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    No Ethics Inquiry Into Kennedy Leaks

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    No Ethics Inquiry Into Kennedy Leaks

    Post by Admin on Wed Oct 28, 2009 12:22 pm

    No Ethics Inquiry Into Kennedy Leaks
    By DANNY HAKIM

    October 28, 2009

    ALBANY — The state’s embattled ethics commission has decided not to pursue a formal investigation of the Paterson administration’s leaks of Caroline Kennedy’s confidential records, a decision that was immediately assailed by the government watchdog groups that had called for the inquiry.

    The decision removes a potentially serious problem for Gov. David A. Paterson, but it will undoubtedly raise more questions about the ethics oversight panel, the Commission on Public Integrity, which has itself been plagued by allegations of ethical abuses.

    The investigation was requested in February by three government watchdog groups, the New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause New York, and the Citizens Union. They asked the commission to investigate the Paterson administration’s leaks of confidential information provided by Caroline Kennedy when she was seeking appointment to the United States Senate.

    The leaks occurred hours after Ms. Kennedy withdrew from consideration for the Senate seat in January, a move that embarrassed the governor. Members of the administration called reporters and, insisting on anonymity, claimed that tax problems and issues with a domestic worker had emerged during a background check, derailing her candidacy. Those claims were highly exaggerated, both sides later acknowledged; no serious or disqualifying issues had arisen.

    In a letter to the three groups calling for the investigation, dated last Friday, the commission’s executive director, Barry Ginsberg, said that “after a factual and legal inquiry, the Commission on Public Integrity has unanimously determined to close this matter with no further action,” according to a copy obtained by The New York Times.

    No further details of the inquiry were provided. It was not clear whether a significant review was actually undertaken in the eight months since the investigation was requested. Several central players in the matter were not interviewed, people with knowledge of the investigation said, and it was not clear whether anyone had been.

    “In this particular case, a very well known individual had her private tax information disclosed to the public,” said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Everyone agrees that it came out of the administration, but no one is subject to a penalty? It’s mind-boggling.”

    The commission declined to comment, citing a state law that prevents it from discussing ethics cases in which no wrongdoing is found. Ms. Kennedy also declined comment through a spokesman.

    Peter E. Kauffmann, a spokesman for the governor, said that Mr. Paterson “is pleased that this matter has been investigated and that the Commission on Public Integrity has determined that no one in his administration violated the Public Officers Law."

    Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union, said he was “frustrated by the secrecy in which the decision was made.”

    “Ethics deliberations done in secret just undermine the public’s trust in the process — case in point for why we need to reform ethics oversight in New York,” he added.

    The leaks were exaggerations of material that was included in a detailed questionnaire that Ms. Kennedy and other Senate candidates had filled out. The administration had promised that “all legally permissible steps” would be taken to keep the form “strictly confidential” — those words appear in boldface atop the documents.

    Mr. Paterson initially said he had no role in the Kennedy leaks but later acknowledged that he ordered his staff to contest Ms. Kennedy’s version of events but was caught off guard by the harshness of the attacks unleashed by his staff.

    The governor has had his own clashes with the integrity commission but has been more restrained since installing his own appointee, Michael Cherkasky, as chairman.

    David Grandeau, who was once the state’s top lobbying regulator, said the commission’s decision was “further evidence that this is a political, incompetent, dangerous agency that needs to be put out of our misery.”

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