conduct at the request of the U.S. attorney’s office.
LA Times. November 13, 2013. View story.
Sacramento Bee. November 15, 2013. View story.
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPCC) is holding hearings on 16 allegations that a senator laundered campaign funds to benefit his brother’s assembly campaign. If he is found guilty, the senator could be fined up to $80,000.
LA Times. November 13, 2013. View story.
A former senate member agreed to a record $60,000 settlement with the FPCC after admitting to using over $26,000 from campaign committees for personal expense and for failing to refund other general election contributions.
Sacramento Bee. November 18, 2013. View story.
COLORADO. The legislature is still dealing with an ethics complaint filed against a lobbyist last February. An ethics committee originally held hearings on the complaint months ago, but the lobbyist walked out of the proceedings, calling it an “unconstitutional tribunal.” In August, the committee sent a letter to leadership saying they were unable to make a final conclusion without the lobbyist’s participation, while noting that the General Assembly has the ability to subpoena witnesses. In October, the lobbyist filed a lawsuit in federal court against the legislature, claiming that his constitutional right to freedom of speech was being violated and that the chamber rule used to justify the complaint is overly broad. In November the lawsuit was refilled, this time naming the six legislative leaders. The legislature’s executive committee then took up the complaint but ultimately dismissed it, noting that making a determination was impossible due to the lobbyist’s refusal to participate in the investigation.
Denver Post. November 19, 2013. View story.
ILLINOIS. At the speaker’s request, the Legislative Ethics Commission is reviewing whether or not he violated conflict of interest rules regarding two separate matters. Some, including a former legislative inspector general, have said that the rules are too vague and that penalties are inadequate. The former staffer called on the legislature to publicize ethics investigations and allow for the censure and suspension of members. The governor also asked the general assembly to consider amending conflict of interest laws this session, but no changes were made.
The Republic. November 10, 2013. View story.
NEW HAMPSHIRE. The legislative ethics committee is examining a complaint that a member used public office for private gain. While serving as senate president, the member accepted a position at a controversial organization that at one time engaged in lobbying. He stepped down from the leadership position but remains in the legislature. The complaint alleges that the member was hired because of his political clout. He has denied that taking the job constitutes a conflict of interest in and of itself and that he will recuse himself from votes that relate to the position.
Concord Patch. October 28, 2013. View story.
Editorial: Bragdon’s new job: legislature rightly OKs ethics probe.
Valley News. November 6, 2013. View story.
OKLAHOMA. A house member voiced opposition to proposals offered by the state ethics commission that would alter lobbyist reporting and registration, conflict of interest and financial disclosure provisions. Specifically, lobbyists’ employers would be permitted to provide $500 to legislators in the form of meals and other gifts (up from $100), with additional exemptions to the rule, and would allow institutions of higher learning to provide two free tickets to various school-related events, including athletics. Another proposal would prevent the commission from investigating complaints during the final days of an election campaign. The commission says the changes will streamline procedures and the reporting system. The member plans to introduce a resolution to disprove the proposals in 2014.
Norman Transcript. November 19, 2013. View story.
SOUTH CAROLINA. The governor held a press conference to push for the passage of ethics reform in 2014. Governor Haley promised not to “bend on” requirements that would tighten income disclosures and create an independent ethics commission. A state senator also spoke at the press conference to discuss the challenges that the house and senate ethics committees face in disciplining members. His prime example was the case of a senator who resigned in the spring. The legislator had to seek advice and counsel from the same legislative ethics committee staff who later had to investigate and prosecute him. The state Democratic Party had harsh words for Haley, claiming that she is “a prime example of why South Carolina so badly needs ethics reform.”
Free-Times. November 14, 2013. View story.
ABCNews4. November 18, 2013. View story.
TEXAS. The attorney general is touting ethics reform as part of his gubernatorial campaign platform. He is championing changes to conflict of interest provisions, voting recusal, increased disclosure requirements, and would like to enable citizens to sue lawmakers who fail to disclose certain conflicts. A spokesman for a liberal ethics watchdog group claims that the state hasn’t seen a proposal this far-reaching “in decades, if ever.” His proposals are affecting the position taken by his opponent, a state senator, as well as the campaign to replace him in the office of the attorney general, where some of the candidates are being scrutinized for certain financial interests.
Texas Tribune. November 14, 2013. View story.
