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Key Takeaways:

  • The New York state budget replaces the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), the entity responsible for overseeing, regulating, and ensuring compliance with New York State’s ethics and lobbying laws.
  • The new commission will have fewer members, commission members will be confirmed by an independent review committee made up of the deans from New York law schools, and the commission will elect its own chairman.
  • Governor Kathy Hochul hopes the new commission will be a turning point for ethics investigations in New York, but critics say that the new commission is a change in name only and will likely not result in more accountability for those under its jurisdiction.
  • While the new commission will be undertaking a review of all current regulations, including those impacting lobbyists, there is no immediate change in registration and reporting procedures for New York lobbyists.

On April 9, 2022, the state of New York passed a $220 billion budget, a portion of which replaces the Joint Committee on Public Ethics (JCOPE) with a new ethics commission, referred to in the budget as the New York Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government. The move to create a new commission came after substantial criticism of JCOPE for conflicts of interests and how it handled investigations. 

Governor Kathy Hochul hopes that this will be a turning point for ethics investigations in New York. However, some have criticized the new commission as little more than a change of name and argued that there is little to no substantive difference between the new commission and JCOPE. 

Like JCOPE, the new commission will also oversee lobbyist registration and reporting. While the new commission will be undertaking a review of all current regulations, including those impacting lobbyists, there is no immediate change in registration and reporting procedures for New York lobbyists. 

What’s Changing?

Commission Appointments and Structure

The new commission differs from JCOPE in its structure, how members are appointed, and in its meeting frequency. The commission will have 11 members, whereas JCOPE previously had 14. The members will be nominated by the following individuals:

  • Three nominees will be appointed by the governor,

  • Two by the temporary president of the senate, 

  • Two  by the speaker of the assembly, 

  • Two by the minority leaders of the senate and the assembly (one each), 

  • One by the attorney general, and 

  • One by the comptroller. 

This new nomination structure reduces the number of members the governor can nominate from six to three and removes the lieutenant governor as an individual who can nominate commission members. Additionally, temporary president of the senate and the speaker of the assembly have their number of nominees reduced from three to two. Finally, this new structure gives additional authority to the attorney general and comptroller to nominate members, whereas previously they only made recommendations for potential JCOPE members.     

Appointee Review Process

Once an individual has been nominated, an independent review committee, made up of deans from American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools in New York, will have 30 days to review and either approve or deny candidates to the commission. 

Commission Member Terms

The first commission members will serve staggered terms to ensure continuity, and subsequent commission members will serve four year terms and no member may serve for more than two consecutive terms. Previously, JCOPE members served for five year terms. Additionally, the chairman of the commission will be nominated by a majority vote of the commission members and will serve for a term of two years. This is a significant change from JCOPE whose chairman was appointed by the governor and who served at the pleasure of the governor (meaning they could be removed at any time, for any reason).

Meeting Frequency

The new commission will meet at least once a quarter and must hold at least one public hearing each year. The new commission is required to meet less frequently than JCOPE, which was required to meet at least every two months, however, the quarterly meeting is a floor and the commission can meet more frequently if needed. 

Prohibited Appointees and Appointee Activities

As with JCOPE, individuals who have previously been registered lobbyists, members or employees of the legislature, political party chairs, or state officers or employees cannot be nominated to the commission. 

Additionally, commission members are explicitly barred from making or soliciting contributions to candidates, PACs, political parties, newsletter funds, and political ads for election to governor, lieutenant governor, members of the legislature, attorney general, or comptroller. This is a change from JCOPE, which did not explicitly prohibit members from donating to PACs, newsletters funds, or political ads.