Ballot Question #3: Ethics and Government

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Prohibit City elected officials and senior appointed officials from appearing before the agency (or, in certain cases, the branch of government) they served in for two years after they leave City service, instead of the current one year. This change would be applicable to persons who leave elected office or City employment after January 1, 2022;

Change the membership of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) by replacing two of the members currently appointed by the Mayor with one member appointed by the Comptroller and one member appointed by the Public Advocate;

Prohibit members of the COIB from participating in campaigns for local elected office, and reduce the maximum amount of money that members can contribute in each election cycle to the amounts that candidates can receive from those doing business with the City ($400 or less, depending on the office);

Require that the citywide director of the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) program report directly to the Mayor and require further that such director be supported by a mayoral office of M/WBEs; and

Require that the City’s Corporation Counsel, currently appointed by the Mayor, also be approved by the City Council.

Shall this proposal be adopted?

The Way Things Are Now

Post-Employment Appearance Ban for Elected Officials and Senior Appointed Officials. Former City employees and elected officials who leave their jobs to work in the private sector are generally not allowed to communicate on behalf of their new employers with their former city agency, or in some cases the branch of city government, that employed them. This ban lasts for one year following the end of their city employment.

Conflicts of Interest Board Structure. The New York City Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) interprets and enforces the ethics laws and rules city employees must follow, including rules relating to outside employment, volunteering, gifts, political activities, misuse of position, and post-employment restrictions. The COIB has five board members, all of whom are appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council. Currently, a COIB decision can be made with the approval of only two of the five members.

Political Activity by Members of COIB. Members of the COIB are not allowed to hold or run for public office, work as public employees, hold political party office, or appear as a lobbyist before the City. However, they may make contributions to candidates and volunteer or work for political campaigns.

Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) Citywide Director and Office. New York City’s Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) program promotes city contracting opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses. The citywide M/WBE director may report either to the mayor or to a commissioner who reports to the mayor. In recent years, the position has reported directly to the mayor and has been supported by the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs, but future administrations could discontinue this practice.

Appointment of the Corporation Counsel. The New York City Law Department—a city agency consisting of over 900 lawyers who support and defend the City, its laws, officials, and agencies—is led by an attorney called the Corporation Counsel. The mayor appoints and can remove the Corporation Counsel. At times, city entities such as the mayor and the City Council, have legal conflicts and the Corporation Counsel must determine how the Law Department can best represent the interests of the city as a whole.

If Ballot Question #3 Passes

Post-Employment Appearance Ban for Elected Officials and Senior Appointed Officials. This post-employment appearance ban would be increased to two years for elected officials and high-ranking appointed officials, including deputy mayors, the head of any agency, the paid members of any city board or commission, and the executive director or highest-ranking employee of a board or commission. This new two-year ban will not apply to most current elected officials whose terms end before the January 1, 2022 effective date.

Conflicts of Interest Board Structure. The mayor would only appoint three of the COIB’s five members. One would be appointed by the public advocate and one by the comptroller. The City Council would still be required to approve all appointments. In addition, decisions by the COIB will have to be approved by at least three of the five board members, instead of just two.

Political Activity by Members of COIB. The restrictions on political activity by members of the COIB will be expanded; members will no longer be allowed to work or volunteer for any political campaign for the city offices of mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, or City Council member. In addition, board members who want to contribute to campaigns for those offices will be limited to the reduced amount that persons doing business with the city are permitted to contribute ($400 for mayor, public advocate, and comptroller; $320 for borough president; and $250 for City Council).

Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) Citywide Director and Office. The Charter will require that the M/WBE Director report to the mayor and be supported by a mayoral Office of M/WBE’s.

Appointment of the Corporation Counsel. The Corporation Counsel would continue to be appointed by the mayor, but this appointment must be approved by the City Council. The mayor would be required to present a new Corporation Counsel candidate to the Council within 60 days of a vacancy or of the Council’s disapproval of the mayor’s initial nominee.

Statements Supporting Proposal

Tousif Ahsan, Civic Engagement Coordinator, NYPIRG

NYPIRG urges a YES vote on Question 3.
A two-year ban on lobbying by former elected and appointed officials in front of their old agencies will help reduce the possibility of corruption. Such lobbying by former government employees and officials can result in undue influence on our government and undermine our democracy. The power these lobbyists wield should be limited so they don’t overshadow the influence of regular New Yorkers.
Further, the Conflicts of Interest Board is tasked as a watchdog overseeing the actions of the Mayor, City Council, and the city’s public servants and employees. Currently the Mayor appoints all five board members with approval from the Council. Redistributing two appointments to the Public Advocate’s and Comptroller’s offices would make the COIB more independent and therefore more effective at their task.
NYPIRG believes that the Corporation Counsel is closely tied to the office of the Mayor and we are wary of any changes that may compromise that status. While the proposed reform to the Corp Counsel is a departure from this, NYPIRG nonetheless believes that, as a whole, this ballot question’s impact is positive and therefore we urge a YES vote.

