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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Great News: New York is Corrupt AND Dysfunctional

The dysfunctional government in Albany: You guys are a disgrace!
The New York Daily News by KENNETH LOVETT - March 29, 2009 

It's time to clean up the mess in Albany!

New York’s state government — dubbed the most dysfunctional in the nation — is living up to its reputation now more than ever. In the last two weeks alone, a massive corruption scandal in the controller's office was highlighted in an indictment, the governor and Legislature were finalizing a budget deal containing massive tax hikes in complete secrecy and a state senator was indicted on charges of beating his girlfriend. A lack of public input and accountability has locked citizens out of their government and made the Capitol ripe for corruption and favoritism. "If the average person saw what's going on, they'd descend on Albany with torches and pitchforks like in the old Franken-stein movies," said former Assemblyman Thomas Kirwan, a Newburgh Republican. Reformers have been raising the alarm for years.

In 2004, New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice issued a scathing report calling the Legislature "dysfunctional" and saying three men - the governor, the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker - controlled legislation and made all the key decisions. In 2006, the center issued a followup report noting small changes but concluding most of the socalled reforms simply "codified the status quo." Last year, the center issued a third report, "Still Broken: New York State Legislative Reform," which found that despite some changes, there is still a long way to go. "The main structural problems are all still there," report author Lawrence Norden said. Still, reformers hoped change would come this year because one party, the Democrats, controls both houses and the governor's office. That hope, critics say, has not turned into reality.

How bad is it?

• There have been a string of high-profile scandals, indictments and convictions - including a governor caught frolicking with hookers, a controller forced out for using state employees to chauffeur his wife, and a Senate majority leader indicted for shady business dealings.

• The executive director of the state Public Integrity Commission, which is supposed to keep the executive branch honest, is under investigation.

• Lobbyists have a stranglehold on the Legislature. Relying on buttonholing and campaign contributions to legislative leaders, the lobbying industry, which raked in $171 million in 2007, can block good-government legislation for years.

• That stranglehold helps speed through dead-of-night laws favoring special interests, like insurance companies or labor unions, with little notice, no debate and virtually no dissent.

• Legislative leaders buy loyalty by awarding committee chairmanships and leadership posts with thousands of dollars in stipends - although some committees rarely, or never, meet. Members almost always vote the way they're told. n Notoriously lax campaign laws let legislators use campaign cash on meals, travel, cars and gifts.

• Financial disclosure forms are a joke, allowing lawyer legislators - and others - to hide outside income and client lists.

Who pays for all this? We do: with sky-high taxes, expensive policy, bad laws and laughably ineffective public servants. "You know the expression that politics is like sausage making?" said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "In Albany's case, that might be an insult to the sausage." All this was supposed to change when Eliot Spitzer, the hard-charging state attorney general dubbed the Sheriff of Wall Street, was elected governor in 2006 on the promise of cleaning up the place. The self-proclaimed "steamroller" found it nearly impossible - repeatedly clashing with former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) and others - before he resigned in disgrace in March 2008 after getting caught in a prostitution scandal.

It's worse than ever

This year, reformers hoped the legislative gridlock would be broken when Democrats took control of the Senate, giving the party control of the governor's mansion and both houses of the Legislature for the first time since the New Deal. Instead, the situation in the Senate has been worse than ever. Three rogue Democrats held up the selection of Queens Democrat Malcolm Smith as new majority leader and extracted some leadership powers in return for their support. Major legislation, including a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bailout bill, has stalled because a slim two-seat majority makes it difficult to move much of anything. With Republicans standing together as a bloc, all it takes is for one maverick Democrat on any issue to keep it from moving. Issues many Democrats had long hoped would move - the legalization of gay marriage, the elimination of the Rockefeller-era drug laws and the toughening of rent regulations - have stalled. Making things tougher: The legislative process is almost entirely controlled by the leaders. Other states make it easier for rank-and-file members to move legislation forward. Unlike in most states, in New York, public hearings are seldom held on legislation, committees take their cues from legislative leaders and the two houses don't hold joint open committee meetings to hash out differences.

Legislative leaders buy loyalty by awarding committee chairmanships and leadership posts with thousands of dollars in stipends and doling out millions in pork-barrel spending for local projects ranging from Little Leagues to health care clinics. The leaders also control the once-a-decade redistricting process in which the legislative lines are redrawn, often to protect incumbents and a party's majority. "Most, if not all, of the problems in the Legislature that I experienced stem from the disproportionate power wielded by the party leaders, most especially the leader of the majority," former Sen. Seymour Lachman, a Brooklyn Democrat, said at a recent hearing on reform. "I witnessed members cede their independence and judgment to their leaders in return for favorable committee assignments, staff allocations, office space, funding for district projects, and financial and manpower support, if needed, at reelection time."

