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Government Watchdog Group Sees Opportunity To Improve Ethics, Accountability, And Transparency In Albany With Gov. Hochul At The Helm

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New York’s good government groups see a fresh opportunity to address what they see as a failure of ethics oversight in the executive branch under former governor Andrew Cuomo.  WAER News checked in with one of the groups to find out what they’d like to accomplish.

First, Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner says there needs to be more guidance regarding the emergency transfer of power…it’s happened twice in the past 13 years; and, the appointment of a lieutenant governor. Lerner says the assembly’s ongoing investigations into the former governor need to take place through public hearings, not behind closed doors, so new Yorkers understand what did or did not happen.

"There should be a prompt, open, and vigorous discussion in both houses of the legislature in terms of what changes in state law are necessary to clarify what is and what is not appropriate."

Lerner submitted testimony Wednesday before the senate’s ethics committee about oversight and enforcement, which she says needs to include public officers law. She says a reporting system needs to be in place for employees who are asked by their elected bosses to volunteer services on political campaigns or other activities.

"So we can be sure that this is true volunteer work, and it's not taking place during business hours or with state assets. Our law is very clear in that regard, and it's not being well enforced."

The assembly’s judiciary committee is looking into whether Cuomo used staff to help write his book about leading New York through the pandemic that netted him $5 million.

Lerner would also like to see lawmakers tighten up campaign finance laws, including campaign accounts that continue in perpetuity. Cuomo has a reported $18 million dollar war chest at his disposal to use for future campaigns or make donations to support other candidates.

"Most states provide guidance to former candidates as to what should happen with campaign funds, particularly funds controlled by officials who have resigned because of misdeeds, either voluntarily or after they've been convicted."

While reports of Cuomo’s misconduct and abuse of executive power have prompted the calls for accountability and transparency, Governor Hochul brings her own potential conflicts of interest. Her husband Bill is a top executive at Delaware North, a large casino and concessions firm that requires significant state oversight; and, the husband of the newly appointed Secretary to the Governor is an influential lobbyist. Lerner says spouses shouldn’t be required to give up their careers, but there needs to be a system in place…

"...for ensuring that the governor is insulated from decisions that affect Delaware North, and that there are verifiable and clear recusal procedures for the Secretary to the Governor in matters in which her husband is involved as a lobbyist."

Lerner feels there’s an opportunity for a wholesale culture shift in Albany, where both the legislature and new governor are willing and able to set new standards for accountability, transparency, and ethical behavior.