Our Views: Silence of the state legislators

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During last year’s election season, local candidates for state Assembly and state Senate, whether Democrat or Republican, united in the cause of improving ethics in Albany and putting an end to corruption.

Almost to a person, the candidates swore that cleaning the culture of corruption there would be among their top priorities if elected.

While candidates have often said they were committed to ethics reform, they seemed especially committed last year following the convictions of state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and state Majority Leader Dean Skelos for public corruption — the latest in a long series of state legislators found guilty of breaking the law.

So it would have been safe for voters to have assumed that this year the Legislature would actually do something.

But, alas, they would have been wrong. Again.

Not only did the Legislature do nothing, but the local candidates who won last year — state Assemblymen Tony D’Urso, Ed Ra and Chuck Lavine and state Sen. Elaine Phillips, two Democrats and two Republicans — said little or nothing.

No shock, no outrage, no demand for their party’s leadership to take action.

So much for top priorities.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature even managed to add a new ethics proposal that they failed to approve — a procurement reform measure prompted by a federal probe into allegations of bid-rigging and influence-peddling in some of Cuomo’ls biggest economic development projects.

“Response from Governor Cuomo, Senate Leader Flanagan and Speaker Heastie to largest bid-rigging scandal in state history: “NOTHING,” charged a coalition of good government groups.

Naturally, both sides blamed each other.

Cuomo said Republicans were at fault for failing to adopt more ethics reforms in the regular session that ended June 21. But he didn’t include procurement or ethics measures in the special session he called for a week later in which he set the agenda.

The Legislature also once again failed to close the so-called “LLC loophole,” a favorite of many New York State companies including Glenwood Management, the New Hyde Park-based real estate company at the center of both the Silver and Skelos trials.

The loophole allows corporations to avoid the $5,000 corporate limit for campaign contributions by forming a limited liability company, which under the law can contribute more than $60,000 to a candidate for the Legislature or statewide office. And to make matters worse there is no limit the number of limited liability corporations a company can form — making campaign limits meaningless for many businesses.

Glenwood has received hundreds of millions of dollars in tax subsidies for luxury office and residential buildings mostly in New York City, low-interest, tax-exempt bond financing and favorable rent regulations.

They have also been the No. 1 campaign contributors in the state making at least 1,834 contributions worth $13.2 million between 2000 and 2014, according to the Gotham Gazette.

Included was $1.1 million to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee and $1 million to Cuomo’s re-election bid. Glenwood was by far the largest donor to the campaigns of Cuomo, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNappi. Locally, Skelos received $110,000 and state Sen. Jack Martins received $45,000.

And while Glenwood was perhaps the biggest user of the LLC Loophole they certainly were not among the only companies to take advantage — including a former real estate executive turned president of the United States by the name of Donald Trump.

Most, if not all  the candidates receiving campaign donations will tell you that in no way were their decisions influenced by a mere $50,000 or $100,000 or even $1 million in support. That they treated the large donors just like any other voter.

Some might even react in outrage, claiming offense that their honesty and integrity had been impugned.

But almost everyone outside of Albany recognizes this as legalized bribery, extortion or both. And taxpayers are paying the price.

“This is pathetic excuse for governing and an insult to the millions of New Yorkers who expect a basic level of competency,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

As the national health care debate demonstrated, taxpayers raising their voices on an issue can sometimes change minds.

In that spirit, we urge voters to demand action now from their state legislators on ethics reform. Call for them to speak up now and challenge their leadership.

And hold them accountable if they don’t.

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