12:55 pm Sep. 7, 20121
Good government groups are criticizing the Joint Commission on Public Ethics for reportedly declining to expand their investigation of sexual harassment claims against Assemblyman Vito Lopez to include the confidential settlement agreement approved by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
According to the New York Times, "some of the legislative appointees, from both political parties, had concerns about having a commission dominated by a governor’s appointees look into the internal workings of the Legislature."
In order to launch an investigation, at least 8 of JCOPE's 14 appointees must approve, "at least two of whom [must be in] the same party and branch as the subject of the investigation," according to the press release announcing the commission's formation.
Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York said if the press reports are true, "then JCOPE will have failed its first test as an independent oversight body."
"This confirms the worst fears which Common Cause New York and others have had, that the commission is set up in a way that encourages gridlock designed to protect powerful elected officials," she said.
Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union took a slightly different tack. He did not address JCOPE's structure, but did say a wider investigation is exactly why JCOPE was created.
"If reports are true that JCOPE is only partially investigating the Lopez affair, they may be doing the public a disservice," he said.
Dadey added, "We call upon JCOPE to use their investigative powers to look at the actions of not just one person, but also the entire broken system that produced the first confidential settlement. JCOPE was created for precisely this reason."
Gail Robinson, who used to write for Gotham Gazette, a public-interest website operated by Citizens Union, wrote on Twitter: "Many people said at the time it was created that #JCOPE would be toothless. This may prove that."
A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo did not immediately return an email for comment.
UPDATE: JCOPE just announced that it will convene a public meeting on Monday morning in Albany. Unlike the commission's meeting earlier this week, Monday's meeting will be streamed live online, according to the release.
Shortly after the announcement, Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Cuomo, sent out a statement branding the reports of a limited investigation "rumors," and saying it would "unconscionable" for legislative appointees to block a broader probe. Vlasto also said the governor would appoint a Moreland Commission, if JCOPE failed to launch a sufficiently broad investigation into the settlement.
The statement from Cuomo's office comes amid reports that the commission's legislative appointees were reluctant to authorize a broad investigation, for fear of the governor's influence over such a process.
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