The latest volume in the series on Albany corruption was released this morning. The unveiling of the cast was typical of what New Yorkers have come to expect: a Senator, an Assemblyman, a lobbyist, special interests, and Federal prosecutors.
Welcome back to New York politics – where special interest money flows about as freely as possible, and spectators are rarely surprised when indictments drop. Reading today’s batch of corruption charges against Senator Carl Kruger and Assemblyman William Boyland, Jr., reminded us of three common traits this developing scandal shares with other volumes in ongoing Albany corruption saga.
1. As the Brennan Center pointed out in this study last month, of the 14 former legislators who have been indicted, convicted or pled guilty to crimes in the last decade, 10 were related to illegally soliciting or receiving outside income from individuals doing or hoping to do business with the State.
2. The Legislative Ethics Commission, the ethics body charged with overseeing legislative behavior, appears again to have been missing in action. Since its creation in 2007, as Albany has been rocked by no less than nine scandals, the LEC has not taken a single action against a sitting legislator. The only substantive public action taken has been the issuance of a Notice of Reasonable Cause against Hiram Monserrate, after he had been removed from office.
3. Taxpayers pay the price for the undue influence of special interest money that floods the state. The complaint alleges that Sen. Kruger used his official position to provide special treatment to businesses as he advanced their interests before the state. In addition to the charges in the complaint, there have been stories for some time alleging Sen. Kruger was exchanging favors for campaign contributions and fundraisers. Given that these reports surfaced before the election, it is interesting that Sen. Kruger did not face either a primary challenger or a Republican challenger during the last election. Potential challengers likely noted that it would be nearly impossible to wage a privately financed campaign against a candidate with a warchest well in excess of $1 million and more checks coming in all the time. With a system of publicly financed elections like New York City’s, Sen. Krueger would have been much more likely to have faced a challenger.
In the wake of the scandal, Governor Cuomo reaffirmed his commitment to pass ethics reform with “real disclosure and real enforcement” adding “New Yorkers deserve a clean and transparent government comprised of officials who work for the people, not for the special interests and certainly not for their own corrupt self-interests.” In fact, there shouldn't be much question about the kind of reform we need to address the kind of scandals we keep seeing in Albany:
1. An independent and unified ethics commission;
2. Financial disclosure requirements of all outside income for public officials; and
3. A system of publicly financed elections.
An ethics package that combines these three issues will help clean up the problems that have plagued our state for far too long. Until these problems are addressed comprehensively, New Yorkers should expect more of the same.