There ought to be a law.
How many times have long-suffering voters and taxpayers in New York state uttered the above phrase?
Amid rampant corruption and a seemingly endless stream of political leaders tied to questionable schemes, more and more of them can’t help but continue to wonder why the system still seems to be designed to protect the interests of public officials who betray the public’s trust.
A lingering example stems from the pending sentencing of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
For many years, he served as one of New York’s most powerful representatives in Albany.
After his conviction on felony corruption charges, he is now barred from holding public office of any kind.
Still, under New York’s arcane campaign finance rules, the powerful Democrat still has an opportunity to exert influence over the state’s electoral process by dipping into his large campaign war chest.
That’s right, despite his conviction, Silver’s campaign finance account, which as of this writing had a balance of $428,764, remains active. The amount is more than four times the $92,000 in the campaign account of Silver’s replacement as the leader of the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie, D-the Bronx.
The Silver case and other recent scandals involving leaders in Albany has done little to compel the governor or members of the legislature to close ethics loopholes or restrict the personal use of campaign funds.
Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, who has authored legislation to bar office holders from using their campaign funds to cover legal expenses arising from criminal or civil litigation, characterizes ethics reform as “one of Albany’s blind spots.”
His proposal to clamp restrictions on the use of campaign funds is bottled up in the Senate Elections Committee. He notes that the only significant ethics measures to be enacted in recent years was one that stops public pensions going to elected officials found guilty of misdeeds while in office.
As he pointed out, New York’s voters — not its elected officials — are the ones who approved that measure through a proposition appearing on last year’s election ballot.
We’re hardly the first to raise these issues. In fact, good government watchdog groups in New York have been calling for such reforms for many years now.
While the leadership in Albany changes - either by vote or removal as a result of scandal — the system has sadly remained largely the same.
Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, notes that other states already require campaign funds be liquidated within a specified period after an office holder returns to private life.
Why doesn’t New York do the same?
The obvious and depressing answer: Elected leaders make the rules and constituents have been unable to muster enough pressure to get them to do what’s best for the public’s interest.
Horner noted that, 30 years ago, a state investigations panel known as the Moreland Commission, set up by then Gov. Mario Cuomo, father of current Gov. Andrew Cuomo, released a report describing New York’s campaign finance system as “ a disgrace.”
As Horner noted: “It’s only gotten worse since then.”
What a disgrace, indeed.