WXXI Local Stories
Tue June 2, 2009
Former Lobby Ethics Chief Condemns Current Public Integrity Commission
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, New York – The former head of a state commission that policed lobbyists criticized the present state ethics panel, saying it's recent troubles detailed in an Inspector General's report is an "indictment" of all that's wrong with Albany's political and ethical culture.
David Grandeau headed the former State Commission on Lobbying, and developed a reputation for his non -partisan approach to potential lobbying law violations, and his bull dog like tenacity when conducting investigations.
Grandeau was the only member of the commission who was not asked to stay on when the present Public Integrity Commission was formed at the urging of then Governor Eliot Spitzer. The newly configured ethics panel has been the subject of controversy nearly ever since it's inception, and Grandeau says a recent report by the State Inspector General condemning the commission's actions in the Troopergate probe illustrates everything that's wrong with the new panel.
"You can't imagine the harm that has been done by revelations of corruption at the ethics commission," said Grandeau. "It's the ultimate indictment of Albany."
The Inspector General charged the Integrity Commission's executive director with violating the public officers law, for passing on information about a probe to a key member of the Spitzer Administration. The report accused the commission members of doing nothing to stop the corruption.
Grandeau was testifying at a Senate hearing on ethics reform. The Senators were examining Governor Paterson's recent proposal to reform the ethics panel, which was designed to address the flaws enumerated in the Inspector General's report. Senate Democrats have their own proposal for a new ethics commission. But Grandeau told them that simply reconfiguring the panel yet again is not the key to creating an independent, fair ethics policing unit. He says it's the people put in place to run the entities that matters. Grandeau's recommendation to lawmakers; chose an executive director and commission members that make politicians squirm.
"Look for someone that makes you uncomfortable," sad Grandeau. "Not the go-along, get-along crowd."
No one from the present Public Integrity Commission was invited to speak at the hearing, but a spokesman, Walter Ayres, listened to the testimony, and said that Grandeau is incorrect. Ayres says the Public Integrity Commission is becoming the scapegoat for all that's gone wrong at the Capitol.
"We're the only agency that's charged anybody in Troopergate," said Ayres. "And yet, talking to him and other people, it's like we're the cause of all the corruption in Albany. It just baffles me."
Senator Dan Squadron is the sponsor of the bill in the Senate to overhaul the ethics commission. The Senate Democrats' plan differs from Paterson's. The governor would allow state leaders to appoint a ten member panel, that then chose the five member commission. Squadron says the Senate's bill would allow elected officials to directly pick the commissioners, but no one faction would have the majority of appointees.
"It would create real independence," said Squadron, "And wouldn't put anyone either in control of their own ethics oversight, or at the whim of someone else."
Both plans would give the panel new oversight over the legislature and over campaign finance laws. Senator Squadron says he thinks the differences can be worked out before the end of the legislative session.