UTAH. Ethics reform once again appears to be on the upcoming Utah legislative agenda. Among the bill drafts requested by legislators are measures that would address legislative subpoena powers, create an independent elections commission, and gift reporting.
UtahPolicy.com. November 12, 2013. View story.
WISCONSIN. The assembly passed a constitutional amendment that would restrict recalls for state and county officials to those charged with crimes or ethics violations. Both the assembly and senate would have to approve the resolution, AJR 25, by the end of next year, then again after a new set of legislators are seated in 2015. The plan would then go to voters for approval in a statewide referendum.
Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. November 15, 2013. View story.
CALIFORNIA. A Senate member is under an investigation by the FBI, an investigation which came to light after his Senate office was searched under warrant. The Legislature’s Latino caucus also received a search warrant. The warrants are sealed. Another Senate member has been subpoenaed in the case.
Huffington Post. June 5, 2013. View story.
LA Times. June 10, 2013. View story.
COLORADO. The Independent Ethics Commission ruled that the Secretary of State misappropriated state funds in using them for a trip to attend a partisan meeting. He claimed the IEC was motivated by partisan ties and was concerned about the commission’s ability to be objective. He was fined twice the disputed amount.
Denver Post. June 14, 2013. View story.
FLORIDA. The ethics commission found that five public officials failed to accurately disclose their financial information. No further action is required, including sanctions, as the lawmakers appropriately amended the disclosures.
The Republic. June 12, 2013. View story.
HAWAII. An analysis by the Associate Press found that almost no lobbyists reported expenses for the first two months of the 2013 legislative session. The AP asserts that this is the result of “outdated state laws, wide loopholes and lax oversight.” Lobbyists say that the blank filings aren’t indicative of a problem – rather, they are not spending anything that requires reporting. A few 2013 legislative proposals sought to change lobbying provisions, but failed to pass.
The Republic. June 17, 2013. View story.
INDIANA. The ethics commission issued rulings related to conflict of interest and post-service employment for public officials. Legislators are said to be planning to review ethics laws during the interim after “a series of reports…raised questions about lawmakers voting on measures to benefit themselves or their families.”
The Republic. June 13, 2013. View story.
KANSAS. A unique bill will become law in July that prohibits the use of state money for lobbying on either side of gun-control issues. Advocates say that it is similar to restrictions imposed by Congress on using federal funds for lobbying or political activities. Opponents worry that it will stifle free speech, especially for local governments and school districts, which have lobbyists, and that the ban could eventually be extended to other issues. It is the first law of its kind, according to NCSL and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Kentucky.com. June 5, 2013. View story.
LOUISIANA. No ethics bills passed in the 2013 session. The state board of ethics had requested legislative solutions to problematic issues it encounters on the topics of nepotism, conflicts of interest, and campaign finance.
The Advocate. May 21, 2013. View story.
MISSISSIPPI. The state ethics commission ruled on a conflict of interest question for legislators. The 5-3 vote issued an opinion that allowed those with potential conflicts to vote on proposed Medicaid legislation. The ruling appears to contradict a 2012 decision, which said lawmakers who work for private Medicaid providers should not vote on Medicaid funding and regulations. But supporters of the most recent decision say it is aligned with a 2005 ruling which allows lawmakers whose spouses or other family members who are teachers to vote on education issues and funding. The opinion allows the lawmakers in question to vote against expanding Medicaid, but advised them to “recuse himself or herself from any measure that would expand Medicaid.” The Clarion Ledger states that a legal challenge is likely.
Clarion Ledger. June 15, 2013. View story.
MISSOURI. In an article and an editorial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch examines failed ethics legislation in Missouri and the culture surrounding lobbyist gift giving and receiving and the use of campaign funds. In 2013, a revolving door bill, the only ethics bill to be heard on the floor, did not pass.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 2013. View story.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 14, 2013. View story.
NEW YORK. Former Senator Pedro Espada was convicted on four counts of theft for taking money earned from non-profits over which he had oversight, and using the funds for personal expenses. He was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay over $800,000 in restitution.
New York Times. June 15, 2013. View story.
Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez was fined $330,000 by the Legislative Ethics Commission for sexually harassing employees. It is the largest fine ever issued by the body. The Commission was also prepared to expel Lopez, but he resigned in May to run for New York City Council.
New York Daily News. June 11, 2013. View story.
