Let’s allow that policies can become complicated when circumstances deviate from those on which those policies were based. And let’s even allow that maybe – maybe – it is only coincidence that an ethics panel headed by appointees of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently issued two rulings that personally benefit Cuomo and his live-in girlfriend.
Having allowed that, let’s also conclude that it doesn’t matter. The rulings work against the interests of New Yorkers, in whose name the policies were made. Something needs to change.
The ethics panel is allowing Cuomo and Sandra Lee to have it both ways. Because she is his live-in girlfriend, the panel decided that Lee – an entrepreneur who writes books and hosts television shows about cooking – can receive the taxpayer-funded perks that traditionally go to a governor’s spouse.
Fair enough. It’s the 21st century and not all partners get married. But in the very next breath, the State Joint Commission on Public Ethics ruled that Lee wasn’t like a spouse, after all, and as such, does not have to disclose the financial data that would otherwise be required.
That won’t do.
A basic concept of public service is that constituents have a right to know who is trying to influence official policies. That’s the point of publicly disclosing sources of income not only of officeholders, but of their spouses. Lee is not Cuomo’s wife, but in terms of her presumed influence on him, she might as well be. Certainly, in terms of her ability to enjoy the taxpayer-funded perks of a wife, she is.
Cuomo and Lee can take care of this immediately without waiting for the Legislature to update the law. Just as some federal officials have given back some of their pay while government workers are being sacrificed to sequestration, New York’s first couple can decide on their own that the right thing to do is to make the financial disclosures that their relationship requires.
It’s about honoring the spirit of the law, and doing right by the millions of New Yorkers whom Cuomo serves. Refusal will only raise suspicions that there is something to hide. Just get the information out there and move on.