An independent ethics commission for New York
While many politicians get involved in public life to try to make a difference for their community, the need for better oversight and accountability is clear. New Yorkers deserve a fair, transparent process for handling ethics complaints.
The Joint Commission on Ethics (JCOPE) was established as a semi-independent watch-dog over the Legislature to achieve the following:
- Oversee the conduct of state officers, public employees, contractors and lobbyists;
- Serve as a resource for officials to get guidance on issues and provide ethics training;
- Investigate complaints alleging violations of standards of conduct, campaign finance reporting requirements or other disclosure requirements;
- Adjudicate complaints that are found to have enough evidence to proceed to a hearing;
- Have the authority to issue subpoenas and compel witnesses;
- Impose fines and sanctions where violations are found;
- Forward complaints with potential criminal implications to the appropriate agencies;
- Conduct its work in public to the extent permitted by the enabling legislation;
In practice, there are many problems. The scope and structure of JCOPE must be addressed, while also granting full independence from our state legislature and governor. In its February 2015 report, JCOPE concluded that the panel is too big and should be more transparent.
Common Cause New York advocates to reform ethics oversight and enforcement by changing JCOPE’s structure, scope, and voting procedures to boost public confidence in its actions. Changes should:
- Increase transparency of its operations, meetings and votes;
- Expand jurisdiction to include all executive and legislative branch employees;
- Elevate the independence of the commissioners from their appointing authorities.