Two lawsuits were filed against the Speaker of the House. The first was filed by a citizen group which says the Speaker’s settlement payment to those involved in Lopez’s harassment case is a violation of the state constitution. The suit claims that the settlement was an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars, asks for a repayment plus interest of the sum, and asks for punitive damages. In addition to the Speaker, two different former Lopez aides are suing Lopez and the Assembly, saying that they would have never gone to work for the former member had they known about the past complaints.
New York Post. June 14, 2013. View story.
JCOPE and the Legislative Ethics Commission are exempted from certain freedom of information laws, generating some consternation among the press, which is asking for more information about the investigation of Lopez.
Times Union. June 12, 2013. View story.
OKLAHOMA. The ethics commission proposed a new law, which passed, that prohibits the filing of complaints alleging ethical or campaign violations against legislative, state or judicial candidates between the April filing period and the November general election. In Oklahoma, legislators can only vote against ethics commission proposals, not for them. As a result, when the legislature takes no action on a proposal, it becomes law. One legislator spoke out against the law, claiming it will make it difficult for candidates to prove allegations are untrue without the aid of the commission.
NewOK. June 11, 2013. View story.
SOUTH CAROLINA. The state Supreme Court dismissed an ethics-related case against Governor Haley. The complaint alleged that Haley used her position as a then-legislator for personal profit. The decision ends a years-long effort. A circuit court first dismissed the case, the House Ethics Committee reviewed it twice and cleared Haley, and the Supreme Court was asked to overturn the circuit court decision. While the court agreed unanimously in overturning the case, the justices’ reasoning differed. The majority stated that only the Legislature can investigate complaints against state lawmakers. Two other justices ruled that the court can have jurisdiction, but that private citizens could not file what amounted to criminal charges – a power afforded only to the attorney general. Good government groups and the minority party were quoted as saying the case highlights the need for ethics reform.
The Island Packet. June 12, 2013. View story.
The state Senate failed to pass an ethics reform bill that would have made changes to financial disclosure laws, conflict of interest requirements and oversight of legislative ethics. The Senate plans to take up the issues again in the 2014 session, where 2013 bills can be carried over.
WLXT.com. June 6, 2013. View story.
Opinion: Politics rule in proclaiming the death of ethics reform.
The Times and Democrat. June 11, 2013. View story.
A Senator resigned amid an ethics committee investigation of charges that he misused campaign funds and violated disclosure provisions. He may face a criminal investigation.
June 1, 2013. Post and Courier. View story.
TEXAS. Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint against the governor, alleging that he is guilty of abuse of office, coercion of a public servant, official oppression and possibly bribery charges. The complaint stems from Governor Perry’s vow to veto ethics enforcement funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s office unless the DA resigns. Along with other state republicans, the Governor had called for the democrat’s resignation after she was arrested on drunk driving charges.
Austin American-Statesman. June 14, 2013. View story.
VIRGINIA. The House Minority Chair is urging the attorney general to request an investigation of the AG’s office over allegations of ethics violations. State law says that the inspector general can investigate an elected official for possible criminal violations only at the request of the governor, a grand jury, or the attorney general. The AG, who is running for governor, said the calls for an investigation were politically motivated.
Washington Post. June 14, 2013. View story.
NATIONAL. The Center for Public Integrity examines the issue of legislator involvement with non-profit organizations and the potential conflicts of interest that can occur as a result.
Publicintegrity.org. June 12, 2013. View story.
FLORIDA. The governor signed ethics reform legislation into law. SB 2 authorizes the ethics commission to investigate complaints referred to it via enforcement agencies and the governor and collect unpaid fines, including allowing it to garnish wages. The commission will now be able to collect fines for 20 years following a violation and must post financial disclosure forms online. The bill also places a two-year revolving door prohibition on legislators who would lobby state agencies, prohibits legislators from accepting certain other forms of public employment, requires vote abstention on issues that would affect members’ financial matters, and allows officials to place their assets in blind trusts so that they can avoid conflicts of interest. Lastly, the bill requires legislators attend ethics training. The bill was a major legislative priority for the Senate President.
Associated Press. May 1, 2013. View story.
Times/Herald, Tampa Bureau. May 2, 2013. View story.
