Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday signed into law an ethics reform bill that was passed in the final days of Albany's legislative session, and while the governor points to the law as a major accomplishment, critics say it does virtually nothing to address the unprecedented corruption witnessed in Albany over the last two years. Zack Fink filed the following report.
In the final hours of the legislative session in June, lawmakers passed what they called "ethics reform." But some believe it's more notable for what wasn't included.
"The ethics bill is a major step forward," said Governor Andrew Cuomo. "Is it everything? No. Ethics, in many ways, is like other activities in life. It's an ongoing pursuit."
But critics say the legislation does little to pursue actual corruption. In the last year and a half, the leaders of both legislative houses were tried and convicted on federal corruption charges.
"The legislature and the governor missed a huge opportunity in responding to the outcry," said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union. "Ninety percent of New Yorkers wanted action on ethics reform that basically dealt with preventing corruption, and they did nothing."
"Certainly, Albany had a bad year in terms of trust. You have members of the legislature who were indicted, went to jail. So, they needed an ethics reform," Cuomo said.
The ethics reform requires more stringent separation between campaigns and independent expenditure groups that advocate for specific causes. It also appears to target nonprofit and good-government groups by forcing them disclose their donors.
"There is a constitutionally required exception to disclosure requirements for controversial organizations. It's well-established. It comes out of the civil rights movement and the threats against the NAACP," said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
A spokesperson for Cuomo says good-government groups are all for transparency, except when it applies to them.
Cuomo and other state leaders have said previously that there are limits to what they can do to combat corruption, since they cannot legislate morality.