Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the state’s watchdog ethics panel “meaningless” on Wednesday, following an attempt by the State Senate to pass legislation overhauling the agency.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, was created by Cuomo in his first term in office but has long been criticized by both sides of the aisle for its lack of transparency and its close ties to the governor.
The dam broke just a few weeks ago, when it was revealed that JCOPE staffers were the ones to secretly give Cuomo approval for his controversial $5.1 million book deal, as first reported by the New York Post.
The state Senate approved a bill that would “reform” the panel, but Cuomo says this move is pointless without a constitutional amendment, claiming only the legislature can discipline a legislator.
“The fundamental flaw is a constitutional barrier,” Cuomo said. “Because the fundamental flaw is, it can't enforce anything, it's non-binding. It's essentially advisory. If the legislature takes the position that its findings are not binding because there is no outside agency that has any authority for any sanction. So, it's meaningless. It's meaningless. The Constitution says only a legislative only the legislature can discipline a legislator.”
Cuomo postured on Wednesday that only the state Senate and Assembly ethics committees could discipline its members.
However, JCOPE has sanctioned numerous lawmakers.
The panel’s first public case against a lawmaker was in 2013, against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. JCOPE sanctioned Assemblyman Lopez for sexually harassing his staffers, however, this was after this case was publicized in the media.
Another case JCOPE investigated was into Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak for sexually harassing seven of his former employees. JCOPE ended up fining him $100,000 after the Assemblyman resigned.
The “JCOPE Reform” bill passed by the state Senate this week would give minority and majority party’s equal power to appoint members and allow for a straight majority vote.
The bill does not have a companion bill in the state Assembly, which is needed before it can get signed into law and it is unclear if this can get done in the last seven days of the session.
Cuomo was also asked during his press conference on Wednesday if he has made any changes to his workplace conduct or his administration since the sexual harassment allegations came to light.
“People have criticisms… Now, some criticisms are politically motivated, some are philosophically motivated. I'm a progressive Democrat, some conservative Republicans find that objectionable,” Cuomo says overlooking the fact that Democrats on both the state and national level have called for him to resign.
“There is also a number of reviews that are going on to analyze the specifics and let's see what they say,” Cuomo said. “And if there is a problem, bona fide problem, then address it.”