Proposed ethics changes would certainly be illegal
While I would certainly like to see more ethical government, Acting District Attorney Michael Flaherty’s proposals to amend Erie County’s ethics laws are almost certainly illegal and/or unconstitutional. I highlight four points of concern.
First, the “immediate firing of any county official convicted of a crime” violates the New York Human Rights Law’s protections against discrimination based on a criminal conviction. Such a broad rule is patently illegal.
Second, campaign finance regulations related to contributions, reporting and penalties for violations (not to mention LLCs) are matters of state and federal law. County governments have little authority to unilaterally change these broad policy rules; indeed, if they did, New York would have 62 different and unrelated systems of campaign finance laws.
Third, while the legality of anti-nepotism laws is a complex issue, I believe it is safe to say that a per se ban such as the one reported on in the article would be clear violations of federal anti-discrimination laws memorialized in Title VII.
Finally, while carrying petitions may be an apparent conflict, Board of Elections employees enjoy the same rights of free speech and association as all other citizens. Neither Flaherty nor county government can simply take them away with the stroke of a pen.
Frank Housh, Esq.
President, Western New York Lawyer Group of the American Constitution Society