ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In a rare united front, New York's Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans refused Friday to provide detailed records of their private employment, a position that the state anti-corruption commission requesting the information called "ethically repugnant."
"As the old adage goes, if you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide," said Michelle Duffy, spokeswoman for the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. "We believe the Legislature's position is legally indefensible, ethically repugnant, and disrespectful to the public's right to know."
The legislators faced a deadline Friday to respond to the commission's request for detailed information about their outside income, including, for those who practice law, identifying their clients. The commission could now try to subpoena the Legislature to get the information.
"There are a number of avenues through which the Commission can obtain the information being sought, and we will pursue them," Duffy said Friday.
The attorneys hired by the Assembly and Senate to respond to the commission were equally strident.
"These demands substantially exceed what New York law authorizes," said a letter from law firms hired by the Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats. All data "relevant to any legitimate inquiry already has been disclosed" in annual ethics disclosure forms, they wrote.
The Legislature cites the new ethics forms that were used starting this year and agreed to by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who created the commission, in a 2012 Integrity Act. They quoted Cuomo as calling the existing disclosures "tough and aggressive."
The commission's request goes well beyond what current ethics laws require. The part-time lawmakers, who are paid $79,500, are asked only to check off a salary range for any other employment. They aren't required to identify clients that could reveal conflicts of interest, something lawmakers have blocked for years, arguing their clients' identities were protected under attorney-client privilege.
Recent ethics disclosures, for example, show Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos makes as much as $250,000 a year in a law firm and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver makes up to $450,000 in another. The leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Sen. Jeff Klein, reported outside income from his law practice of as much as $81,000.
The lawmakers' rejection of the request creates a conflict with Cuomo as they plan for the 2014 legislative session and election year. The legislators issued a stern warning that they're ready for a constitutional fight that could gridlock Albany.
The commission "is constrained by the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, and the Legislature's independence is also safeguarded by the speech or debate clause," the attorneys wrote.
Lawmakers suggested working with the commission to find "effective administrative and legislative steps to address public corruption."
Cuomo created the commission in July after lawmakers refused to pass his ethics proposal. Thirty state and local officials were convicted, indicted or identified in investigations it the past seven years, with several cases pending.