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Fisch Forgets

November 12, 2010

We love Joe Fisch, but he’s wrong about something. Actually, he’s half right and half wrong about it.

He’s right when he says that lawmakers can’t be trusted to appoint a truly independent ethics watchdog. He’s wrong when he says the Governor can do so.

In this regard, Fisch says he trusts Andrew Cuomo, who has proven himself a true reformer as Attorney General. He’s convinced that Cuomo will pick the right people to provide rigorous ethics oversight.

Maybe Cuomo would indeed do the right thing. Maybe he would conduct a national search and find a skilled and scrupulous watchdog from another state and put that person in charge of ethics oversight in New York. Or maybe Cuomo would appoint one of his prosecutorial protégés from the AG’s office to the position. That person might have proven himself or herself to be the hardest nosed prosecutor ever, but he or she would still be Cuomo’s protégé and would still be conflicted when it came to investigating Cuomo or former colleges in the AG office who had moved over to the governor’s office.

Dial this back four years. Everything that Fisch is now saying about Cuomo was being said then about Spitzer. He had proven himself a reformer, too. In fact, Spitzer’s reputation as the guy in the white hat was unparalleled.

But let’s not forget what happened next. When Spitzer got into office, he insisted on appointing the majority of members to the new Public Integrity Commission. He picked people with stellar resumes whom he knew and in some cases had worked with or socialized with. They were supposed to clean things up. But a short while later, Joe Fisch was blowing the whistle on them. Fisch exposed the fact that the head of the commission was leaking confidential information about an ongoing investigation to the governor’s office. Fisch also determined that commission members knew what was going on, and did nothing to stop it.

No, no, no. A thousand times, no. The executive should not control the process. In the same way that it is wrong for lawmakers to appoint their own watch/lap dog, it is wrong for the executive to do so.

But this raises a key question: Who then should appoint the watchdog?

The courts? Some quasi-public panel set up for the sole purpose of insulating the decision from political influence? Good government groups?

We, frankly, don’t know. We just know that it is a mistake to give the regulated (either the legislature or the governor) the authority to hire and fire the regulator.




3 Comments leave one →
  1. societax permalink
    November 14, 2010 12:57 PM

    The answer is simple(?): let the Governor pick a panel of watchdogs for the Legislature, and the Legislature for the executive branch. Each would be permitted to nominate members for the other’s unit, which would then be appointed by the other, e.g., of a 7-member panel appointed by the the Governor, two or three would be names proposed by the Legislature’s majority/minority parties. Terms would be staggered to be independent of the electoral process, ensuring that a Democratic Governor (or Senate) knows that s/he potentially would be empowering a potential Republican Governor (or Senate) following the next election.

    Both panels of watchdogs would be responsible for hiring professional staff that would work for both sides, which one hopes would minimize patronage abuse for those jobs. The procedures (and subpoena power) operate the same for all investigations. Finally, the courts do a reasonably good job for self-policing (absent some evidence that they have serious corruption and ethical lapses among judicial branch personnel).

    • November 15, 2010 8:20 AM

      Dear Socieotax:

      Logic is a beautiful thing.



  1. Fisch Urges Creation of Sweeping Anti-Corruption Office « New York Ethics & Compliance blog

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