“There are still a lot of questions, and nobody wants to do something that’s going to get them in trouble,” said another House lawmaker, speaking about the advice from the Speaker’s office.
A spokeswoman for the Ethics Commission said the advisory was issued – almost two years after the law was last updated – in response to questions posed by lawmakers seeking advice from the commission about how the state’s conflict of interest laws apply to job recommendations.
Kennedy was not available to discuss his memo and interpretation of the ethics bulletin, but DeLeo aides acknowledged the legal team was working to help members adhere to the law. “The Office of the House Counsel has been engaged in educating members about the advisory,” said DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell, in a statement.
In his memo, Kennedy told House members that the ethics advisory was “vague and ambiguous at times, which has created some pitfalls of which I want to make you aware.” Kennedy said House counsel’s office would be seeking clarification to help members avoid violating the law.
“For now, this much is clear: first, oral employment recommendations are perilous; and second, if you submit a written letter of recommendation on someone’s behalf, you need to be mindful of the follow-up communications you have with that person’s prospective employer. At a minimum, I recommend limiting the number of follow-up phone calls you make to check on the candidate’s status . . . ,” Kennedy wrote in a memo given to lawmakers at the caucus.
Kennedy said the Ethics Commission, if a complaint is filed, will be paying particular attention to whether a lawmaker tried to exert pressure on the hiring agency to offer a job to the recommended applicant. “Oral employment recommendations, while permissible under the law, are strongly discouraged by the advisory,” Kennedy wrote.
The Ethics Commission advisory states that “a public official’s denial that he intended oral remarks as threats will not carry the day if a reasonable person would find his remarks threatening.”