A spoonful of loopholes makes the medicine go down. A new ethics bill drafted in the New York state legislature will require elected officials to disclose their annual income in greater detail. Currently, lawmakers fall into one of six heavily redacted income brackets, the largest being "$250,000 or more." The new bill would include "109 narrow bands of income topping out at $10 million," the Times Union reports. But buried beyond the disclosure hype is a curious new ethics board whose members can dismiss ethics charges with a mere two votes.
Governor Cuomo's office released the text of the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 yesterday, and though the income disclosure was lauded as a measure of "unprecedented transparency," The Times notes that the bill would also "permanently curtail the powers of the current legislative minorities with respect to ethics enforcement." A new 14-member ethics board would be comprised of four appointees each from the Senate and the Assembly, and six from the governor, three from each party. However, the language of the bill states that Republicans will always appoint three out of the four appointees in the Senate, no matter who controls it. The same arrangement is laid out for Democrats in the Assembly.
However "two of the three Democratic appointees" the governor makes could "block an investigation of a statewide elected official or executive branch employee." So a 12-2 vote to investigate would lose. Given that the legislature's current ethics enforcement is "almost nonexistent," the bill has wide support, especially because it was drafted with Senate Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. But permanently giving the power of these appointments to the parties, regardless of their makeup in the Assembly or Senate, seems to encourage hopeless partisan warfare.
As the executive director of everyone's favorite free speech advocate Citizens United freely admitted, the byzantine, "untested veto-producing structure was the price of admission needed to secure historic disclosure." In this case, the "price" of reform is just a mechanism that shields lawmakers from reform. Who wouldn't vote for this?