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Most not optimistic about ethics reforms

More than 70 percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll said the ethics reforms recently enacted in Albany will not be effective in fighting corruption in state government.

And an overwhelming 94 percent said New York public officials who are convicted of corruption should forfeit their state pensions.

Less than four months after the arrest of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was taken into custody on Monday, charged with unlawfully using his power and influence to direct more than $200,000 in payments to his son, Adam Skelos. His son also was arrested.

Skelos said he plans to continue as state Senate majority leader.

The six-count indictment was announced by the FBI and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who also brought the charges against Silver, a Democrat. “Public corruption is a deep-seated problem in New York State,” Bharara said. “It is a problem in both chambers; it is a problem on both sides of the aisle.”

Skelos is the latest in a lengthy list of New York public officials who have faced criminal charges. In response to the numerous corruption scandals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have approved ethics reforms including provisions of the recently approved state budget that Cuomo described as “historic.” Among the enacted measures are tougher rules on disclosure of outside income, a ban on personal use of campaign funds and a system to verify that lawmakers are entitled to per-diem travel payments.

The measures also call for applying New York’s pension forfeiture law to all public officials who are convicted of corruption. However, that requires a constitutional amendment, which must be approved by two successively elected legislatures and then by the state’s voters.

Approximately 680 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted April 27 and 28.

In your view, will the ethics reforms recently enacted in Albany be effective in fighting corruption in state government?
Very effective: 1%
Somewhat effective: 27%
Not very effective: 40%
Not at all effective: 31%

Should New York public officials who are convicted of corruption forfeit their state pensions?
Yes: 94%
No: 6%

For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.

COMMENTS

Ethics reforms will not change politicians, penalties will. They have to be scared.
—Jim Haefner, Pittsford

It is time for public financing of campaigns and term limits. To clean this mess up, we have to stop the flow of cash and the incentives that a pay-to-play system creates. While we are at it, let’s set a five-term limit. For any elected leaders who have already been in for five terms, we can have a lottery to determine their exit of the next three cycles.
—Aaron Hilger, president, Builders Exchange

How can it help if the Albany crooks write ethics reform? That’s like the fox writing safety checklists for the chicken coop.
—Daniel Mossien, architect

It’s only fair that if they are convicted there should be consequences; reparation and loss of benefits should be at a minimum.
—David DeMallie

In my opinion, a far more effective way to reduce corruption would be term limits. Look at how long each of those being indicted have been in office. They have had too much time to amass too much power and should have been out of office long ago.
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency Inc.

We need more transparency in the finances of our elected officials and the candidates that run for office. Every year they should post in the paper and on the Internet who gives them donations, companies that receive public money for projects, and any relationship that they have with the lobbyists. We need term limits. That way the state can be run with fresh ideas and the limits would keep people from getting to powerful. I am sick of the corruption that is in politics. People vote a person in office on their honesty and integrity.
—Jennifer Apetz

The culture of corruption is so engrained in Albany—especially downstate—that I believe these elected officials don’t even know they are doing anything wrong. In my experience, those who are “clean” really have to work hard at staying that way and have staff who are also “clean.” The only way to get change is to restructure the way campaigns are financed.
—Frank Orienter

The so-called ethics reforms to date are minor and ineffective. It’s typical Cuomo—talk a lot with great fervor and sincerity, then do nothing. We need term limits, a strict prohibition against conflicts of interest involving family, business associates and campaign workers/contributors, and limits on how both business and unions can support campaigns. Unfortunately, if we actually did that, the politicians would have to work for our votes, so I’m not optimistic.
—Bob Sarbane

Ethics reform won’t be effective until we find a way to legally reverse the effects of the Citizens United case. Corporations and unions aren’t people and shouldn’t be allowed to spend an unlimited amount of cash on political influence. Until that happens, the corruption will continue unabated as politicians seek cash and power and companies and unions continue to supply it in unlimited quantities. The line between uncontrolled donor without strings and quid pro quo is too slim to even be seen any more, and as such politics has become a pay-to-play environment, increasingly corrupt and serving individuals and companies, not the people in general. The current ethics modifications only scratch the surface and don’t get to the root of all the nepotism, capital influence and media access that today’s 1 percent can buy.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.

