Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Season’s Greetings

About this time every year – back when I was head of the state Lobbying Commission – I would do something special to get me in the holiday mood.

No, I wouldn’t bake cookies or hang mistletoe.

Instead, my staff would create a file on the hot topics for the New Year and begin the process of keeping tabs on who was lobbying for whom on all sides of an issue. As part of this effort, I’d collect interesting news articles and make notes on what I might have heard on the street.

I was reminded of this old habit of mine the other day when I read an article in the New York Times about the efforts of energy companies to influence the Cuomo administration on the matter of fracking for natural gas.

As I read the piece, something triggered a mini alarm in my mind. The article was all about the gas companies and how they were outspending the enviros. But it occurred to me that most of the ads I’d seen on the fracking issue in previous months were anti-drilling. In fact while I was writing the blog I heard on ad for the following group

Keep in mind that as an enforcer of ethics laws, you’re supposed to be impartial on the policy questions. That is, you’re not supposed to take a side pro or con on an issue.
What I would have done back in the day was look into the matter to see if all the groups sponsoring ads were properly registered to lobby.

Here’s the key thing: I always tried to avoid the “gotcha game.” I really didn’t want to come down on people for missing a filing deadline. I tried to use good judgment in these situations. Was it an honest mistake? Or was someone actually trying to avoid their responsibilities under the law?

On this point there’s an odd dichotomy: The natural assumption is that big bad industry group’s act in insidious ways while do-gooder groups make innocent mistakes. Maybe, and maybe not. To my mind, the only way for an ethics enforcer to proceed is to be skeptical, but not cynical, about everyone.

Back to the environmental groups. I don’t know that anyone has done anything wrong, but as an ethics enforcer, I’d check it out. I want to know who exactly was funding all the ads on this issue and whether everyone associated with the cause was properly registered.

Why does it matter? Because disclosure is the flu shot of government. Does it always work? No but your chances of staying healthy increase dramatically.

Now if there was a functioning state ethics and lobbying panel today, its executive director would be proactively looking at the big issue areas for the New Year. Who’s lobbying for whom? What is the nature and extent of lobbying activities on drilling, gaming, the millionaire’s tax, redistricting, etc.

This is what should be occurring, but, for the hundredth time, it isn’t because there’s still no state ethics and lobbying panel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Do it right the first time

The new Joint Commission on Public Ethics (J-COPE) is supposed to be fully operational by December 12th.

But let’s be real: Two weeks isn’t much time to get organized.

The new commissioners, have to be named soon and they will need all the help they can get. And in that spirit, I offer the following tips:

1. You’ll be in a rush to get going, but first things first. One of the easiest ways you’ll trip up is by failing to disclose everyone’s potential conflicts of interest. Such conflicts are inevitable. In most cases they aren’t a big deal, but before someone (like me) points out the conflicts and they become a news story, do it first along with a plan to address the situation through recusals. The previous ethics agency was riddled with conflicts and it showed, they even had commissioners that were part of lobbying firms.

2. You are the ones who should name the executive director, not the administration. You won’t be doing yourselves or the Governor any favors if you rubber stamp his selection. Your predecessor commissioners made this mistake and they were all tarnished (Teitebaumed) as a result. And take your time it is the single most important decision you will make as commissioners.  The executive director will make or break this new agency.

3. In this same vein, you need to make a clean break with the current E.D., Barry Ginsberg. Keeping him on as an acting or advisory staffer would compromise you. Remember his role in Troopergate – as exposed by the Inspector General, and remember his rogue activities over the last several months when the Public Integrity Commission was supposed to have been suspended. The reason the Public Integrity Commission was a complete failure and embarrassment was the people, Barry represents all that was bad before.

4. There are some good people left at the agency who can form the nucleus of a new team. These individuals want nothing more than to restore the reputation of ethics enforcement in New York. But don’t take Ginsberg’s word on who should be hired or retained. Make your own determination based on an individual’s record. Anyone in a policy making position that did not stand up and try to make the old Public Integrity Commission do the right thing should be let go and quickly.  You don't need institutional memory from the top staff, they are the ones that will tell you to do it the wrong way because thats the way they have always done it you need a fresh start and the top staff needs to be terminated before they have a chance to shape policy in a new agency.

