When Ethics Investigators Need Investigating: A New York government commission set up to ensure that government officials perform ethically may be having some ethical problems of its own.
The commission is called JCOPE, which stands for Joint Commission on Public Ethics, and it’s supposed to keep tabs on the lobbyists who get big bucks for influencing government.
Now, it seems the commission is ready to do something far beyond its authority.
It may want to police the press. At least that’s the way some journalists and public relations people see it.
The commission has issued an opinion that would require public relations consultants who speak to reporters to file bi-monthly lobbying reports with JCOPE. Some public relations professionals, the Times reports, believe this would have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of the consultants and the journalists’ ability to report the news.
I spoke to the spokesperson for the commission, Walter McClure, and he denied that the commission was trying to inhibit reporters in their work. He said that the commission’s concern was to get information on lobbying that took place to influence the editorial boards of newspapers.
The questions underlying this situation are: Is this agency charged with rooting out unsavory relationships between lobbyists and government officials committing a sin itself? Can the commission spy on journalists or their editorial boards? Are reporters’ confidential sources in jeopardy?
There could be a clear violation of freedom of the press here. It could only happen in Albany. The watchdog transformed into the villain who spies on the good guys in the never-ending battle against corruption.
By: Gabe Pressman