EDITORIAL: Close ethics loophole for nominees

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There are many ways to use big money to influence government.

You can contribute to political campaigns. You can support political parties that support specific candidates. You can directly lobby lawmakers once they’re in office.

For most of these efforts, there are laws on the books to inform the public about those influences — campaign finance laws that identify contributors and the dollar amounts they contribute and lobbying laws that require lobbyists to register and disclose the amounts of money they’re using to push legislation.

But one approach that’s not covered under state ethics laws, and one that may be just as powerful as the others in gaining favor and influence for certain contributors, is the attempt to elevate a certain individuals to powerful positions in government.

The loophole was exposed in a Times Union report in which the newspaper identified an effort to lobby lawmakers to support Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nominee, Hector LaSalle, for chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, New York’s highest and most powerful court.

According to the newspaper, the Citizens for Judicial Fairness spent what was estimated to be between $75,000 and $100,000 to boost LaSalle’s candidacy, including paying for signs used by people demonstrating on LaSalle’s behalf. Another group, Latinos for LaSalle, also reportedly pushed for LaSalle’s appointment.

Neither group had to disclose their activities, identify their contributors or report in public documents how much money they spent because lobbying for appointments isn’t covered under the state ethics laws.

Even if the supporters never directly ask for another thing after the appointee is confirmed, they still can have influence over that individual by virtue of their effort to have helped him or her be confirmed for that position.

That’s why this loophole must be closed.

Very few positions wield as much authority and influence over legislation and the law than the chief judge of the court that makes the final legal determination on matters ranging from legislation to criminal law to redistricting lines for Congress and the state Legislature.

But the lobbying loophole also pertains to other appointees requiring Senate confirmation who serve on government commissions and boards that also can have significant sway over legislation and the actions of legislators.

Sen. Michael Gianaris, deputy majority leader of the Senate, and Brad Hoylman-Sigal, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are co-sponsoring a bill to close the loophole and bring these influences out in the open.

The bill (S4152) simply adds spending on efforts to influence nominations for state offices to the list of activities that must be disclosed to the state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government. As of Monday when the Senate bill was officially introduced, the bill had no Assembly sponsor. But there’s time to add one.

The public has a right to know who is influencing their public officials.

That right to know should extend to those using their influence to help nominees to government posts gain power through appointments.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion, Opinion

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