GEORGIA. The governor signed the legislature’s 2013 ethics reform measure into law, which implements a $75 per occurrence limit on lobbyist gifts to legislators. The law also exempts lawyer lobbyists and others, and exempts gifts given to certain groups of legislators, such as a committee. Peggy Kerns of NCSL’s Ethics Center was quoted as saying that gift restrictions show the public that “lawmakers are out for (the public’s) best interests, not whatever sector is trying to push a law.” The law goes into effect on January 1, 2014.
Georgia Public Broadcasting. May 6, 2013. View story.
Opinion: Ending the ethics push will require sign-off from GOP grass roots.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution. May 7, 2013. View story.
ILLINOIS. Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon is asking the legislature to consider ethics legislation before session ends at the end of May. The Senate bill would place increased financial disclosure requirements on members.
WREX Chicago. May 2, 2013. View story.
IOWA. The Senate Ethics Committee decided to ask for a special investigation into a complaint that a senator violated ethics rules while serving as state chair of Representative Michelle Bachmann’s presidential campaign. The allegations claim that the senator accepted payments for campaigning and that he took a private email list from a former campaign staffer’s computer. The senator has denied wrongdoing. The committee felt the step was necessary in order to prevent any lingering questions about the issue, and to protect the integrity of the institution.
Des Moines Register. May 2, 2013. View story.
MISSOURI. The Senate debated, but failed to pass, a bill that would have placed a 10 year waiting period on former legislators who would be lobbyists.
Associated Press. May 2, 2013. View story.
NEVADA. An Assembly committee heard AB 77, which would institute a waiting period for legislators who want to lobby until the end of the next legislative session after they leave office. The sponsor’s main argument for the bill was that it demonstrates to the public that lawmakers would not use their final term in office to line up future employment An amendment added in the Assembly would allow legislators to lobby if it’s not the primary duty of their new job, and if they are only lobbying for their immediate employer. It wouldn’t take effect until after the next election, so no sitting legislators would be affected unless they are re-elected. The committee members debated whether or not there was a perception problem in the state, as there is in Washington, DC. Another advocate for the bill claimed that “good policy doesn’t need to be scandal-driven.”
Associated Press via Elko Daily. May 7, 2013. View story.
NEW YORK. JCOPE has promised to release their report examining sexual harassment claims against an assemblyman if the prosecution and Legislature does not do it. By law, the commission is not allowed to release reports about legislators until the Legislature has reviewed the report and had 90 days, which in this case will be in late May, to act on it. The assemblyman has denied wrongdoing and was reelected to his position but did lose committee chairmanships and other perks and had his salary cut after the scandal.
New York Times. May 1, 2013. View story.
The executive director of JCOPE announced she will be leaving the post at the end of May. Her exit comes just after JCOPE’s chairwoman also resigned. It is also a high-profile time for the fledging oversight body as it prepares to review new financial disclosure forms and act on the report of the legislative sexual harassment case.
Wall Street Journal. May 2, 2013. View story.
A senator, who was caucus leader in 2012, pled not guilty to charges of embezzlement, obstruction of justice and making false statements. After his arrest, he was stripped of committee appointments and ranking positions and Senate leadership announced that he would no longer caucus with his party. The charges came soon after it was announced that yet another senator had been recording colleagues’ conversations as part of a plea deal after being convicted of mail fraud and embezzling money from a nonprofit she controlled. It is unknown if the two cases are related. Several legislators have been indicted in the past month and it was revealed that two members had been wearing wires to assist the FBI.
Legislative Gazette. May 7, 2013. View story.
Two senate bills have been introduced that would forfeit state pensions for legislators who are convicted of felonies related to public employment. SB 4836 and SB 4807a address what the bill’s sponsor calls loopholes in current law – the first would ensure that the forfeiture applies to sitting officials who were elected prior to 2011, and the second would make it so that any convicted public official, no matter what court they are tried in, would be subjected to the pension ban. The Assembly recently voted down a similar measure.
Legislative Gazette. May 6, 2013. View story.
WNYT. May 7, 2013. View story.
Editorial: Corruption in Albany.
New York Times. May 7, 2013. View story.
PENNSYLVANIA. May 1st was the deadline for filing financial disclosures, both for the governor and state legislatures. Public officials must disclose sources of income and gifts of entertainment, travel and lodging costs over a certain amount. Several legislative leaders and other members did not disclose any gifts in 2012.
Philadelphia Inquirer. May 1, 2013. View story.
