Thursday, June 13, 2013

An ethics mulligan

Another goo goo has joined the fight.  Bill Samuels is in the news again. I don't know this person. I've heard he's a nice guy I’ve also heard his father was involved with Mario Cuomo back in the day,  but the truth is that I really don't care about that. For my purposes, it's irrelevant whether he's a saint or SOB.

All that interests me is whether people follow the rules. I am extra interested in this when we're talking about people who present themselves as doing “the right thing” when it comes to ethics reform in New York.

A person standing up to make a speech about doing “the right thing” had better do “the right thing” himself or herself.

There is nothing easier than writing a blog about ethics and hypocracy.  I’ve been using that theme to write about Ellen Biben, Herb Teitelbaum, Barry Ginsberg, John Feerick, Michael Cherkasky, JJOKE etc etc  well you get the idea the list appears to be endless.

But back to Mr. Samuels. He is now making a lot of public statements about the influence of money in politics and need for campaign finance reform.

Good for him. He’s got a right to do that no matter how wrong he may be – so long as he follows the rules. But there may be a question about that.  I’ve been receiving lots of tips that I or my new organization Ethics Watch ought to take a look at Mr. Samuels.

It seems Mr. Samuels, a Harvard/MIT grad, runs a group called the New Roosevelt Institute, a New York Not for Profit corporation that has applied to the IRS for 501c3 status.

Under   federal law, such organizations are limited in their lobbying activity as well as their political advocacy.

But what Mr. Samuels is doing – arguing for passage of a specific bill – sure seems like lobbying.

Forget about state lobbying rules for a moment – and that’s easily done since JJOKE won’t enforce anything unless told to do so by a higher power.  Focus instead on the IRS, which has rules about charities getting involved in lobbying and political activity. Those rules dictate that an organization can lose its tax exempt status if involved in lobbying and/or political activity.

What activity? Well, it’s pretty clear: You’re not supposed to attempt to influence legislation or support/oppose candidates for office.

It would appear that Mr. Samuels recent activities, that were reported in the media, establish that he is engaged in such activity. Again, he's issuing news releases under his organization's letterhead, and making other public statements citing his affiliation.

Now I don’t know for sure whether Mr. Samuels is violating any laws. I’ve only looked quickly at the available materials and reports.

That said, there is at least a question about whether he is complying fully with all the appropriate laws.

If he is, fine. But if he's not, we'll have to add him to the list of people who I think deserve a special place in you know where. Right there next to Ellen and Herb and Barry and everyone else who thinks the rules don’t apply to them.

The major difference in my approach with Mr. Samuels is he appears to have lots of cash and he isn’t afraid to spend it, so in the interests of cultivating new friends, here is some free advice Mr. Samuels, do it right from the beginning.  Don’t make it easy for someone like me to criticize you.  If you are not wearing a white hat don’t parade around in a black hat with a target on it.

Because when it comes to ethics reform guys like me are up on the roof just waiting to pull the trigger.

That’s my good deed for the week let’s see if Karma will reward me.

At the very least it should wipe my slate clean.  Call it an ethics mulligan.

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