ALBANY – New York’s new corruption-fighting commission is asking all state lawmakers to provide never-before-required details about their outside work – including a list of law clients – prompting the Legislature to lawyer up for a possible challenge to the panel’s authority.
The request by the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption comes on the heels of a sordid spring of a half-dozen federal indictments against lawmakers and questions about whether lucrative outside employment could create conflicts of interest.
According to a letter sent late last month and obtained by the Associated Press, all lawmakers must provide data on outside employment that paid over $20,000 in 2012, a description of the work the lawmaker performed, how the wage or salary was determined, and – critical for the many attorneys in the Legislature – “a list of your clients in any civil matters or in any publicly filed criminal matters.”
The deadline is Thursday. If lawmakers don’t comply, the commission could subpoena people and records.
The letter goes well beyond what current ethics laws require. The part-time lawmakers, who are paid $79,500, are currently asked only to check off a salary range for any other employment. They aren’t required to identify clients, which could reveal conflicts of interests, something lawmakers have blocked for years, contending that their clients’ identities were protected under attorney-client privilege.
Recent ethics disclosures show Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre makes as much as $250,000 a year in a law firm, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, makes up to $450,000 in another law firm.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo created the commission two months ago to investigate corruption in state government, with power under New York’s 1907 Moreland Act to interview witnesses, hold hearings and seize evidence.
But under that law, such a commission can only investigate executive branch agencies, not the Legislature.
The Assembly’s Democratic majority hired a lawyer to advise the chamber on the commission’s request, raising the first legal concerns about the commission’s authority to investigate the Legislature.
The lawmakers’ concern is based in part on a mostly overlooked provision of Cuomo’s executive order that requires the independent commission to refer cases to the State Police superintendent, who is appointed by Cuomo.