“The big problem with JCOPE is that its members are all appointed by the people it was designed to keep an eye on. …
The top-secret, insiders-only JCOPE model is a failure. …
It’s still trying to hide state government’s dirty laundry from public view.”
That’s what we once wrote about the state ethics board, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).
We didn’t write that yesterday. Or a month or two ago.
We wrote it in 2012. Nine years ago.
And nothing that’s happened since then has changed our minds.
If anything, recent events have reinforced our initial impression, that New York needs a new body, independent of the governor and Legislature, to investigate complaints about corruption and unethical behavior in state government.
Most recently, you might have heard JCOPE come up in a briefing Gov. Andrew Cuomo held over the weekend, in which he strongly implied that those in the Legislature calling for his resignation or impeachment could find themselves the victims of unflattering information gathered by JCOPE. If this was truly an independent body, how could the governor even make such a threat?
If JCOPE was truly independent, then JCOPE, not the state attorney general, would be investigating allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo.
But given JCOPE’s failed history, no one even seriously considered involving the organization in the investigation.
And just last month, the commission’s chairman resigned and was replaced by, guess who: one of the governor’s former staff members.
The organization has a reputation of illegally leaking internal information about investigations. And as for its power to bring corrupt politicians to justice, just two members can veto an investigation.
But all that could be about to change.
A bill (A1929/S855) pending the Legislature would authorize a state constitutional amendment, to be approved by voters, that would replace JCOPE with a truly independent enforcement agency.
The new commission would have just two representatives of the governor and one each from the Republican and Democratic party leaders in the Senate and Assembly. But seven members, a majority, would be appointed jointly by the state’s chief judge and the presiding justices of the Appellate Divisions.
To ensure bipartisanship, half the governor/legislative appointees and three of the judicial appointees couldn’t be of the same political party as the governor. And members can’t have been a state officer or employee, lobbyist or political party officer within the previous three years.
The legislation also changes the enforcement authority and voting process for investigations, among other significant changes to JCOPE.
Without an independent body to root out malfeasance and corruption in state government, there essentially is no protection against it for citizens.
We said it nine years ago, and we’ll say it again today: The current model is a failure.
It needs to be replaced.