CONFERENCE ETHICS REFORM SUMMARY
Transparency and Responsibility
The Legislature’s comprehensive legislation to reform and strengthen
the Commonwealth’s ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws.
· Bans all gifts to public officials, making it a civil violation for gifts up to $1,000 and a felony for gifts with a value greater than $1,000. The criminal penalty would be 5 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both, and would apply to both the recipient and the giver.
· Strengthens the Ethics Commission’s authority to enforce ethics laws and to investigate and prosecute alleged ethics violations. Commission receives enhanced subpoena power and expanded regulatory authority. Commission also benefits from increased penalties on all ethics law violations and an increased statute of limitations.
· Increases penalties for bribery convictions to up to 10 years in prison, a $100,000 fine, or both.
· Codifies obstruction of justice and increases penalties (up to $10,000 and 5 years in prison or 2 ½ years in a house of correction in civil cases; and up to $25,000 and 10 years in prison or 2 ½ years in a house of correction in criminal cases).
· Increases the penalty on all ethics law violations from $2,000 to $10,000 per violation.
· Allows the Attorney General to convene a statewide grand jury.
· Defines “lobbyist” as anyone paid to promote, oppose or influence, or to attempt to influence the decision of any officer or employee of the executive or legislative branch.
· Reduces the minimum threshold for “incidental lobbying” for executive agents from 50 hours/$5,000 to 25 hours/$2,500
· Reduces the minimum threshold for “incidental lobbying” for legislative agents from 50 hours/$5,000 to 25 hours/$2,500
· Expands the definition of what constitutes a “client” for lobbying purposes, and requires lobbyists to annually complete a certification course conducted by the secretary of state.
· Provides the Secretary of State with civil enforcement authority over the lobbying laws, including authority to subpoena documents and testimony; conduct adjudicatory proceedings; impose civil fines of up to $10,000 per violation; and suspend and revoke a violator’s license.
· Expands the disclosure requirements for lobbyists.
· Increases the criminal penalties for violations of lobbying laws from $5,000 to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years in state prison or 2.5 years in county jail.
· Closes a loophole in existing law related to so-called “success fees” (fees paid only when something specific, like the awarding of a contract, takes place).
· Expands the revolving door restriction on executive branch lobbying to a one-year waiting period the same as the Legislature.
· Increases late filing penalties to $50 per day for first 20 days and $100 per day thereafter.
· Increases criminal penalties for registration violations to up to 5 years imprisonment, $10,000 fine, or both, and mandates suspension of license for 10 years from date of conviction for those convicted of a felony.
· Eliminates “special committee” arrangements between state political parties and elected officials, allowing only individual contributions up to $5,000 to a political party.
· Requires the disclosure of expenditures and sources of funding for any “electioneering communications” (third-party mailings and ads that support or criticize a candidate or campaign).
· Raises the threshold for reporting independent expenditures from $100 to $250, but requires disclosure before an election.
· Prohibits individuals from making committee checks payable to themselves.
· Prohibits the use of campaign funds for payment of fines due to ethical violations.
· Requires that legal defense funds are maintained separately from campaign funds.
· Prohibits the name of candidates from appearing on a state ballot if a civil action has been initiated against the person for failure to file reports or statements.
· Increases penalties for late-filed reports from $10 per day and not more than $2,500 to $25 per day and not more than $5,000.
· Requires candidates for mayor in cities with populations over 40,000 who can reasonably expect to raise or spend more than $5,000 to file with OCPF.
· Increases number of reports filed by political candidates (twice in non-election year; three times in election year).
· Requires candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor to file one week prior to candidates for other statewide offices.
· Requires that income derived from bribes, corrupt gifts and illegal activity counts as gross income for tax reporting purposes.
· Gives authority to the Attorney General to regulate and enforce the Open Meeting Law.
· Requires a study to report on the potential benefits of a consolidated ethics, lobbying and campaign finance oversight unit.
It could create a “gold rush” in advance of bill taking effect, particularly for legislation up this summer or fall.