Ben Kallos, New York City Council Member

New York City has a revolving door between city government and those who profit off of government, allowing elected officials and agency heads to take jobs with companies that had business before them. Currently, they must only wait 1 year before lobbying the agency or branch of government they served in. While I believe in a lifetime ban on lobbying to permanently end the revolving door, this question would double the length of our city's revolving door prohibition to 2 years, giving the public more confidence in their government and guarding against actual or perceived corruption.
Women and people of color face discrimination when seeking to do business with the city to such an extent that there is a clear disparity between the number of businesses they own and those getting hired. This question codifies the Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) as reporting directly to the Mayor with the mission of ending this discrimination and creating economic opportunity for women and communities of color.
For Question 3 on Ethics and Government, vote YES.

Susan Lerner, Executive Director, Common Cause/NY

Question 3 would amend the Charter to strengthen existing ethics guidelines in several ways. Most importantly, Question 3 sets strict limits on the political activity of COIB members by prohibiting their participation in any local campaign, and reducing the amount they can contribute to candidates. New Yorkers expect those acting in a watchdog capacity to exhibit integrity, high ethical standards, and most importantly, independence.
Question 3 also aims to close the so-called “revolving door” by extending the ban on former elected City officials or senior appointed officials from communicating with the agency or office that previously employed them. Extending the ban is an essential step in curtailing the all too common practice of former public officials leveraging their previous positions in government.
By changing the appointment process of the city’s chief lawyer, Question 3 ensures that the Corporation Counsel does not fall under improper pressure from the Mayor that would impede their ability to fairly represent the interests of the city as a whole.

New York Immigration Coalition

New York Immigration Coalition Position: Support
These proposals combat corruption and unfair influence peddling by extending the time former elected officials and city employees may not appear before or contact their former agency; improving the independence of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) by adding members not appointed by the Mayor; restricting campaign contributions and participation from those tasked with investigating corruption; making the position of Citywide Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises Director permanent to diversify which business owners receive city funding; and requiring the City Council to approve the City’s top lawyer before they are allowed to join the Mayor’s staff.

Reinvent Albany

Reinvent Albany urges you to vote YES on Question 3.
Question 3 extends the restrictions on elected officials and public servants lobbying their past offices from one year to two years.
When elected officials and government employees lobby their old coworkers soon after leaving office, it can create a perception of undue influence. Lengthening the post-employment ban on former elected officials and government employees makes it less likely that decisions of public servants will be influenced by those they recently worked with, and helps ensure decisions will be made on the merits.
Q3 also restricts how much members of the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB) can donate to candidates for office in NYC and prohibits board members from participating in campaigns for public office.
This proposal will help build public trust in COIB’s conduct. The Board enforces the City’s ethics laws, so board members must sometimes vote on whether elected officials have violated the law. But if a board member has previously contributed to the campaign of the elected official, it is difficult to trust the impartiality of the member’s vote. The new restrictions will make such perceptions less likely.

Bella Wang, Board of Directors, League of Women Voters of the City of New York

We recommend a “yes” vote on this ballot item. These measures add some checks and balances on Mayoral power, without weakening our strong mayoral form of government.
This proposal promotes transparency by expanding COIB appointment authority to the COIB to include input from the Public Advocate and Comptroller, as well as by incorporating the advice and consent of the City Counsel into the appointment of the Corporation Counsel, which represents all city entities.
This proposal also creates checks on potential abuses of power, by slowing the revolving door of employees becoming lobbyists and limiting political contributions by members of the Conflict of Interest Board to local candidates.
Lastly, this proposal would codify the current practice of having the Director of the Minority/Women's Business Enterprise (M/WBE) program report directly to the Mayor.

Statements Opposing Proposal

Citizens Union

Citizens Union recommends a no vote on question 3, which includes controversial items and covers disparate issues. The question would lengthen the amount of time that city employees could not appear before their former agency to two years rather than the current one year; give the public advocate and comptroller appointments to the Conflict of Interest Board; limit what Conflict of Interest Board members can contribute to city campaigns; create a mayoral office for the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program; and require that appointment of the corporation counsel be subject to Council approval.

Manhattan Libertarian Party

We ask that you vote no. The Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise ("M/WBE") program is constitutionally justified only as a remedial program for past discrimination. It is inappropriate to inscribe such a temporary program into a permanent charter and office under the Mayor. These are also legislative moves that are inappropriate for the City Charter and deprive City Counsel of any role. The M/WBE program itself is deeply flawed, engaging in racial preferences, encouraging fraud and abuse, and adding inefficiencies and waste to the City budget. The program was only established in 2005 and other cities structure similar programs differently. Chartering the program creates a permanent obstacle to reforming the City’s extremely wasteful and inefficient procurement system or reforming, replacing or eliminating the M/WBE program.

Martin Samoylov

Participating in local elections is an act of participating in democracy. By prohibiting members of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) from doing that, this proposal would prohibit them from participating in their democracy. It would also set a precedent of potentially prohibiting other members of government agencies from participating in campaigns.
While effort to reduce perceived and actual corruption are appropriate and the reason both the COIB and the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) exist, going all the way as to prohibit COIB employees from being involved in local campaigns is a step too far.
There are thousands of people working in City government. From the local public school teacher to the Mayor himself, they are all permitted to participate in elections. The COIB is already overseeing many City employees and makes sure they do not misuse taxpayer money. Those barriers already exist and an all-out prohibition on participating in campaigns seems inappropriate.
Working for the City, even for the Conflict of Interest Board, shouldn't disqualify you from being an active participant in local democracy.
Because of this, I urge residents to vote NO on ballot question #3.