ITHACA, NY – On Tuesday, the Tompkins County Legislature voted unanimously in support of a resolution calling on the New York State government to pass comprehensive ethics reform.

The resolution establishes that over the past 15 years, 30 New York State legislators left office due to criminal misconduct. The most recent examples are Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Dean Skelos, who were both convicted of corruption within two weeks of each other.

The statement was initiated by Legislator Rich John. John stated that while he was generally skeptical of resolutions calling on other governments how they should behave, the persistent nature of this issue called for action.

“Unless we very clearly state that the Tompkins County Legislature does not agree that this is how New York State government should operate, and do it in a clear way, we can be criticized as accepting the status quo,” John said.

Rather than simply call on the state to evaluate its ethics code, the resolution lays out a number of specific ways in which it might do so.

Some of the reforms suggested include:

  • Amending the State Constitution to allow denial of pension benefits for legislative service to legislators convicted of official misconduct;
  • Establishing a system of public matching funds for elections;
  • Requiring disclosure of the names of individual campaign donors, even for donations made through an entity such as a corporation;
  • Requiring disclosure of member-earmarked funds prior to action on the State Budget, and maintaining those member records for five years;
  • Allowing proposed legislation in either house to come to the floor upon request of two-thirds of the membership, even if majority leadership opposes it;
  • Term limits for the positions of Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader;
  • Limiting total contributions from any individual to a candidate or political action committee to a maximum of $2,000 in any campaign cycle;
  • Restructuring the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the New York State Board of Elections;
  • Restrictions on sources of Legislator’s outside income to reduce conflicts of interest;
  • Adopting a redistricting process that uses an independent nonpartisan commission, and takes into account the factors of contiguity, compactness, municipal boundaries, and commonality of interests.

After some discussion regarding the specific wording of the resolution, it passed unanimously (Legislator Mike Sigler was excused).

The resolution is to be passed on to major Albany officials including Governor Cuomo. Additionally, the resolution calls on the state representatives representing Tompkins County — State Senators Thomas O’Mara, Michael Nozzolio and James Seward, and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton — to respond to the ideas presented.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.