SOUTH CAROLINA. Senate leaders are saying that the House-passed ethics bill could see more amendments. Among the ideas are stronger financial disclosure requirements than those proposed by the House, including provisions that require disclosure for certain family members. The House proposal has been criticized because the new oversight entity it creates is partially comprised of sitting legislators – one issue the Senate will examine is whether or not removal of members from the committee would be in violation of the constitution, which gives the legislature the ability to “punish” its members.
Greenvilleonline.com. May 6, 2013. View story.
Editorial: Ethics bill is good, but could be better.
scnow.com. May 5, 2013. View story.
ALASKA. A senator is planning to introduce a bill that would change the rules governing conflict of interest and voting recusal for members. Under current law, a legislator can ask the body to abstain from voting on a bill, but the body needs to approve the request unanimously. As a result, members are often required to vote on matters on which they have declared a potential or perceived conflict. Some legislators have chosen to walk off the floor in order to avoid this situation. The senator acknowledged the difficult balance legislators must face in balancing “the right to recuse oneself due to a conflict of interest, versus recusing oneself to avoid making tough decisions.” His bill would require excuses to be granted by majority vote.
Alaska Dispatch. April 4, 2013. View story.
ARIZONA. Legislators and lobbyists are calling for reform in the state’s lobbying laws – from disclosure reports, to oversight, to outright bans on certain types of lobbying. According to a recent analysis of the system, reports contain errors, loopholes and ambiguity create confusion over what must be reported, and no audits are done of the reports by the secretary of state’s office, which is given oversight of the process. There is discussion about a legislative solution, though not during the 2013 session, or a possible ballot initiative. The chair of the Senate Elections Committee proposed SB 1332, which would have required monthly, rather than quarterly, reports and would have lowered a monetary threshold for certain reporting. It also would have requires lobbyists to provide legislators with a statement about the value of certain expenditures and required legislators to report on these expenditures annually. The bill did not get called for a floor vote. Another Senate bill that did not pass, SB 1326, would have empowered the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to oversee lobbyist registration and financial disclosure forms. Critics of that bill were concerned for various reasons about giving the commission that authority and placing it under the office of the secretary of state. Finally, the chair has also cited a need for an electronic filing system accessible by smartphone. Peggy Kerns of NCSL’s Ethics Center was quoted as saying that the trend in states has been to strengthen lobbyist disclosure laws and increase transparency.
AZ Capitol Times. April 29, 2013. View story.
CONNECTICUT. A candidate for governor is promoting a pay-to-play bill that would prevent legislators, public employees and their immediate family members from receiving $1,000 or more from state contractors, public employee unions or lobbying firms. He is also proposing changes to conflict of interest rules. His potential rival, the House minority leader, said that legislator lawyers could be unfairly subjected to the law.
New Hampshire Register. April 28, 2013. View story.
COLORADO. The secretary of state is asking a Denver district court to stop an ethics commission investigation into a complaint alleging he misused public funds. He is arguing that the commission, which was established in state constitution via a voter initiative, lacks jurisdiction and that the amendment’s language, on which the entire proceeding rests, is “ambiguous and overly broad.” Colorado Ethics Watch filed the complaint against the secretary months ago, claiming that he improperly reimbursed himself with state funds after traveling to the Republican National Convention and another partisan meeting. The state has paid private law firms over $60,000 in defending the secretary’s case. Critics say his argument that ethics violations are ambiguously defined is a “red herring,” and that it is clear that one cannot spend public money on personal or political activities.
Colorado Statesman. April 5, 2013. View story.
A House member filed an ethics complaint with a legislative ethics committee against a lobbyist. The legislator claims that the lobbyist violated a rule that prohibits lobbyists from using political threats or deceit to influence lawmakers. At the heart of the matter is a verbal disagreement between the two in the lobby of the House chamber. Testimony will be heard and the committee will then forward the information to an executive committee, which can take any number of actions against the lobbyist.
OurColoradoNews.com. April 4, 2013. View story.
FLORIDA. Opinion: Lawmakers should close ethics loopholes. Pending bills, including SB 1634 would make changes to the state’s ethics laws. Among the proposals is the ability for the ethics commission to initiate its own investigations, mandatory ethics training for public officials and revolving door limits on officials who want to take positions with state agencies or public universities while holding office. A two-year revolving door prohibition has also been proposed that would prohibit legislators from lobbying state agencies after leaving office.
