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On JCOPE

March 5, 2015

In 2014, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) issued 14 news releases.  Take a look at them on the JCOPE website. If you discount news releases that simply memorialize the pre-set duties and functions of the office — such as “JCOPE Issues Annual Report” — you’ll find nine releases that announce a decision or action by the agency.

Of these nine releases, eight can be described as routine matters. A typical example would be:  “JCOPE Settles with State Employees Who Failed to File Financial Disclosure Forms.”

There was just one release in 2014 regarding a significant new policy matter.  It was a statement in January in which the JCOPE Chairman said that the agency would be taking a look at “source of funding” disclosure requirements.

Some readers may recall that the “source of funding” matter was a priority for the Governor. He expressed concern about lobbying and ad campaigns that were being waged against some of his policies. He said there ought to be disclosure of exactly who was behind those campaigns.

A short while after the Governor expressed this concern, JCOPE announced its “source of funding” review.  It wasn’t a coincidence.  Everybody knew that JCOPE was doing what the Governor wanted it to do.

In this regard, the general perception is that if JCOPE isn’t directly controlled by the Governor, it is certainly monitored closely by and influenced by his office.  While there’s nothing nefarious about that, it does stand in contrast to comments by the Governor that JCOPE would be an independent, aggressive entity that would “restore trust in state government.”

Getting to the point now:  Because JCOPE hasn’t set a blistering pace, because JCOPE really hasn’t done much of anything during a time when Albany was rocked by scandals, and because of JCOPE’s apparent connection to the Governor’s office, you really perk up when it does something, when it does anything.

And the other day it decided to investigate the Attorney General of the State of New York. At issue is a feud that has been underway since the spring of 2013. That’s when Eric Schneiderman began looking into Donald Trump’s real estate seminars, about which there were consumer complaints. Trump took personal affront to the investigation and declared war on Schneiderman.  One of the accusations that he made was that Schneiderman’s campaign operation asked him for a contribution during the time when his government office was conducting the investigation of Trump’s operation.

Why JCOPE is now investigating a two-year-old matter as “a breach of public trust” is the key question.

First, why would anyone pay attention to what Mr. Trump says? Without being mean or anything, don’t we all know that Mr. Trump is, nicely put, just a showman?  Don’t we know that his every statement and action is rooted in self-aggrandizement? Don’t we know that this is all a game for him?

Second, why is this matter surfacing now in the New York Post? Mr. Trump has made the claim before multiple times. There is little or no substance to it.

It’s clear that Schneiderman’s campaign office wasn’t aware of the government office’s investigation of Trump. Schneiderman’s campaign office did what all fundraising operations do – they call people who have contributed before.

Digression: We have had this experience, as have you: If you make a contribution to a charity or to your alma mater, you will, for the rest of your life, be pursued for additional contributions. The fundraisers will call you every year at the same time and the “do not call” registry you thought you signed up for means nothing.

Back to Schneiderman: Appearance problems with contributions happen occasionally. When exposed, the politician returns the contribution and that’s the end of it.

So why is JCOPE now involved? Of all the things they could look at, they look at this? Is JCOPE really going to examine campaign contribution vetting procedures? Are they poised to set new standards for everyone? Doubtful.

The speculation, instead, is that this probe was inspired by the Governor’s office.  Why? Well, a couple of weeks ago, Schneiderman announced a review of the administration’s casino awards. That move raised eyebrows because the selection process – for a change – seemed to be independent – at least until Cuomo intervened after the fact to ask the panel to re-consider its Southern Tier region decision.

The speculation is that Cuomo was angered by Schneiderman’s casino probe and that he wanted to play “hard ball” in return.  A lot of people in Albany are saying that it was just “payback.”

We have our doubts, however. Yes, it certainly has the smell and feel of that, but it would be incredibly reckless for Cuomo to actually do it.  Coming after the email retention policy misstep and Moreland, it would bear the mark of someone who is making bad decision after bad decision and really struggling.

If the governor’s office had a hand in this, it would be a blatant example of politicizing investigations.  It would be an invitation for someone to FOIL or subpoena communications between the Governor’s office and JCOPE. Emails within the last 90 days, of course.

On another level, this is just too absurd. Could it really be that this investigation is just to mess with Schneiderman because he’s messing with Cuomo? Is this high school?

We’re going to reserve judgment for now.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 5, 2015 2:59 PM

    As an earlier commenter posted, keep up the interesting work

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