5. Most importantly, be open about your official deliberations, and do everything you can to adhere to the clearest and highest standards of law. Your predecessors were a complete joke because they did everything in secret and because they made up the rules as they went along. This isn’t just my opinion. Everyone in the ethics community was shocked by the commission’s actions. You can and must operate differently. I'll be sending you requests for opinions and complaints that heve been ignored by the old regime, that will be my test to see if its a new era of ethics enforcement in Albany or just more rhetoric.

6. And finally listen to the non lawyers on the panel, they have a unique perspective that will serve the new commission well it’s called common sense something most lawyers in government have lost a long time ago.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On Being Thankful

I’ll be taking some time off this week, but before I do, I want to take note of some things we can all be thankful for.
Start with a familiar question: Are you better off now than you were last year at this time?
Before you answer, think about context. If your criteria for being better off is hitting a lottery jackpot, then you’re probably going to answer in the negative. But if you consider the calamities that were avoided, you’ll probably answer in the affirmative.
Case in point: If getting a raise is the deciding factor, then the average state worker will say he or she is not better off. But if retaining a good job in struggling economy when so many others are out of work is the test, then you’ll be thankful indeed.
Context is everything.
As regular readers know, this blog offers pointed commentary on policy issues, particularly with regard to matters of ethics and accountability. Given my focus and edgy tone at times, people might assume that I’d answer the question negatively.
Not so. I actually think we’re much better off overall than we were this time last year.
Sure, I’d like to see the Cuomo administration move faster on establishing a new state ethics panel. I want the goo-goos to be more independent and aggressive. I want to see more openness and accountability throughout state government.
But remember where we were a year ago. Think of how far we’ve come. State government is actually functioning again. There is a renewed sense of discipline and competence in the governor’s office. Excessive partisanship has been toned down, and the leaders of state government are actually working together on problems.
This is a major improvement from just a year ago.
Of course, it doesn’t mean I’m going to get soft and cuddly. For example, I’m certainly not going to relent in my belief that Barry G. and the others who ran ethics enforcement into the ground in New York should be tarred and feathered.
No, I will continue to be skeptical – skeptical, but not cynical – about state government.
But for a moment at least, I think we can all pause and be thankful for the progress that has been achieved. In this regard, I commend the governor and the leaders for their efforts, and I wish (almost) everyone a happy Thanksgiving.

It’s the People Stupid

Back in June I posted a list of COPI employees I thought should be let go after the new legislation passed.  Most of them were on the list of those employees laid off in September.  Now I can’t lie it wasn’t a coincidence.  I had very frank conversations with people in a position to make those decisions.  I’d like to think they valued my opinion then I hope they do now.

With that thought in mind and a huge rebuilding job ahead of whomever is selected to build the new integrity agency let me suggest that s/he not take the easy way out and just continue on with the existing staff.  It would be a colossal mistake.  While I’d be happy to share my opinion of who should be retained privately with the new leadership (if I did it publicly the bad ones that remain would certainly try to target them, they have before) I am willing to point out some of the remaining employees that I think should have no part in the new agency.  One need only look at the June list.

But recently some events have occurred that show me other names need to be added.  Back in June I thought Kate Burgess was the best of a bad bunch of lawyers and I said so.  However she has now become the records access officer for the commission and has gone out of her way to prevent certain records from being provided under FOIL.  I know the records are embarrassing but you have an obligation Kate to do the right thing.  You’ve failed and your name must be added to the June list.

Also someone at the commission has begun to change over COPI documents to now read Joint Commission on Public Ethics.  Now it’s trivial but it displays a bureaucratic attempt to control the actions of a group that has not been selected much less be in a position to make decisions.  I’ve seen the type of bureaucrat that maneuvers unsuspecting commissioners into a position where they have no choice and decisions are made for them and submitted as a fait accompli.  Find out who was responsible for the change on those documents and you will have another one or two to add to that June list although I would bet they are both on it already.

