News Coverage on Ethics
Outspoken NY Ethics Board Member Quits in ProtestMichael Gormley
Friday, September 7, 2012
The most independent member of the state's ethics board quit on Friday hours after he called for a federal probe into what he said was corruption on it.
Ravi Batra announced his resignation in a long email Friday night headlined "au revoir."
He has been a critic of the secrecy of the potentially powerful Joint Commission on Public Ethics and of the control of it by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed it. The board started operating in December with a secret meeting, which was opposed by Batra.
On Friday afternoon, after Batra called for a federal probe of JCOPE, Cuomo used a WOR radio interview to criticize Batra and the lawmaker who appointed him, Senate Democratic leader John Sampson, although not by name. Sampson is depending on political support from Cuomo in this fall's elections as he attempts to regain the Senate's majority.
Cuomo told "The Gov. David Paterson Show" that an appointee is a reflection on the public official who appointed him.
Batra's appointment was immediately criticized in December, when Sampson announced it. Batra, a Brooklyn attorney, had once associated with Clarence Norman, the disgraced Brooklyn Democratic leader, who was convicted of grand larceny in a plot to shake down a judicial candidate and was sentenced to prison time.
On Friday, Batra said the secrecy the panel requires of commissioners may have become a cover for unspecified illegality. In a letter to reporters, he criticized the commission for press leaks and said it's driven by politics.
The commission had no immediate comment.
Batra cut an uncommon figure in Albany by publicly criticizing decisions of his colleagues, voting against measures and pushing for more transparency on the ethics board, which operates far more behind closed doors than publicly.
Batra's greatest battle was this summer when he, as usual alone, fought to require donors to the lobbying group the Committee to Save New York be divulged back to the effective date of a 2011 ethics law. The board instead set a date that allowed six- and seven-figure donors of $17 million to the pro-business lobbying group to remain secret. The lobbying was set up to conduct its unprecedented TV ad campaigns that promote Cuomo's achievements.
Cuomo recently acknowledged he coordinates with the group, headed by New York City business and real estate interests.
Batra, in his style of seeming to praise the people he is accusing, submitted a resignation letter to JCOPE Chairwoman Janet DiFiore, a Cuomo appointee.
"Recent events have been cascading into a crescendo where I feel compelled to resign over principle," Batra wrote after praising Cuomo and JCOPE board members for their public service.
"I wish you well and hope that my resignation aids in focusing attention on the need for proper policies and practices to effectuate honest and independent ethics enforcement so as to actually restore public confidence in government and public service," Batra stated.