Commission on Public Integrity Charges Another Lobbying Entity In Connection with Legislative Receptions

Commission on Public Integrity Charges Another Lobbying Entity In Connection with Legislative Receptions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 12, 2010
CONTACT: Walter C. Ayres
                     518-474-4418

ALBANY – The State Commission on Public Integrity today announced that it has charged the International Union of Operating Engineers with violating the gift ban contained in the lobbying law when it allegedly held receptions for public officials and provided complimentary food and refreshments in excess of nominal value. The union admitted the violation and paid a civil penalty of $250.

This is the ninth entity to admit such a violation in five months. The other entities, all of whom admitted violating the law and paid the same penalty, are the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors, Inc., the New York State Association of Healthcare Providers, United University Professions, the New York Laborers’ PAC, the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors, the Association of PBAs (Police Benevolent Associations), the State Trial Lawyers Association, and the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

As in previous cases, the Commission is forwarding the names of legislators and staff who attended the reception to the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC). We note, however, that earlier this year, the LEC issued two unsigned opinions, essentially stating that legislators and their staff who attend such events do not violate the law, even though the organizations sponsoring the events have made that admission.

The Public Employee Ethics Reform Act of 2007 significantly changed the law by prohibiting public officials and State officers and employees from accepting gifts of more than nominal value, which the Commission has determined to be no more than the cost of an ordinary cup of coffee. Gifts of $75 or less had been allowed in the past, and receptions such as these often were permissible and common.

Michael Cherkasky, Chairman of the Commission, said, “This demonstrates what happens when different entities have jurisdiction over the same section of the law. It is a violation for lobbyists to sponsor such events; it is a violation for members of the Executive Branch to attend such events; but it now appears that the LEC believes it is acceptable for legislators and their staff to accept invitations to such receptions.”

Copies of the Notices of Reasonable Cause and settlement are available on-line at http://www.nyintegrity.org/enforcement/ea.html

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The opinions of the Legislative Ethics Commission are available at: http://www.legethics.state.ny.us/AdvisoryOpinions.aspx