Daytona Beach News Journal. April 4, 2013. View story.
GEORGIA. The legislature passed ethics reforms, including a monetary limit on lobbyist gift-giving, an issue that has been contentious for several sessions. Gifts will be capped at $75, and can not be for outings such as golf, sports tickets or international travel.
April 1, 2013. Savannah Morning News. View story.
MAINE. A House committee approved legislation that would create a one year revolving door provision on legislators and executive branch officials who would be lobbyists after leaving office. The measure will also increase financial disclosure requirements for public officials and require that they be filed electronically and accessible online. A provision that would have prevented executive branch officials and employees from working for certain business post-service failed to pass.
Maine Sun Journal. April 5, 2013. View story.
MASSACHUSETTS. The House granted a host of investigatory powers to the body’s Ethics Committee as it investigates “serious allegations” against a sitting member. A legislative staff member brought forward allegations of misconduct against a member who has yet to be named. Last month a preliminary investigation found the complaint had merit, which prompts a formal investigation by the committee. The committee is now afforded with the power to subpoena witnesses, compel and take sworn testimony, administer oaths and require that evidence be produced. The complaint becomes public depending on the outcome of the investigation.
Worchester Telegram and Gazette. April 5, 2013. View story.
NEW YORK. Albany is reeling after a series of indictments were announced, and it was revealed that one sitting Assembly member had been secretly working with law enforcement in probes “aimed at rooting out public corruption.” On April 2nd, a senator was arrested in an alleged plot to bribe his way into an opportunity to be the Republican nominee for New York City mayor. Other local politicians and republican operatives were also arrested. The senator has pled innocent. On April 4th, an assemblyman was indicted for taking bribes in exchange for official acts. The U.S. attorney’s office claims he accepted $22,000 from operators of a several adult day centers in exchange for introducing legislation that would place a waiting period on the construction of new, competing facilities, and exempted those accused of bribery from the ban. If convicted, he could face 35 years in prison. A third legislator, also from the Assembly, stated that he had assisted authorities after he was indicted on perjury charges from an incident that occurred prior to his election. As a result, the government claims it has audio and video evidence of repeated bribes being given. There are also recordings of the indicted member discussing his fear of being caught and going to jail, and claiming that other legislative colleagues are also corrupt. The Speaker has called on the indicted assemblyman to resign. The member who helped the authorities announced his resignation, adding “I continue to cooperate with…authorities in this prosecution, and in other investigations.”
Albany Times Union. April 4, 2013. View story.
April 4, 2013. View story.
Washington Post. April 4, 2013. View story.
Calls for change and reform were immediate, coming from legislators, good government groups and the Governor’s office. Among the comments: “you can’t legislate morality…what we’d rather do is change the culture…” (The League of Women Voters) and “never waste a crisis” (Governor Cuomo). The governor is planning to introduce a comprehensive ethics package that would include changes to election law and increase the power and capability of the state board of elections. Others called for more disclosure and transparency laws, lower contribution limits and stronger prosecutorial powers.
Albany Times Union. April 8, 2013. View story.
NY Daily News. April 8, 2013. View story.
A final issue receiving publicity is the fact that prosecutors allowed an assembly member to run twice for reelection while under sealed indictment. He began cooperating with investigators in 2009, and wore a wire for over a year.
NY Daily News. April 8, 2013. View story.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics sent its report to the state legislative ethics commission in February for possible sanctions against an assemblyman accused by staffers of sexual harassment who is now getting ready to run for City Council. By law, the legislative commission has 45 days to take action against Lopez and release the report, but Friday marked day 45 and the report is still delayed. The speaker, as well as JCOPE commissioners, are all calling for the report’s release.
April, 5 2013. View story.
NORTH CAROLINA. Senator Soucek is now the chairman of the Legislative Ethics Committee. The Committee is a bipartisan group of members from both chambers, responsible for creating and maintaining ethical standards among the General Assembly.
Watauga Democrat. April 26, 2013. View story.
