According to recent news reports, the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC) and the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) have recently provided informal guidance relating to gifts to legislators and post-employment activity by former state employees.
On Monday, the New York Post reported that a State Senator sought guidance on whether he could accept tickets to sit in the President’s Box at the U.S. Open. That tournament is held in Queens beginning in late August, and is conducted by the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA). [If you’ve never been, I highly recommend visiting at least once. It is a phenomenal event.]
According to the Post, the LEC told the State Senator “no,” and also told the USTA to rescind the invitations. With respect to New York City officials, the Post says that the City’s Conflicts of Interest Board is expected to render a determination on the question at its August 22nd meeting.
The New York Times editorial board approves of the LEC’s action. As state law limits gifts from lobbyists and clients to lawmakers to items of “nominal value,” it seems that this was not even a close call for the LEC.
Today’s Times Union reports that JCOPE has told a former employee of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) that the state’s two-year revolving door statute – which prohibits former employees from “appearing before” their former agencies for two years after they leave the agency – prohibits him from appearing before OTDA to help people appeal denials of their benefits on a pro bono basis.
JCOPE’s informal opinion stated that his request for approval to appear before OTDA on a volunteer basis is prohibited by current law, citing a 1990 opinion by the State Ethics Commission which said that the ban also applied to pro bono work.
Again, I think JCOPE got this one right. While you can make strong policy argument why a former state employee who is still within their two-year ban period should be able to pro-bono work of this nature, it simply is not permitted under current state law. If that is to change, it is up to the Legislature and Governor to do so.