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Guilty as charged

After former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s conviction Monday, little time was wasted wiping his name from the Assembly website. Removing the stain of public corruption from Albany will be a much more difficult task.

In fact, things soon could get even worse. Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, are on trial facing corruption charges. If the Republican lawmaker is found guilty, it would mean two of the “three men in a room” who not long ago ruled Albany would be convicted felons.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who brought charges against both Mr. Silver and Mr. Skelos, has a term for Albany’s political culture: It is a “cauldron of corruption.”

With each guilty verdict come renewed calls for an end to pay-to-play government. Gov. Andrew Cuomo—the third man in the room—on Monday was quick to say “it is time for the Legislature to take seriously the need for reform. There will be zero tolerance for the violation of the public trust in New York.”

Yet only eight months ago, Mr. Cuomo had announced “groundbreaking reforms” to New York’s ethics laws and rules.

If the governor and lawmakers want to signal they truly intend to clean up Albany, they could move quickly on a couple of much-discussed measures. First, they could close the so-called LLC loophole. Under current election law, limited liability companies are treated as individuals and can donate up to $150,000 a year to candidates and political committees combined. And a single contributor can create multiple LLCs, removing the limit entirely.

Second, they could fix the law requiring pension forfeiture for convicted public officials, which now applies only to officials who joined the state retirement system after November 2011. A bill has been introduced that would remedy this flaw without the need for a state constitutional amendment, but it has gone nowhere.

These are only two of many steps that might be taken. They are not the solution, to be sure, but it would be a good start.

12/4/15 (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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