INTRODUCTION

On March 26, 2007, the Public Employee Ethics Reform Act (PEERA) of 2007 became law. It is the most comprehensive modification to the lobbying and ethics laws in more than 20 years, combining the staffs, jurisdictions, powers, duties and functions of the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying and the State Ethics Commission, into the New York State Commission on Public Integrity, which was created by PEERA and made operational on September 24, 2007.

The new law quadruples penalties for certain violations, reduces the gift ban from $75 to gifts of "nominal" value, bans honoraria for statewide elected officials and agency heads, prohibits the heads of State agencies from seeking nomination for public office without first resigning their public employment or taking a leave of absence, requires reports of lobbying involving disbursement of public monies and prohibits lobbyists from giving gifts not only to public officials, but also to their spouses and unemancipated children.

It also prohibits nepotism, limits the influence of politics in decisions to hire or promote State employees and to award State contracts and extends the Commission's enforcement jurisdiction to these areas. The statute prohibits elected officials from appearing in any advertisements paid for with public funds and provides the Commission with jurisdiction over closely affiliated not-for-profit corporations established under the State Finance Law to assist State agencies in carrying out their mission.

As did its two predecessor commissions, the Commission on Public Integrity will continue to appoint staff, adopt rules and regulations, review financial disclosure statements, audit registration statements, receive complaints and referrals alleging violations of laws, conduct investigations and hearings, impose civil penalties, make referrals to other oversight bodies, advise agencies of the State in establishing rules and regulations, render advisory opinions on the requirements of the law, and conduct training programs.

All of the matters pending within the two previous Commissions are being conducted and completed without interruption by the Commission on Public Integrity, and the process of integrating the staffs of the prior commissions into a unified staff of the Commission on Public Integrity has been a great success. In short, there has been no pause in any of the Commission's investigative, education and training responsibilities or review of disclosure filings by Executive Branch personnel, lobbyists and their clients.

The Commission will continue to build on the strong foundations established by its predecessor commissions. There is much to be done and much already has been accomplished. The Commission must undertake a comprehensive review of all regulations and opinions issued by the previous commissions and determine the consistency of such regulations and opinions among each other and with PEERA's provisions. The Commission must report, by April 1, 2008, to the Legislature and Governor regarding its review, and propose any regulatory changes and issue any opinions necessitated by PEERA's enactment. These tasks are well underway as this publication goes to press.

Because the Ethics and Lobbying Commissions ceased to exist in 2007, this report will include information on their respective activities as well as the work of the Commission on Public Integrity since its beginning on September 24, 2007.

OUTREACH AND EDUCATION

Both the Ethics Commission and the Lobbying Commission had training units, which were combined under the aegis of the Commission on Public Integrity. Education and training remain key components of the Commission's mission.

In 2007, both the Lobbying and the Ethics Commission staffed information tables at the Empire State Plaza Concourse in Albany and that program continues under the Commission on Public Integrity. Since approximately 10,000 State employees work at the complex, this is a low-cost way for Commission staff to reach out to the State workforce, as well as to the many members of the public and lobbyists who visit the Concourse each year. In addition to answering individual questions, staff provides copies of brochures and may offer demonstrations of the electronic filing system. Hundreds of State employees and visitors to the Plaza stop by each year to ask questions and pick up published material about our work.

State Ethics Officers Association

The State Ethics Officers Association held a meeting in Albany with 85 officers in attendance. Topics included a discussion of the Public Employee Ethics Reform Act of 2007, "The Role of the State Inspector General" and "A Day in the Life of an Ethics Officer: Implementing an Ethics Officer's Program from the Ground Up."

The conference provides ethics officers an opportunity to meet their counterparts and enhance inter-agency cooperation in the ethics area such as sharing experiences regarding ethics training and training resources.

Ethics Training

The Commission conducted 217 training sessions for 8,653 employees in 2007. Staff also conducted 16 sessions of a two-credit continuing legal education (CLE) course entitled "Public Section Ethics for Lawyers" which were attended by 460 people.