The Legislature always seems to write ethic laws with loopholes they can jump through.
—Jeff Luellen

Sadly, New York is No. 1 in the nation for corrupt legislators and government officials. The “new” law requires enforcement and that will be left to the vigilance of the press. What we need is term limits for all legislative members and for government officials. Entrenched officials with “safe” districts are an open invitation to wrongdoing.
—Wayne Donner, Rush

I suppose every little bit helps. But until the attitude of corruption and distain for the taxpayers is fixed, nothing much will change. Unfortunately, the tone is set at the top. New York voters must be willing to clean house and not just support their usual party preferences.
—Bob Worden, Penn Yan

“Will Albany’s ethics reforms effectively fight corruption?” Were those ethics “reforms” written and enacted by the same individuals who are embroiled in corruption? Exactly.
—Ben Murphy, Fairport

Power corrupts.
—Jerry McCabe, Irondequoit

I think ethics reform cannot be achieved from within. Someone who is outside of government but familiar with its workings should be responsible for writing the ethics reforms. This person should have a spotless reputation for ethical behavior, if there is such a person in public life.
—George Dounce

It’s illegal now. Has that stopped them? For many of them, it’s why they are there in the first place. Just one more “entitlement” our taxes pay for.
—Jeff Piersall

When our elected officials are dirty and get exposed for breaking the law they should get nothing that even looks like a pension. If you’re dirty, you’re done. Just like in Washington, our elected officials think they are above the law; just maybe this would send a message that they would listen to and follow.
—Ken Pamatat, Creative Images Photography

First Sheldon Silver, now Dean Skelos. Who’s next, Andrew (Moreland Commission) Cuomo? The best ethics legislation would be term limits. If there was term limits legislation, Silver and Skelos wouldn’t have been around long enough to commit these alleged crimes.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.

It has been said that New York State politics are “three men in a room.” Two of those men are gone or are going. Now’s time to take care of the politician who got rid of the Moreland Commission. No legislation can fix human nature.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D.

Unfortunately, ethics reform authored by politicians of any party will, by definition, never have enough teeth to be effective. Only an independent body of professionals could draft such reforms, including such things as forfeiture of pensions. To do so is probably unlikely unless we rewrite the qualifications for legislators and senators.
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport

And how did the requirement of a constitutional amendment get in place? Let’s see if two successively elected legislatures can pass that. It not, then I guess we haven’t dug deep enough with all the corruption investigations. Would a public referendum help us at this stage? I’d like to believe that eliminating public pensions for elected officials convicted of corruption would be a slam dunk in the public’s eye. But getting the den of legislators to do it, that is a long shot.
—Keith Robinson, Diamond Packaging

Although I agree that corruption is rampant in New York, at all levels of the government, most publicly reported corruption cases are, at least to some degree, witch hunts initiated by the other party. That leaves too much opportunity for someone who has worked for the state for many years to lose their pension, perhaps undeservedly. The leverage that can then be applied could actually increase corruption! I do not believe that the ethics reforms recently enacted in Albany will be effective. Most politicians are smart enough to demand cash and not leave a trail. There are many ways to turn cash into taxable income without suspicion. The cool thing about bribery is that both sides of the transaction are a crime, so no one is likely to spill the beans! The bigger problem in New York is at the local level, where almost every politician has multiple hands in the cookie jar. No wonder New York is home to most of the highest taxed counties in the country! The sheer volume of entities makes it almost impossible to detect corruption and theft. Cities, towns, fire departments, school districts—all need to be consolidated to much fewer numbers to save money and reduce corruption and theft.
—Joseph Fabetes, Rochester

This is not a yes-or-no type of request. It CAN be very effective if our politicians (including the governor) are really serious about it! Similarly, the question on pensions. If pensions were earned fraudulently, yes, void them.
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield

Corruption is what you end up with when politicians are there too long, and think they are entitled. The current scandals involving both parties are the best evidence that we need strict term limits and a return to “citizen” politicians versus “career” politicians. But how do we get that when the foxes run the hen house?
—George Thomas, Ogden

5/8/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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