As always feel free to call me if you end up on this commission you may not like the tone but you can rely on the knowledge.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Cuomo could learn from Spitzer

We are closing in on the end of the Commission on Public Integrity. (See our handy, dandy count-down clock at the top of the page.)

There’s never been a more ironically named entity. In fact, I think that history might record this experiment in ethics enforcement as the single worst idea of Eliot Spitzer.

Yeah, I think it is actually more egregious than using the state airplane to travel to Washington to bump uglies with a whore.

Think about it. Spitzer’s downfall was a lesson in what? Hubris? Probity? Morality?

Oh, come on. That’s a lot of after-the-fact, holier-than-thou BS.

Spitzer could have survived his sexual indiscretion if he had people willing to defend him. But in the end, he had nobody. He had alienated too many people with too many ill-conceived actions.

This includes me. I lost respect for Spitzer in early 2007. Why? There were functioning state ethics and lobbying panels in early 2007. The system wasn’t perfect, but it was more than passable. In fact, I like to believe that, while I was in charge, there was aggressive and independent enforcement of lobbying laws.

But then Spitzer ushered in the era of Feerick, Teitelbaum and Ginsburg. A short while later New York was a national joke regarding ethics and lobbying enforcement.

Only in New York could a state Commission on Public Integrity become the subject of a scathing report by the state Inspector General for repeated breaches of public integrity.

That was ’08. Fast forward to today, Feerick and Teitelbaum are gone in disgrace, but the third Musketeer is still at it. That’s right, Barry Ginsberg, cited in the Inspector General’s report for his Troopergate transgressions, is carrying on Spitzer’s ethics legacy.

Get this: Since the governor signed legislation abolishing the commission and placing a stop work order on all investigations, discipline and opinions, Barry and the remaining staff have been thumbing their noses at everyone.

Without any authority to do so, they’ve continued actions like auditing lobbyists. They are sending threatening letters and emails to people demanding that they comply with their directives. The only problem, again, is that Barry has no authority. The commission is supposed to be engaged in ministerial duties only -- not enforcement activities.

I know for a fact that Barry and his crew are engaged in such activities because they’ve been harassing some of my clients.

Sooooo, what should be done now? Well, this is Governor Cuomo’s watch, and he needs to do two things.

First, he ought to slam dunk Barry. Enough of his rogue activity. COPI has no authority to act, so Ginsburg’s activities must stop.  And any thoughts of providing Barry a soft landing should be shelved, the appearance would be one of buying his silence, let him talk after all what could he say?  That he failed to fulfill his responsibilities?

Second, Cuomo needs to understand the Spitzer lesson. (No, not that lesson.) He needs to fully comprehend that he is responsible for ethics and lobbying enforcement. It’s his legislation, his panel. As such, it is imperative that he picks the right people to staff it, and the right people to sit on the board.

And I know the Governor and the Legislature want to coordinate the naming of their respective appointees to the new panel.  But learn from the past, having a big press conference and ceremonial first meeting like Spitzer, Feerick and Teitelbaum did will not solve the problem.  It only provides video footage that the media can run every time there is a story about the latest scandal involving the appointees.  There is a lot of work to be done in a very short period of time (has anyone thought of what you need to do to build a new agency?) Pick some normal, non lawyer, non controllable ordinary citizens to be commissioners, find a fearless aggressive leader to appoint as the Executive Director and then take the moral high ground and hold them accountable to one commonsense standard of “do the right thing”.

As much as I’ve been pressing for action to constitute a new panel, I know that it has to be done right. Hopefully, the governor will appoint qualified people who are truly independent.

Fail to do that governor and you will repeat the Spitzer experience.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More on Whistleblower Protection

Where are the so-called good government groups on whistleblower protections? (See previous post.) Surely, Russ, Susan and Dick (hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil) know the critical importance of protecting those in government who come forward to report problems. This is true at any time, but especially now. Without a functioning state ethics panel, and no prospect of such a panel becoming operational before the end of the year, whistleblowers may be the only way to expose wrongdoing in state government.

