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Republicans make ethics reforms after Hal Bain controversy

Republicans make ethics reforms after Hal Bain controversy

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It’s been a year since Warren County Democrats and Republicans began talking about ethics.

While the Democrats haven’t gotten to the point of submitting written ethics proposals to the county committee for a vote, the Republicans have made several changes to their ethics code.

However, none of the changes proposed by either party relates to the issue that drew voters’ attention to ethics. Voters were incensed by emails in which Republicans discussed having committee members campaign for an unwilling candidate so the candidate could win and then resign. That way, the Republicans would be able to defeat another Republican who was running a primary against the unwilling candidate.

Voters responded by voting for every Democrat in the race for Queensbury Town Board and handing the party a majority for the first time ever.

Republicans vowed to reorganize, saying they had heard the message from the voters.

They did add two new clauses to the ethics code, which had previously focused only on conflicts of interest.

But the new rules are about fair campaigns, not about notifying the public when a candidate drops out.

“I really don’t know how you’d write an ethics policy to deal with a candidate who becomes reticent or can’t be medically certified that they can’t run,” Warren County Republican Chairman Mike Grasso said.

He noted that candidate Hal Bain told him he was dropping out but then acted like a candidate again, buying an ad and submitting answers to The Post-Star for the primary election questionnaire. However, Bain said he dropped out in July and simply let the party decide what to do from there.

He implied he did not want to run once he discovered that his ward’s long-time representative was running and that the party was trying to get that representative out of office. But other leaders said Bain didn’t want to campaign once he realized how tiring it was, or that he was genuinely ill and unable to continue. The details about his motive are still murky, a year afterward.

The new ethics rules are mandatory for every candidate endorsed by the Warren County Republican Committee. The rules ban them from directly or indirectly doing five acts, including one that U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik appeared to commit during this year’s campaign.

The rules ban using agents who falsely represent themselves as supporters of a candidate, like 17-year-old Preston Scagnelli did when he secretly recorded Stefanik’s opponent at a “Teens for Tedra” event while getting her to discuss her views on guns. Scagnelli was paid by the National Republican Congressional Committee and later became an unpaid intern for Stefanik. She said she didn’t have a problem with Scagnelli’s actions.

Warren County Republicans stood by Stefanik.

“Elise’s campaign unequivocally did not violate our committee’s code of ethics. The Warren County Republican Committee strongly stands by their support of Congresswoman Stefanik,” said Second Vice-Chair George Ferone.

The rules also ban all candidates from spying on other candidates or parties, distributing fraudulent writing, misrepresenting the results of pre-election polling, and hindering eligible people from registering to vote or voting.

The Queensbury Democrats took up ethics reform right after last year’s election but never put it in writing to bring to the county committee for a formal vote.

The verbal code, as they described it at a meeting in November 2017, was that all candidates must agree to represent their constituents’ best interests, not the party. The committee and the candidates must also agree to make no “misleading statements” in advertising or any other way, including social media posts.

One could argue that many misleading statements were made about Bain’s candidacy. It’s the closest either code comes to addressing the issue that sparked the ethics reform discussion.

Lynne Boecher, the Warren County Democratic Committee chairwoman, said she hasn’t pushed for reform.

“No one has brought anything to the county,” she said.

She instead tries to lay down rules about decorum. When the Democrats swept last year, she immediately told them not to gloat.

“I try very hard, as a chair, to model a certain decorum,” she said. “I would ask that they do the same thing.”

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 518-742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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