ALBANY—Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is split on David Paterson’s government reform proposals: he likes public campaign financing but thinks forcing lawyers to disclose their clients treads into a “complicated area of ethics.”
“I and my Assembly majority colleagues have long supported, long passed and I personally offered the first publicly financed campaign finance bill in the State of New York,” Silver said in a press conference after Paterson’s State of the State speech. Silver noted that he suggested this at a public meeting in 2009, but it was rejected by Paterson. “I did not have a partner at that time. If you check your notes, you will see that. But, having said that, I’m glad the governor has now come along, and we’re glad to work with him and the Senate to enact that legislation this year.”
But on the issue of greater disclosure, Silver was far more reserved. He is “of counsel” to the Manhattan firm of Weitz and Luxenberg, and has never said how much he is compensated for his work for the firm, or its exact nature. Legislators are currently required to list their income from outside endeavors, by category, but the categories are redacted from the public.
Members of the Assembly and Senate are currently negotiating a bill strengthening ethics enforcement, but Paterson and his staffers have not been involved. (Paterson’s people say they weren’t invited, legislators say they refused to participate.) Silver said this bill would be passed shortly.
“We will have an ethics proposal that I think will be a sweeping proposal. There is a constitutional provision for separation of powers,” Silver said, and “we have separated the executive and the legislature into separate entities. Our bill will eliminate the Legislative Ethics Commission and create a new legislative ethics body modeled on the Congressional Ethics Office.”
He added: “we will also deal with issues of transparency and make public categories of income on financial disclosure forms, and we will add additional categories and require information on business relationships.”
Bob Conner asked Silver if he would say, now, how much he makes at Weitz and Luxenberg. He demurred.
“Sure, as soon as the bill becomes law,” Silver said. “I will continue to conform with the law, and as it is, with my disclosure, I have in the past gone beyond.”
He said of the proprietary nature of legal clients that “I think it’s more than privilege. It is a complicated area of ethics. Someone might not want to know that their spouse consulted a matrimonial lawyer by reading it in the newspaper.”