Where is Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who, with great fanfare, recently proposed a measure that encourages whistleblowers to expose health care fraud and abuse? The measure was geared mainly toward the Medicaid program, but shouldn’t it apply to other state programs and all vulnerable populations? Do we somehow value people in nursing homes more than those in centers for the developmentally disabled?

Where are the Assembly Republicans? In response to the Penn State situation, Assemblyman Tedisco has already proposed legislation that would require coaches to report abuse of young people. But what about people who report abuse without being compelled by the law and who then face retaliation for doing the right thing? Where’s the righteous indignation for them?

Where are the whistleblower attorneys? This is a major practice area in the law. There are scores of attorneys who specialize in Qui Tam cases. They pop up whenever there’s a contingent fee to be made, but none of them wants to take this case?

Where are other reporters who cover state government? With a mere hint of partisan political scandal, they behave like a pack of baying hounds and chase down each others stories. But with a crisis in care for the developmentally disabled, they say: “That’s his story. I don’t want to follow it.”

Where is the Columbia Journalism Review? Why doesn’t it take up the cause of protecting the sources the Times used to expose wrongdoing?

What is going on here? Why isn’t anybody willing to stand up for honest people in state social services agencies who saw abuse and tried to stop it? Is this a conspiracy of silence? Doesn’t anyone care?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What Joe Pa could learn from Danny Hakim

The first order of business is to acknowledge this man’s work. Pick your superlative. They all apply. Quite simply, Danny Hakim of the New York Times may be the best reporter covering state government.
The second order of business, which I think he’d appreciate far more than any compliment, is to act on the problems that he has identified with his reporting.
In this regard, Hakim wrote this weekend about state officials failing to protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers in a state agency that provides services to the developmentally disabled.
I believe the proper response to this scandal is to investigate and prosecute. That’s right. There should be a thorough investigation of the agency’s ombudsmen program, and any individual who knowingly and intentionally violated confidentiality policies should be held accountable.
Think about the consequences of this particular conduct. Instead of having their identity protected, the whistleblowers were ratted out by the ombudsmen. And at least one individual then faced retaliation as a result.
At a minimum, such actions discourage whistle blowing. More troubling is the prospect that abuse was perpetuated. And remember what we’re talking about. This isn’t your typical ethics problem involving self-dealing or conflict of interest.  We’re talking about physical abuse of helpless people.
Think of the Penn State situation. At Happy Valley, people who knew about abuse stood by and did nothing. In Albany, people who knew about abuse and actually tried to report it were, in effect, harassed for their efforts.
These facts should give everyone pause, but there’s even more at stake.
Think of the chilling effect this story has on potential whistleblowers throughout state government. Who would now step forward knowing that they could face exposure and retaliation?
Clearly, this situation cries out for action. But as I’ve said so many times before, there’s no functioning state ethics panel. If there was, the panel would find, at a minimum, that state officials had failed to fulfill their duties and failed to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
This matter could be referred to the state Inspector General, but I don’t think the administration should go that route. Why? Because the administration’s handling of the matter is in question as well. The Hakim article makes clear that administration officials gave conflicting and misleading statements to the Times and we all know where the directives in dealing with the media originate.
Given this situation, it is imperative that the Governor seek a thorough and independent review of the matter.  Now is the time for the Governor to live up to his promise “to run the most open, accountable and ethical government in history.”
This is a serious problem with wide ramifications. The Governor must act in a way that reassures whistleblowers throughout state government. The way to do that is with an independent review that holds people accountable for their actions.  

Friday, November 11, 2011


Looking for a model of integrity? Consider E.J. McMahon.

He’s a former reporter and government official who now serves as the lead fiscal analyst at the Manhattan Institute. Reporters frequently consult E.J. when they are trying to make sense of the complicated details of state budgeting.

He has a way of making the complex seem pretty simple, like he did yesterday. EJ called out the Cuomo administration for its failure to adhere to one of the disclosure requirements of the state budget process.

The administration has refused to provide a mid-year budget report, citing turmoil in the world economy.

EJ stood up to say that turmoil in the world economy was nothing new and that the governor was using it as an excuse not to make required disclosures.

What will probably happen next is that the administration will take shots at EJ. Maybe Blasto will call him a partisan.

