Reformers push for independent watchdog to tackle Albany corruption | Local News


ALBANY – Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates is one of New York’s most active lobbying firms.

But records posted online by the state’s integrity watchdog, the Joint Commission for Public Ethics (JCOPE), show the company has nothing on record for the most recent bi-monthly period: from January to February.

Patrick Jenkins, the head of the company, told CNHI, when contacted on Tuesday, that the company had made a complete case and was unaware that it was not showing up on the document retrieval system. state online.

JCOPE spokesperson Walter McClure said in an email: “As you know, we cannot comment on any individual compliance or enforcement issue, but the Commission has a robust compliance program that puts make every effort to ensure that the required declarations are received and ultimately, if necessary, we may take enforcement action. “

Informed later that Jenkins had indicated that his firm had indeed submitted his case, McClure did not respond.

“I haven’t had any issues with my deposits,” Jenkins said. “They are all up to date and up to date.” The problem, he said, “is with JCOPE”.

The mystery of what happened to the Jenkins case comes as lawmakers are considering the possibility of removing JCOPE for an independent integrity enforcement commission.

David Grandeau, an Albany-area lawyer and government compliance expert who once served as director of the now-defunct State Lobbying Commission, said he filed a complaint with of JCOPE in April after researching several files and unable to find one for the Jenkins firm.

Jenkins has a close connection to Coven President Carl Heastie, dating back to their days together at Baruch College. Grandeau said he also checked filings from lobbyists close to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democrats in the state Senate.

Grandeau said he now believed the JCOPE computer system “automatically deleted” the Jenkins file or was “hidden” by agency bureaucrats for reasons unknown. The most important point, he said, is that this reflects how JCOPE has failed in its mission to make these repositories transparent and to respond vigorously to alleged corruption at state headquarters.

“JCOPE has” wiped out “more files than Vladimir Putin,” Grandeau said, injecting the Russian leader’s name to say that there is more nonsense at stake at the agency than ethics.

Lobbying is a major business in New York City, with some $ 298 million spent promoting legislation in 2019, according to JCOPE’s latest annual report.

The current legislative session has brought forward a mobile sports betting measure, with the Jenkins company having clients involved in related gambling businesses. But since the firm’s file is not posted on the JCOPE site, the public is uncertain how much money these clients paid to the firm, or which officials have had meetings with Jenkins lobbyists, Grandeau noted. .

Jenkins’ clients have included the State Trial Lawyers Association and Uber Technologies Inc., two of the biggest spenders in Albany in recent years. Other Jenkins clients include Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and casino operators Genting New York and Lago Resort.

Eight good government groups are urging lawmakers to replace JCOPE with an independent oversight commission independent of the will of elected leaders. Among those who claim that JCOPE is fundamentally flawed are the League of Women Voters, Common Cause / New York, Reinvent Albany, New York Public Interest Research Group, the Sexual Harassment Working Group, and the University’s Campbell Public Affairs Institute. of Syracuse.

JCOPE’s decision to give Cuomo the green light to strike a $ 4 million publishing deal for a pandemic memoir last year has also been called into question by critics of the commission. Cuomo’s book deal, finalized at a time when the Cuomo administration was underestimating deaths from COVID-19 at state-approved retirement homes, is now part of separate investigations by federal prosecutors, the Office of the Attorney General and the Assembly.

John Kaehny, director of Reinvent Albany, said it is not unusual for lobbying firms to file reports with JCOPE showing identical invoice numbers for successive years.

“The invoice numbers all change every year, which means someone is just cutting and pasting the information from year to year” just to fulfill the requirement of a timely filing, explained Kaehny. Other companies simply mention that they have lobbied on “the budget” or “excessively” list invoice number scores, Kaehny noted.

“The whole lobbying disclosure regime is a complete joke,” Kaehny said. “It’s a huge waste of time.”

He noted that the Sexual Harassment Task Force has discouraged women from filing sexual harassment complaints with JCOPE because the commission “just cannot be trusted” given the links between appointed commissioners and elected officials. .

The fact that JCOPE cannot provide a clear response to the status of the Jenkins filing “is not competent and does not inspire confidence,” Kaehny said.

GOP Senate Leader Rob Ortt of R-Niagara County said the state government needs more effective and independent ethics oversight than is provided.

“It is clear that JCOPE has not been an acceptable or effective ethics enforcement body – never clearer than in light of the recent scandals that have engulfed the governor,” Ortt said. “There is a serious appetite for real ethics reform and a partisan commission controlled by the governor is not the answer.”

A bill sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, aims to replace both JCOPE and a legislative ethics committee with an independent integrity commission, which would be set up in the same way as an agency who investigates allegations of judicial misconduct.

Krueger’s Bill notes that polls show more than 80% of registered voters in New York City believe corruption is a problem in state government.

“A government free of corruption not only protects citizens as taxpayers against the waste and misuse of funds, but also helps to secure their freedoms against all forms of abuse of power and self-advocating behavior that occur in disregard of the rights of the people, “his bill says.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI newspapers and websites. Contact him at [email protected]

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