Friend of Cuomo Faces Conflict of Interest Questions

One of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s main advisers on health care is working as a paid consultant to some major players in the New York health care industry.

This revelation, first reported by the New York Times, raises perplexing questions about the ethics of our new governor’s friends and his perception of what sound ethics are.

Cuomo took a strong stand on the ethics of the Legislature. In his budget address this month he urged legislators to enact new ethics reforms. Cuomo said the agenda should involve two issues “disclosure and an independent commission to do the policing because self-policing is an oxymoron.”

He said the legislators were getting closer to progress in the ethics area. But, he warned: “It’s very easy to get close to the goal line. What they excel at is getting close to the goal line but not stepping over.”

Mr. Jeffrey Sachs is a member of the governor’s new Medicaid re-design team, which is searching for ways to reduce New York’s public health insurance. Sachs is a close friend of Cuomo.

He is also a paid consultant to some of the biggest institutions in the health care industry including: Mt. Sinai Medical Center, NYU Langone Medical Center and the largest association of nursing homes. All have big stakes in the coming Medicaid changes.

Sachs spokespeople say none of his relationships would require him to disclose that he was a lobbyist because, under state law, he isn’t.

Blair Horner of New York State’s Public Interest Group {NYPIRG] told me: “These revelations are troubling. Whether or not Sachs is a lobbyist, the governor has to put some distance between himself and a man who is this close to the industry.”

The Wikipedia encyclopedia says: “A conflict of interest occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act of the other.”

Sounds like Sachs should be under scrutiny, and perhaps the governor too, should give an account of their relationship to an impartial body. The Commission on Public Integrity comes to mind. Under the state code of ethics, this body [Section 74 of the Public Officers Law] is supposed to rule on conflicts of interest.

The law demands that no officer of employee of a state agency should have any interest or engage in any professional or business activity “which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest.“

In the interest of starting this administration off on the right foot, this is worth looking into. Right away.

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