While EJ has an ideological mooring, he’s not a partisan. He is neither cheerleader nor cynic. When Cuomo does something good in his view, he praises him. When he does something bad, he isn’t afraid to offer constructive criticism.

(I like to think that I follow a similar code. I actually want to see the administration succeed, but it doesn’t mean I won’t disagree at times.)

EJ’s example also underscores the degree to which the good government groups have totally abandoned their charge. In this regard, they are supposed to hold the administration to account to the highest standards of openness and accountability. Instead, led by Russ Haven, Susan Lerner and Dick Dadey, they now offer excuses for the secrecy of this administration.   

Here’s to EJ. There should be more like him.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Changes to the look of the blog

Some of you might have noticed some changes to the look of the blog in the last week or so. Yes, we now have advertisements. But before you conclude that we’ve “sold out,” let me explain.

My oldest son is 15 years old, and convinced he is a better businessman than me. He told me I was missing an opportunity in terms of advertising, which is ubiquitous on the gaming web sites he frequents. I had my doubts about doing this on our site, but I wanted to engage my son in a way that we both would remember. So I told him if he wanted to try it he had to buy the advertising rights from me.  He offered a 50/50 revenue split but I told him 50% of 0 is 0, as it was after Halloween and I didn’t want to take his $ which he gets from me anyway I offered him the rights for a large Hershey’s chocolate bar.

You now see a rotating series of ads that have been placed by a company that analyzes both our content and the perceived demographics of our audience. This, in itself, is a source of great interest for me. Who exactly is the audience for this blog? I’d always assumed that it was people with an abiding interest in public policy.

Several thousand people actually visit the site each week, and I surmise that the typical profile is that of a middle-aged person, well-educated, perhaps a professional, perhaps associated in some way with state politics and government. But I really don’t know for sure who the audience is precisely.

It’s going to be interesting to see what products and services are advertised. Could we see a political ad?  

Rest assured that we’re not selling out. And for those that care about winning and losing, in under a week the ads have generated far more revenue than that candy bar would have cost.

The other change is the countdown clock at the top of the page.  It’s counting down the number of days that the Public Integrity Commission and its disgraced Executive Director, Barry Ginsberg, have left.  To those that wish to purchase sponsorship rights to the clock email me but I’m done with chocolate for the time being.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Maltese Falcon

I want to talk about economic development. This topic might seem a bit afield for me, as I’m known more for my work in ethics law enforcement. For a long time, however, I was a city manager, a job that touches on all aspects of administration, including job retention and creation.

What I know from that experience is that there are people in the world who try to take advantage of the intense desire of politicians to be perceived as doing something about our state’s dire economic problems. These people are often well-intentioned. They are often highly-educated, and very well spoken. But when you look closely at their track record, you often find that there’s no clear success, no big hit.  

This observation on my part is by way of commenting on an article today by the Albany Times Union’s Jim Odato. In a very, very understated way, Jim wrote about a development at the massive chip fab project in Malta. The people behind the project want to sell tax credits to generate cash – a clear sign that they might be having some financial problems.

This project is generally regarded as a tremendous coup for the state. It’s believed to be the capital region’s best hope for a prosperous high tech future. But for the longest time, I’ve had the suspicion that this particular project, which is being supported with billions in tax dollars, might be … well, I might as well just come out and say it … a giant boondoggle.  

I’ve expressed this notion to some smart people I know, and nobody really wants to believe it. “No, no, it can’t be. There’s a lot of activity up there in Malta.”

Only once did I hear something to the contrary, but it wasn’t direct. I was a friend-of-a-friend type thing that was fascinating, but unsubstantiated. This person told me he knew of a senior R&D guy from Virginia who insisted that Malta’s proposed product line was already antiquated and that there’s no way this plant will ever become operational. 

Now, again, I can’t vouch for this person’s harsh assessment of the project and the underlying technology. I really don’t know what the true situation in Malta is, but I know this: Based on the Odato article alone, people in government need to start asking some hard questions. 

