Editorial: Don't look to Albany for electoral fixes
This is how entrenched and notorious the culture of “pay to play” has become in New York politics.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara recounted a meeting he had with George Venizelos, the FBI’s top official in the region, to discuss expanding their already determined efforts to put dishonest officials behind bars. “And I can tell you that he shares my view that corruption should be the absolute top priority for federal law enforcement in New York,” he told the Citizens Crime Commission last week.
Just how deep is this cesspool? Well, the public thinks the legislature can drown in it. A Siena College poll after the latest arrests found that 81 percent of voters expect more charges against Albany legislators for corruption. And sadly, most of this gang is from downstate.
An aggressive federal effort is necessary, but handcuffs are really the end of the line. We need to change the way business in done. Albany is flooded with ideas on how to make legislators more honest. But it isn’t likely that substantial change will come from those who benefit greatly from the status quo.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to loosen the ability of party bosses to block access to the ballot, but banning cross-endorsements is needed as well. He generally supports public financing, but hasn’t offered anything specific.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has resurrected a public financing bill, but it leaves a “soft money” loophole that keeps funds flowing from state parties to individual campaigns.
Senate Republicans, however, adamantly oppose public financing. The GOP says the estimated $200 million is too costly and it doesn’t work even in New York City. That’s hard to argue with if you’re paying attention to the fraud trial of the ex-campaign treasurer for Comptroller John Liu.
So there are plenty of ideas, but no real support for a comprehensive, tighter set of laws that could stop the crime spree. These latest federal indictments will embarrass the legislature into passing some anti-corruption measure before the session ends in June. But don’t expect anything to change.