Our Views: Ethics board‘s threat to press

Our Views: Ethics board‘s threat to press

New York State’s ethics board voted last week to require public relations consultants to register their efforts to influence government through public campaigns – including newspaper editorial boards.

This is troubling on so many levels it is hard to count.

But let’s try, beginning with the question: New York State has an ethics board?

Despite all evidence to the contrary it does. 

The commission, known as Joint Commission on Public Ethics, is comprised of 14 members – six of whom are appointed by the governor, three appointed by the Senate Minority Leader, three by the Speaker of the Assembly and one by each minority leader in each house.

Which means that six of the 14 appointees to the ethics commission were controlled by state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver – both of whom were recently convicted of federal corruption charges.

The good news is that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharra found that Gov. Andrew Cuomo – who has six appointed on the ethics board – had not been guilty of any criminal wrongdoing in disbanding the Moreland Commission in the midst of its inquiry into wrongdoing in the state Legislature.

Having 12 of the appointees to the ethics board controlled by people facing federal charges might have looked bad. No?

A serious ethics board might have taken an look at the so-called LLC Loophole in the state election law, which has given developers and other deep-pocketed donors the ability give essentially unlimited campaign donations to state politicians.

Perhaps the No. 1 user of the law was Glenwood Management, a New Hyde Park-based developer that was at the heart of the cases against both Skelos and Silver. Using the loophole, they have for years been the largest contributors to politicians on both sides of the aisle including Cuomo. 

But rather than take on unlimited donations by developers whose business depend on laws approved by the governor and state Legislator, JCOPE aimed its fire at so-called “grass-roots efforts that seek funding or policies through rallies at the State Capitol often critical of the governor.

This includes support by newspaper editorial boards, who apparently are believed to be too weak minded to form opinions on their own or understand that public relations firms represents their clients.

Why stop with grass-roots campaigns? Why not require public relations firms from registering with the state any time they attempt to influence a newspaper’s stand on public policy with a press release?

Or for the matter, why not require any citizen who wishes the influence a newspaper’s editorials to register with the state?

The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees press freedom — along with the  right to peaceably assemble and petition the governmental. Its intent was to ensure that the press serve as a watchdog — something that the state of New York, of all places, is now attempting to undermine.

Sounds like something worthy of rallying about at the State Capitol.

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