By Rich Bockmann
State Assembly members David Weprin (D-Little Neck) and Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) earned six-figure salaries last year from their jobs outside Albany, recent filings aimed at shedding light on state officials’ outside incomes show.
State lawmakers take home a base salary of $79,500 working in Albany’s part-time Legislature, and many have side jobs such as lawyers or financiers — even actors — a situation government watchdogs say may create conflicts of interest.
“How much time do they direct to these outside activities?” asked Bill Mahoney, a spokesman for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Certainly a big part is that it’s always possible that an individual is doing little work for a lot of money.”
“Conflicts of interest may arise from a lack of focus or whether they’re earning more than the average person who’s not a lawmaker would,” he added.
State officials had previously filed disclosure forms that redacted their outside incomes, but under new rules the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics published the complete forms for all 211 members of the Legislature on its website. Officials did not have to identify how much they made at a job if their income was less than $1,000.
Weprin, whose career includes a number of high-ranking positions in finance and regulation, made as much as $250,000 in 2012 as the senior vice president of finance at Sterne, Agee & Leach, a Park Avenue investment banking and brokerage firm.
Simotas earned a salary as high as $150,000 as a commercial litigation attorney at the Manhattan law firm Bickel & Brewer.
Neither lawmaker responded to a request for comment.
Good-government groups said the disclosures shine a brighter light on lawmakers’ outside activities and leave it up to voters to decide whether an ethical line has been crossed.
“First of all, just the idea that we have this kind of detailed information is a significant step forward that allows the public to see what kind of outside income their elected officials have,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.
Lerner said it makes perfect sense that someone who was, say, a dentist prior to getting elected would be interested in and have specific knowledge of the regulations concerning the industry. Revealing those personal experiences, she said, helps voters to better understand their representatives’ motivations.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing. You don’t want anyone who doesn’t have any life experience. It’s when you have a situation where the public isn’t really clear on what their influences are when it becomes problematic,” she said. “It’s up to the people to make their own value judgments on whether those are good, bad or indifferent.”
The filings list a host of personal financial information, including gifts, income from rental properties and interest from stocks in excess of $1,000.
Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-Jackson Heights), for example, listed he was employed as an actor by three film studios last year, but he did not disclose any Hollywood income. According to the Internet Movie Database, DenDekker played Reporter No. 2 in “You’re Nobody til Somebody Kills You,” an “action packed and gritty story of two New York City homicide detectives that are forced into the high-stakes world of the hip-hop industry.”
The sometimes actor did cite a personal concern last year when he released a statement lauding changes to the state Lottery that made it easier for winners to cash their tickets.
DenDekker’s JCOPE filings show he won somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000 in the lottery last year.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.