Bills generally take effect 90 days after being signed by the Gov, unless there is an emergency preamble which allows it to take effect sooner…I’m not sure what this bill has, but it should be law within three months no matter what.
Is there anything key missing? Is the Governor in support?
to Get Senators to Work in New York.
p>At least we’re getting stuff done here while a long overdue increase in unemployment benefits for New Yorkers appears doomed.
by someone who thinks your diaries and comments will influence legislation?
I pulled the comment trigger too soon. I missed that.
p>But I still think it’s overly broad.
p>The text of the whole Ethics Conference Committee Reported legislation
p>As always, Will, thanks for your hard work and clarity.
I’ve had a chance to look over the ethics bill released last night from the conference committee, and it is excellent. It has all the provisions mentioned in the summary, and more, with no significant devil in these details that I can see, although other attorneys are still pouring over it.
p>There are only a very few things that didn’t make the list (like a ban on lobbyists contributions, and a reduction of political party contributions to $500 which Republicans opposed), but in the core area–ethics reform–virtually everything was in there, and none of the bad stuff remains. The Ethics Commission will get a bunch of enhanced enforcement tools and a little more regulatory authority, although not the full regulatory we favor. The AG gets a statewide grand jury process, new fraud statutes to enforce. The public gets a gift ban with both civil and criminal penalties that apply to both the giver and recipient and a lot more transparency in campaign funding and lobbying. I don’t need to rehash the summary-but the list of reforms is long.
p>Common Cause is endorsing the bill and asking members to vote for it.
p>Kudos are in order to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, the conferees, and the many members who pushed for reform. We don’t know how the sausage was made (a worthy topic for another day) but it is tasty.
To answer a few questions: no volunteers count as lobbyists no matter how many hours they lobby. For paid folk, only communication with public officials (not the general public) counts towards the threshold, so bloggers rest at ease. The bill takes effect in the usual time except the campaign finance pieces apply to the next cycle. And no, Will Brownsberger, who is a hard worker and a good lawyer, did not stay up all night writing the section summary-legislators get those from the Speaker and Senate President’s legal team.
p>I’ll try to add more later today.
I think they found a reasonable and feasible compromise on the gift ban (civil penalty under $1,000 and criminal over $1,000). Sure, saying all gifts to public officials are outlawed and constitute a felony sounds nice and tough, but it’s going extremely overboard. Clearly we want to prevent gift-giving as a means of influencing legislation, but as the general ethics/lobbying debate has shown us, it is often hard to really determine the purpose of a gift and if it is in fact influencing decisions of lawmakers. I agree we should err on the side of caution in this area, but the idea that a public official could be inadvertently convicted of a FELONY for accepting a gift of any value (unless I am mistaken, this could include anything from Girl Scout cookies to keychain under this definition) from a friend or supporter. Gifts over $1,000 are significant and should be closely monitored, but I think it’s entirely unreasonable to insist on serious criminal penalties for small gifts as I can easily picture a public official getting legally screwed or thrown on the front page of the Herald because a supporter sent baked goods to his office as a “thank you” for supporting a bill.
but all of your examples are for gifts worth less than $10. There’s a lot of room between $1,000 and $10.
p>I agree with you in principal, but I think $100 would have been much better than $1,000. It allows for Girl Scout Cookies, but makes field level Red Sox tickets or a fancy dinner questionable… and questionable is enough to pull things back substantially.
There is quite a difference between a keychain and box seats, and all gifts of any size should be subject to examination. But when we’re talking felony convictions, I think a $1,000 ceiling is appropriate. I think getting Monster seats or a free prime rib should be banned and illegal with significant civil penalties (not to mention all the negative press and non-legal punishment). I just don’t think it’s worthy of an orange jumpsuit is all I’m saying, and we should be careful not too overstep in the name of reform.
p>It’s a tough call to make because there can be so much gray area and each case has it’s own details and circumstances, but I think overall the $1,000 ceiling works. Needless to say, if this opens up some unseen loophole that people use to avoid criminal penalties, it should be re-examined to ensure it’s doing what it is supposed to do: preventing pay-to-play gift-giving.