The Greenburgh Town Board unanimously approved a new Ethics Code which restricts the ability of incumbent town officials from accepting campaign contributions from applicants, their legal representatives or professional consultants. Council members Diana Juettner, Steve Bass, Francis Sheehan and I voted for the new law. Councilwoman Eddie Mae Barnes was out of town and was unable to vote.
The members of the Board agreed to have the Town Attorney send a letter to the NY State Attorney General. Two previous opinions of the Attorney General opined that the state has preempted the field of campaign finance regulation, including contribution limits and the reporting and disclosure of receipts and expenditures (election law, Article 14). The Town Attorney, chair of the Ethics Board and I had a telephone conversation with the AG’s office earlier this week. I hope that the state will authorize local governments to adopt ethics laws and campaign finance laws that are stronger than the state’s and will urge the Town Board to encourage the Attorney General to issue an opinion that authorizes local governments and county governments to adopt very strong ethics laws. Prior to the meeting I suggested that the Board make the new ethics law even stronger (and loophole-free) than it is. These are some of the loopholes in the law:
1) Town officials can accept contributions from political parties. Political parties accept contributions from applicants, legal representatives or professional consultants. The code does not prohibit indirect contributions. I believe that the code should have prohibited incumbent town officials from accepting any donation from a political party that had received contributions from those who cannot contribute directly to town officials.
2) Employees, under the new code, are prohibited from contributing to campaigns of incumbents. However, they are not prohibited from volunteering in a campaign. I believe that the code should have prohibited town employees from donating or volunteering in campaigns of incumbent town officials. Our employees should be pressured to do a good job for the people – not to get involved in campaigns.
3) The new code prohibits campaign contributions from applicants but does not prohibit contributions from labor unions who represent town employees and who are lobbying members of the Town Board to make changes to labor contracts, approve salary increases or who have grievance applications pending.
4) Town Judges, under the new code, can accept contributions from lawyers appearing before the court.
5) Citizens who are advocating for or against proposed legislation or who have filed applications before the Town Board, Zoning Board or Planning Board can contribute to campaigns of incumbents. I believe that every applicant/advocate for legislation should be treated the same.
6) The current code does not apply to candidates for town office who do not hold town offices.
It is my hope that the Town Board will consider tightening up the new Ethics Code in the future so the code will be loophole free. I also encourage Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano & the Board of Legislators to consider adopting an ethics code at the county level that will prohibit county officials from accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists, applicants, contractors, their legal representatives. It’s my hope that the new law that the Greenburgh Town Board approved will motivate other public officials to adopt meaningful campaign reform.
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