Jurisdiction & Authority
On June 13, 2011, the New York State Legislature passed, and on August 15, 2011, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law, the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 ("PIRA"). PIRA comprehensively reformed the oversight and regulation of ethics and lobbying in New York State - a key component of which was the establishment of the new independent agency, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which has oversight over both the Executive and Legislative Branches.
The Commission was created to restore public trust in government by ensuring compliance with the State's ethics and lobbying laws, regulations, and guidance. As discussed below, the Commission promotes transparency by making required disclosures filed by Statewide elected officials, Executive Branch officers and employees, Legislative Branch officers, employees, and candidates, as well as lobbyists, lobbying clients and public benefit corporations available to the public. The Commission provides information, education and advice regarding current ethics and lobbying laws and promotes compliance through audits, investigations and enforcement proceedings.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics administers the statutory filing program that discloses information concerning the identities, activities, and expenditures of those attempting to influence the governmental decision-making process in New York State on both state and local levels. Through this program, lobbyists register with the Commission, and along with clients, file regular reports concerning their lobbying activity in New York. In addition, the Commission conducts a random audit program of the nearly 45,000 reports and registration statements filed annually by lobbyists and their clients.
Public Officers Law §73-a requires that certain state officers and employees, elected state officials, legislative officers and employees, among others, file annual Financial Disclosure Statements. The Commission administers the Financial Disclosure Statement filing program through which it receives approximately 30,000 filings annually, which are subject to random audit by the Commission.
Advice and Guidance
The Commission provides advice and guidance to state officers and employees and lobbyists and clients concerning ethics and lobbying laws. In addition, the Commission may issue formal and binding advisory opinions or guidance in the form of nonbinding informal advisory opinions to individuals and entities within its jurisdiction.
Training and Education
The Commission provides webcast and online training programs and materials. The Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 expanded the scope of required training to include online ethics training for members of the executive and legislative branches of state government, as well as registered lobbyists and their clients. This training will be provided by the Commission.
Investigations and Enforcement
The Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 created the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the first New York State agency to have ethics oversight over both the Executive and Legislative Branches.
The Commission investigates potential violations of the state's ethics laws (Public Officers Law §§73, 73-a, and 74), the "Little Hatch Act" (Civil Service Law §107), and the Lobbying Act (Legislative Law article 1-a) as they apply to state legislators, candidates for the Legislature and legislative employees, as well as the four statewide elected officials, candidates for those offices, executive branch state employees, certain political party chairs, and lobbyists and their clients. The Commission may impose civil penalties, after hearing, for violations by state officers and employees and lobbyists and clients. Commission findings with respect to Legislative Branch officers, employees and candidates are required to be referred to the Legislative Ethics Commission for enforcement.