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Politics and Government

Reform group considers ethics complaint against Assembly speaker

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

A government reform group is considering filing a complaint with a state ethics panel over a story in the New York Times that says the Assembly speaker is under federal investigation for failing to disclose pay he received from a law firm.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), says he’d like to hear from Speaker Sheldon Silver about the details of the speaker’s alleged payments from a law firm specializing in real estate taxes.

“It’s incumbent upon the speaker to say the story is wrong or to set the facts straight,” Horner said. "The law's pretty clear. You get paid more than $1,000 from somebody in a year, you're supposed to disclose the amount, in a range. And you're supposed to disclose who gave it to you. I looked at his filings for 2013, 2012 and then 2010. In none of those was the firm listed."

According to The New York Times, Silver did not properly disclose receiving the money from the laws firm, paid over the past decade, on the Assembly’s financial disclosure forms, as required by law.  In New York, state lawmakers are technically considered to be part time and are permitted to hold other jobs, as long as they disclose some information about the pay they’ve received, and the name of their other employers.  

Silver has revealed that he earns $650,000 a year from the personal injury firm Weitz and Luxenberg, but there are no records of Silver ever representing any clients in court.

According to the Times, the Speaker also was paid an undisclosed sum for the past decade from the firm Goldberg and Iryami, which specializes in obtaining tax breaks for commercial and large residential real estate properties in New York City.

Horner says if the Speaker does not offer a good explanation, NYPIRG is considering filing a complaint with the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE.

“It raises suspicions as to why you would not disclose that relationship,” Horner said “It’s incumbent upon the speaker to say the story is wrong or to set the facts straight.”

A spokesman for Silver says the speaker will not be commenting.

The ethics commission is free to begin its own investigation of the allegations without needing a complaint to be filed first. If anything were found to be questionable, the case would be referred to the Legislative Ethics Commission. Their members are appointed by the legislative leaders, including the Assembly speaker.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been seeking reform of the outside income disclosure system for lawmakers. He wanted to potentially be part of a special session that could also include pay raises for legislators, but the session did not occur after talks stagnated.

Late in the day, JCOPE issued a response. Spokesman John Milgrim says while the ethics commission cannot comment on whether or not an investigation is being conducted.

"To the extent a problem is identified in any individual's financial disclosure statement, the commission will seek full compliance with the law."