Cuomo Issues Executive, Legislative Actions Against Corruption
State legislators are set to convene in less than 40 days as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is announcing his push for ethics reform through a few proposals at the executive and legislative levels.
Cuomo said last week he’s looking to appoint a chief procurement officer to the executive branch to review all state contracts where state funds are disbursed and chief inspector generals at SUNY and CUNY for the same purpose. The governor will also order his campaign and party not to accept campaign contributions from companies looking to win a state project bid from the awarding announcement and six months after.
At the legislative level, the governor urged for strict limitations on outside income and more disclosure of income sources earned by elected officials and their spouses.
During the election, questions amounted over the integrity of government and whether people or big money interests were being represented. With the election behind, Cuomo said the fear of real problems and government mistrust is the “toxic combination that this nation now faces.”
New York is no exception to the issues, he said, with a “pay-to-play” scheme and mismanagement at City University of New York.
“I believe this public trust and integrity issue must be addressed — directly and forthrightly. I don’t believe in denial as a life strategy,” he said. “I believe you must face your problems, no matter how unpleasant, and do your best to resolve them.”
Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, said he supports the governor’s decision to appoint inspector generals to examine contracts and identify conflicts of interest and abuse. State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, has said the state needs another set of eyes and public accountability to examine contracts through the SUNY system after the governor took away the comptroller’s oversight years ago.
The governor’s proposal comes amid revelations that his top staff members were involved in extracting campaign contributions from companies who received contracts on a no-bid basis. Goodell said he’s introduced legislation that would ban the “pay-to-play” schemes similar to the scandal involving the governor’s top aides, SUNY Polytech and LPCiminelli. Earlier this week, eight individuals were indicted in the statewide corruption case that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars being contributed to Cuomo’s campaign from companies who were granted millions of dollars in no-bid contracts.
“After having been the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of campaign contributions through bid-rigging, (the governor) says we need an inspector general so we don’t do that again. And I agree with him. It’s a good idea to have an inspector general,” Goodell said.
But legislative actions such as limiting outside income have Democrats and Republicans in disagreement. Cuomo and New York City Democrats say reducing a legislator’s outside income would end chronic conflict of interests that have impacted the state Legislature for years, keeping officials outside interests away from decision making. But Goodell said state law prevents any outside income that creates a conflict of interest, and ethical violations that have occurred over the years had nothing to do with what officials generated outside their pay for legislative duty.
“I believe the ban is really a smokescreen just for a higher increase in salary,” Goodell said. “New York City legislators don’t have any outside income support, and banning it is justification for a substantial increase. It’s all part of a scam. It doesn’t make sense unless you want career politicians with no outside income and no outside experience.”
Cuomo said he also wants to give the State Ethics Board wider authority to root out conflicts of interest by local government officials and enact public financing for candidates who are running for office. Such reforms will make a difference, but Cuomo said it won’t end all fraud or corruption.
“There are more than 10,000 governments in this state with more than 300,000 employees. People will commit venal and greedy acts,” he said. “They will do selfish, and frankly, stupid things. But we must do all we can. There’s an old saying that locks keep honest people honest. That’s very true. And right now, New York needs to replace the locks we have with better ones.”