New York legislators faced a deadline Friday to respond to a request for detailed information about their outside income, including, for those who practice law, identifying their clients.
But lawmakers weren’t expected to turn over a lot of data. Instead, the legislators who are also private practice lawyers were expected to make a legal argument against the request. The Legislature has blocked releasing such information in past years, citing separation of powers and attorney-client privilege.
If lawmakers don’t comply, the commission could subpoena people and records, but that would likely ignite a legal challenge by the Legislature.
The Commission to Investigate Public Corruption asked for the information in a letter sent late last month to lawmakers and obtained by The Associated Press. It asks legislators to provide details of any outside employment that paid them more than $20,000 in 2012, a description of the work and how the pay was determined, along with the lists of any law firm clients. Cuomo created the commission in July after lawmakers refused to pass his ethics proposal.
Politically, resistance by the Legislature could play to Cuomo’s advantage, said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll. But resistance may not hurt individual senators and Assembly members.
“It puts the governor on the side he wants to be on when it comes to the corruption battles in Albany,” Miringoff said. “But the negatives don’t spread through the chamber. ... It’s the age-old issue and we see it in Congress, too: It’s very hard to dislodge an incumbent.”
Friday’s deadline could be the forerunner of more battles between the Legislature in Cuomo in 2014, an election year for all state officials.
“It depends on what happens now,” Miringoff said. “Where the commission goes from here is maybe very different than what the commission is pushing.”
Thirty state and local officials were convicted, indicted or identified in investigations it the last seven years, with several cases pending.
The letter goes well beyond what current ethics laws require. The part-time lawmakers, who are paid $79,500, are currently asked only to check off a salary range for any other employment. They aren’t required to identify clients that could reveal conflicts of interest, something lawmakers have blocked for years, arguing their clients’ identities were protected under attorney-client privilege.
Recent ethics disclosures, for example, show Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos makes as much as $250,000 a year in a law firm and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver makes up to $450,000 in another. The leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Sen. Jeff Klein, reported outside income from his law practice of as much as $81,000.
The Senate Republicans, Assembly Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference have all hired their own attorneys to address request and actions by the commission.