And while they are at it, they should look closely at the celebrated nano-tech center as well. Again, billions of dollars have been invested in the center. Maybe it’s money well spent. Maybe there are all kinds of spin-off benefits. Maybe it’s the smartest investment our state has ever made.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s a situation in which the payoff from the investment of tax dollars doesn’t quite match up with the promises that were made to obtain the money. And if so, should the state continue to invest? I think these are fair questions for both Malta and the nano-tech center. I really hope the answers is yes, but either way, we need to know what the truth is.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Loose Ends

Where’s the Woodword and Bernstein of today? Where’s the journalist whose credo is never trust a politician of any stripe? Where’s the reporter willing to do a little bit of work to expose wrongdoing in government?

Insider X contacted me again. S/he posed these and other questions.
Insider X got me thinking, and so I engaged several LCA reporters I know. All of them commended me for my recent blog posts, but none was willing to take up Insider X’s challenge.
Why is that? Well, there are a number of factors. Chief among them is the effectiveness of the Cuomo administration’s hard-line media approach. But this is a topic for another day.
The point I want to make now (in agreement with Insider X) is that there are a lot of stories waiting to be written if LCA members would just be willing to dig a little.
Take Dickergate. Yeah, I know it’s not the biggest deal in the world. In fact, it’s almost trivial, but it really does say something about the state of ethics enforcement and journalism today.
Start with Fred. A high-level administration source -- and I’ve been told by numerous insiders that they believe it was the Governor himself -- told Fred that an explosive new audit would show that Port Authority head Chris Ward was guilty of “extravagant spending” and other malfeasance. Fred accepted this version of events. He wrote his column based on what he was told.
A few days later, I posted a blog item with an insider account that questioned the propriety of the administration’s leak of the audit information. (The post compared Troopergate’s alleged leak of public travel records with the leak of the purported Ward audit.)
Fred got a little angry at me for doing this, and I wrote about that fact. It was then that reporters in Albany picked up on the story. But they weren’t delving into its substance.In fact, nobody got Mr. Ward’s side of the story.  As a result, it looked like nothing would come of the matter.
But then Ward gave an interview to an obscure New York City publication, and he said in no uncertain terms that there was no audit and that claims made against him were false.

I followed with a separate insider’s account that made the same points – that there was no audit and Mr. Ward was, in fact, smeared.

I got plenty of calls from insiders and the media, all asking the same question: Do you have evidence about the leaker or the audit?  I repeatedly told folks that I did not have any evidence. I stressed that I, myself, was not making the allegation. I was practicing my own brand of reporting. It’s what I call “blackboard journalism.”  My blog provides the blackboard for insiders to scrawl whatever they want (within reason.)
Subsequently, I was told by reporters that my blog had stirred things up. The reporters said that the governor’s people were explaining that the Ward audit wasn’t completed. It was underway, having been launched by board members who were deeply concerned about Mr. Ward’s fiscal stewardship of the authority.  They even pointed to a press release dated September 30 announcing the management review.
At about this time, yet another insider stepped forward and told me to read the minutes of the last Port Authority board meeting on October 20. I did it last night. It took ten minutes to find it and read through it.
Now, based on this tip, I was expecting to see something about the Ward probe. I thought there’d be some discussion at this board meeting about the apparent crisis at the authority. I thought I see some reference to fiscal irregularities mentioned in the Dicker article.
Take a guess what I found in the minutes? Remember, this board meeting is occurring just three days after the Dicker article appeared. This is a time when a subcommittee of board members is supposed to be very upset about Mr. Ward’s malfeasance and actively engaged in a probe.
Instead of discussing the supposed crisis, the board passed a resolution with the highest praise of Mr. Ward’s stewardship of the Port Authority.  Here’s part of what that resolution said:
 “… Chris Ward has managed the agency’s finances by maintaining zero growth operating budgets for three consecutive years and reducing the agency’s staff headcount to its lowest levels in over 40 years in order to allow for continued capital spending to advance the agency’s priority projects and maintain the agency’s facilities in a state of good repair during a period of significant economic downturn and uncertainty.” 

