Democrat and Chronicle
December 4, 2013
A gubernatorial-appointed, blue star panel this week told New Yorkers what they already know: their state’s election laws are porous, enforcement is anemic and the result is a state capital where monied interests hold sway. It even outlined several recommendations for stemming the corruption that comes of such conditions, including tightening disclosure laws and public financing of campaigns. But it left unaddressed the perennial problem of how to compel those very elected officials who benefit from the shady system to change it.
Until legislative leaders, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo show the political will to pass real and comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reform laws, Albany’s pay-to-play culture and the wave of scandals it spawns will continue.
Think “wave” is too strong a word? As the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption documented in its preliminary report Monday, “one out of every eleven legislators to leave office since 1999 has done so under the cloud of ethical or criminal violations.” The ones who haven’t left aren’t much better: Six legislators either pleaded guilty to or were charged with criminal violations this year alone.
Candidate Cuomo vowed to clean up such corruption. Calling state government “a national disgrace” back in 2010, Cuomo promised new ethics laws, full disclosure of lawmakers’ outside incomes, new campaign finance laws and an independent redistricting commission. Results have been slim: Ethics changes have been weak, and redistricting changes are still a decade away.
And while the governor has called changing the culture of corruption in Albany “a work in progress,” there has been too little work and no palpable progress.
The sin is that solutions are so obvious: close campaign finance law loopholes, ratchet up bribery penalties, tighten election laws to ban unlimited collections by so-called political “housekeeping committees,” lower political donation limits. And where is discussion of public campaign financing? Cuomo and legislative Democrats back such a system but — absent a lukewarm, end-of-session proposal by the governor this year — little has been done to move the ball.
Absent legitimate political dedication to real reform, the Moreland report is little more than the latest edition of a previously published text: The information has been updated but the story hasn’t changed.
New York’s leaders must find the will to, finally, write a new chapter.