Public is shut out

Things were so bad that Kirwan, a Republican, and Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, jointly sued the legislative leadership in 2005 in an effort to have the power spread around. The suit failed. The public is often shut out of the process until the very end. Budget bills, negotiated in private, often are still warm from the copier when lawmakers vote on them with virtually no time for public review. The governor gives special permission for lawmakers to act without waiting the required three days for the bills to age to avoid having delicate compromise deals unravel under public scrutiny. Legislation pushed by powerful interests often pops up - and passes - late in the session with little warning and no public hearings. Other measures that may have strong public support stall because a leader won't let it come to a vote.

And, oh, the scandals. Ethics scandals. Corruption scandals. And the sex scandals.

In the last few months alone: n Two key figures close to former Controller Alan Hevesi were charged with offering access to billions of dollars in pension money to firms that paid them kickbacks. n Bruno and Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Queens) were indicted in separate cases on federal corruption charges that they mixed their private business interests with their public offices. n A tough-on-crime Parole Board member, former Assemblyman Chris Ortloff (R- Plattsburgh), was charged with trying to solicit sex over the Internet with what he thought were two young sisters. n Gov. Paterson's choice to head the Parole Board, Felix Rosa, withdrew his name from consideration after an allegation arose that he exposed himself to a fellow Parole Division employee in the mid-1990s. n Herbert Teitelbaum, executive director of the Public Integrity Commission, is under investigation over allegations he tried to protect Spitzer from a probe into whether he used state troopers to spy on Bruno.

Controlled by lobbyists

The ethics panel that over-sees lawmakers has done virtually nothing over the years. The former Lobbying Commission - long considered the one effective oversight body - was folded into the Public Integrity Commission and its bulldog executive director fired. "The problem now is there is no cop on the beat," said Barbara Bartoletti of the state League of Women Voters.

Transparency is another major issue. Lawmakers are required to file financial and ethics disclosure forms, but they are heavily redacted when made public. That means, for instance, it's impossible to know how much Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) makes in his role with a prominent trial law firm or who his clients are. Albany is also a town controlled by lobbyists, an industry that has roughly doubled in size - from $92 million in 2003 to $171 million in 2007. Lobbyists spend their days discussing legislation at the Capitol with lawmakers and their nights hopping from one campaign fund-raiser to another, delivering donation checks at each one. New York's lax campaign laws allow legislators to use campaign cash on meals, travel, cars - and even gifts and flowers - as long as they aren't for very loosely defined personal reasons.

Good-government groups have attacked Paterson for dropping Spitzer's reform mantle. They note there has been no push for campaign finance re-form. They and a handful of lawmakers want to create an independent redistricting commission to take politics out of the process. There may be some hope on the horizon: Senate Democrats have formed a bipartisan committee designed to develop rules to make their house more open. The committee has been considering a host of rules changes that would include strengthening the committee process, making it easier for all rank-and-file members to move bills to the floor for a vote and providing more openness. If the Senate approves re-form measures, Norden hopes the Assembly will follow suit and open the process, not just to the public, but to rank-and-file members as well. "I'm not saying that they will, but I've got to have some hope," Norden laughed.


Anonymous said...

What a mess. Our leaders are losers. Our courts are a sham. Ethics oversight is corrupt. We have some very big problems here in New York.

Anonymous said...

It's time to rock the house, bring in the FEDS.

Anonymous said...

I agree, bring in the feds.

Anonymous said...

Who are the feds? I don't know who you people want...because you keep stating that.... and no one ever shows up for you. You should be more specific, and maybe they will read that it is them that you want, and they will rush to NY help you all out!

Anonymous said...

Feel sorry for Paterson; he's just the house negro at Silver's Sabbath Day events. Feel sorry for Silver, he's just a victim of his law firm's greed. In the Senate, the majority wants to kiss Silver's ass to get their things past. Most judges are corrupt and are the victims of the attorney culture of corruption in NY.
Stop feeeling sorry for yourself and feel the pain of these public servants. At least, Saint Andrew feels their pain and acts to aid the corrupt judges and attorneys.

Anonymous said...

Hey, you gottosay we have the best elected "public sevants" that money can buy! We're number one!

Blog Archive

See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2
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