Soooooo, how does this square with the audit results Fred reported and the account from the administration that board members had launched a management review?
Well, it just doesn’t jive, and its further evidence of the shenanigans that occurred here.
I’m certainly no Woodward or Bernstein, but I  think that a reporter might want to ask the Port Authority board members responsible for the management review which story is true.  When it comes to the Authority’s money is Chris Ward a rogue? Or is he an outstanding administrator?
At the end of the day, I’d just like to know what really happened here.  I hate loose ends especially those at the end of an ethical noose.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Comeon Man!

This one speaks for itself

As I've said before I know and respect Richard Emery but the more he tries to explain this the more I am reminded of the adage that a lawyer that represents himself has a fool for a client.

Because Richard is clearly a democrat and I don't want Blasto to call me a partisan again I'm going to offer Richard some free advice.

If you don't want to resign (and I can't imagine why you would want to remain on PIC) you need to amend the registration so only the law partner that is actually lobbying is registered.  Amend your bimonthly filing to accurately reflect the compensation the partner that made the phone call (lobbied) received for that phone call.  Amend your expenses to remove the compensation of non-lobbying support staff (there is an opinion from the 80's that explaines this).  Then request the withdrawl of the registration since you have not exceeded the $5000 threshold.  Problem solved.

Now demand that Barry explain publicly why the registration was withheld from public view for three months.  If I had to guess knowing how the workflow is done at the commission I would say that program staff sent the registration to Ralph Miccio (attorney since fired) to approve the fact that all the partners were listed on the authorization but not listed as additional lobbyists.  If you never heard from Ralph it sat on his desk (known as the black hole of Miccio) until someone went looking for it.  All of this was avoidable if just Barry Ginsberg knew what was going on in his commission and had one competent staff member with the authority to tell him to get his head out of his ass.  As an aside when I was Ralph's boss we never allowed him to have original documents.

As to your refusal to tell the media who the other commissioners are that belong to lobbying firms take a step back and think about that.  As a commissioner you should think of yourself as a mandated reporter of that activity, but thats your call I already know who they are and have blogged about it previously.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Josh Blasto

The other day there was an article about me in the Wall Street Journal. It was a fair piece, which is all you can ask.
The article by reporter Jacob Gershman gave me credit for some things, and also included some criticism of me.
I’m fine with criticism. Really, I am. I have strong views that I freely express, and I expect others to do the same. In fact, I begin to wonder about people who don’t respond to criticism. I begin to wonder whether they have the courage of their convictions.
That said, I don’t accept responses to my criticism that are ridiculous and lame. And in this regard, the governor’s spokesperson is a case in point. The governor’s press secretary said in the article that I was a “grandstander” and “a partisan.” 
Now, I won’t quibble with grandstander. Who in public life isn’t a grandstander in one way or another?  But partisan? Is that a joke? My long tenure as an ethics enforcer was all about being non-partisan, and my record clearly demonstrates that.  Fortunately, the Journal article pointed this out in some detail and people who read the article have told me that the spokesperson’s comments came off as uninformed at best and as a fabrication at worst. 
But, punctilious person that I am, I couldn’t let it go. “Punctilious” is what Jacob called me – and (from one punctilious person to another) I take it as a compliment.
I wondered who the hell is this Josh dude? What kind of background does he have that would qualify him to call me partisan? 
It turns out that Josh Vlasto, age 28, was the spokesperson for the governor’s campaign. Before that he was a spokesperson for Chuck Schumer and his campaigns. His father was the spokesperson for Governor Hugh Carey. 
So does being a partisan qualify you to call someone else a partisan no matter what the truth is? Apparently so.  
When you google Josh’s name, you find that he’s a controversial spokesperson. He’s known for yelling at reporters and for blasting anyone who questions the governor.
Now as I’m reading all of this, I’m actually starting to like young Josh because he obviously has spirit. But then I read something he said in a recent article about himself.  He was defending his intense style and said: “I respect aggressive reporters and they should respect aggressive spokespeople.” 
Memo to young Josh: Use the same construct for ethics watchdogs who have been walking the walk for more years than you have been able to talk.  Respect them and they’ll respect you.  But fail to do so and your credibility will be further eroded. And that’s not just with me, but with everyone who cares about public policy matters in New York.