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A booming business

Who says New York is a lousy place for business? Some industries have been doing just fine, even during the recession.

If you doubt that, take a look at the new annual report released by the state Commission on Public Integrity. It shows that Albany lobbyists had a swell year in 2010, boosting their spending to a record $213 million-up nearly $16 million from the year before and $147 million over the past decade.

One thing that changed little is the roster of industries hiring lobbyists. As before, health and mental hygiene organizations led the way, accounting for $31.1 million. Next came the real estate and construction industry, at $21 million; banking, financial services and insurance interests, $17.4 million; and education groups, $13.4 million.

All this spending required more hands on deck. In 2010, there were 6,659 registered lobbyists representing 4,091 clients, versus 5,887 lobbyists representing 3,499 clients the year before.
 
That means Albany lobbyists last year outnumbered lawmakers by more than 31-to-1.
 
It is not necessary to believe that lobbying is pernicious per se in order to be troubled by the industry’s growth in the state capital. Money buys influence; to think otherwise is naive. What’s needed are strong safeguards against abuse of the public trust.
 
As a candidate last fall, Andrew Cuomo made ethics reform a key part of his campaign platform. Since taking office as governor, he has continued to argue for stronger laws. Now is the time for action.
 
One key change would be creation of a single ethics watchdog; currently, the Commission on Public Integrity shares duties with the Legislative Ethics Commission. And the single body must be independent of the officials under its scrutiny.
 
Greater transparency for lawmakers and lobbyists alike is a second needed reform. Require lobbyists to disclose any business relationship with legislators over a modest dollar amount. And force legislators to disclose the sources and amounts of their income, plus whether business clients do work for the state.

New Yorkers’ trust in government has been eroded in recent years. Elected officials should take strong steps to rebuild it.

5/13/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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