The Times reports that the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan will arrest the New York Senate Speaker, Republican Dean Skelos, next week, along with his son. This come three months after the arrest of the (then) Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, two of the "three men in a room" that run Albany.
Even the third man, Governor Andrew Cuomo, must be feeling heat from Preet because he has reportedly retained leading criminal defense lawyer Elkan Abramowitz. But heat doesn't mean fire and it must be stressed that there is no evidence and no reason to believe that Cuomo has violated the law. However, he foolishly disbanded the Moreland Commission that he had himself created to look into Albany corruption. And it appears he did it as it was zeroing in on some real problems. That single act seems to have unleashed U.S. Attorney Bharara, who subpoenaed the Commission's work product and continued its assignment. So in an unintended way it may be the act that achieves the goal the Moreland Commission was charged to accomplish.
Can corruption in the capital be stopped? Yes. Well, not stopped entirely, but seriously impeded. Here are seven steps that would make a big difference. Who knows? Maybe now reform will happen. In March, Cuomo had his own wish list for ethical reforms and they passed. A good start. But they don't go near far enough, as NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has rightly argued.
· First, lawmakers earn $79,500 yearly. Leaders earn a bit more. But the pay has not increased since 1999. Meanwhile, the consumer price index has risen by more than 40 percent. Double the salary. Reduce the need for outside income.
· Next, cap the amount a lawmaker can earn from other employment. Federal judges have a cap of 15 percent on outside earned income. A cap of 25 percent would allow a lawmaker to earn a total of $200,000 yearly. If that’s not enough, the solution is simple. Don’t run for office. We won’t lack for candidates. Limit how they can earn the money.
· Third, and most important, forbid lawmakers to take official action (other than a vote) on any matter that will benefit a significant client or customer of a professional service firm, which includes law firms, or other business in which the lawmaker or a relative in the lawmaker’s household has an interest. This will require some definitions and an independent body to advise lawmakers. But it will not be hard to do.
· Fourth, require legislators to disclose all outside income, including passive income, and the source, for themselves and relatives in their household.
· Fifth, lawyers in the legislature should be required to disclose the identity and fees of their own clients and the clients in whose fees they share. Reject the claim that the identity of a lawyer’s client, the nature of the legal service, or the amount of a fee is privileged and cannot be disclosed. The Assembly made this claim, at the behest of Silver, when the Moreland Commission subpoenaed one of the firms paying him. This information is rarely privileged. In any event, the attorney-client privilege is a product of legislation. The same legislature that created it can change it. Some exceptions will be required but they will be easy to define.
· Sixth, impose a substantial fine for the knowing and intentional violation of any of these rules. A second violation should be grounds for expulsion from the legislature, loss of pension, and disability for future public office.
· Seventh, finance campaigns of candidates who show broad public support. Doing so will free candidates from the need to raise money and encourage others who would not otherwise enter the race.
How much embarrassment can these people endure before they actually do the right thing?