PENNSYLVANIA. Two senators are pushing ethics reforms as part of a bipartisan joint government reform caucus. Proposals center on a variety of ethics, campaign finance and disclosure issues, and include: lowering to $50 the threshold for reporting, requiring PACs to disclose payments made to vendors on a website, requiring contractors to disclose the subcontractors they work with, prohibiting lobbyists from serving as campaign managers, requiring individuals appointed to governor’s advisory panels to disclose campaign contributions to the governor, codifying the governor’s code of conduct, prohibiting the governor and executive branch officials from accepting gifts and favors from companies that do business with or are regulated by the commonwealth, and lastly, prohibiting lobbyists from owning a portion of a gaming license.
Pennlive.com. April 8, 2013. View story.
RHODE ISLAND. The legislature is considering a bill that would put a constitutional amendment before the voters that would restore power to the ethics commission to prosecute legislators for their votes.
A state supreme court decision struck that power from the commission, saying that it violated separation of powers provisions in the constitution. View story.
SOUTH CAROLINA. The governor is criticizing the legislature for failing to pass a bill that would subject members to the state’s public records law. There is a currently an exemption for the legislative branch. Ethics has been a hot topic in South Carolina for over a year. There is currently an investigation pending against the Speaker and a Supreme Court case against the governor.
IndependentMail.com. April 4, 2013. View story.
Opinion: Finish the legislative reform agenda.
April 6, 2013. View story.
The House passed an ethics reform measure, one that requires disclosure of all sources of income and overhauls the current system for ethics oversight by creating a new ethics commission. Currently, the commission oversees the executive branch and the each house of the legislature has ethics committees. Under the bill, the new committee would have jurisdiction of both the legislative and executive branches. The new committee would be comprised of eight sitting legislators and eight legislator-appointed members, and would handle only certain aspects of ethics laws. Allegations of criminal misconduct would be sent to a new public integrity investigatory unit. Legislators would have to recuse themselves from votes in conflict of interest situations at the subcommittee level. Critics of the bill said that the legislation was created quickly and in private and that the hybrid committee is worse than the current oversight body. Others complained that the alterations to the lobbying laws will create confusion over who must register and does not provide an exemption for grass-roots or volunteer lobbyists. Those who support the reform say that the joint body represents a better, more independent system than the current one. The bill also has campaign finance reform provisions.
Aiken Standard. April 30, 2013. View story.
Easley Patch. May 1, 2013. View story.
Editorial: Ethics bill shows we can’t trust legislators.
The State. April 24, 2013. View story.
TEXAS. Editorial: Readying another punt on major reforms to Texas Ethics Commission. Proposed reforms in 2013 would grant the commission more power regarding financial disclosure and would strengthen its ability to punish ethics violations. SB 1773 would create an interim committee to study and review ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws, and propose changes. SB 219 would require e-filing for some campaign and finance data, and a rejected amendment would have required that redacted financial disclosure statements be accessible online. No bills have passed yet.
Austin American-Statesman. April 4, 2013. View story.
UTAH. The annual report from the Legislative Ethics Commission shows that no legislator has had a complaint filed against him or her in the past two years. Any citizen in Utah can file a complaint, but is first only reviewed by the director and chair. Dependent upon their determination of the complaint's validity, the process continues from there. The commission is not authorized to issue advisory opinions. The report also showed that while the commission originally received a $50,000 budget, only $1,000 has been used. The director asked that she be authorized by the Legislative Management Committee to hold a training session for new LEC members, and the management committee will meet again next month to give her that authority.
Utahpolicy.com. April 9, 2013. View story.
VIRGINIA. The governor has been under fire from the media and possibly the FBI over allegations that a company received special treatment due to the governor’s relationship with the CEO. The company has given gifts to the governor, some of which he had disclosed under Virginia law, and also to his family members, which he was not required to disclose. A story revealed the CEO had paid for a substantial portion of the governor’s daughter’s wedding reception, which in turn launched criticism about not only the governor, but the state’s laws regarding gifts from lobbyists and others. The governor claims that the CEO and his wife have been family friends for years and that the friendship has in no way influenced his decisions as a public official. The state is one of 10 that does not have monetary thresholds for gifts or total bans, though it does require that public officials disclose what gifts they receive. Some are calling for the laws to be changed to require that officials disclose gifts given to family members as well. NCSL data, cited in one article, shows that while almost all states do have restrictions, their exceptions make those limits convoluted.
Washington Post. April 29, 2013. View story.
Washington Examiner. April 30, 2013. View story.
WYOMING. Opinion: The ethics of lobbyists.
Star Tribune. April 9, 2013. View story.