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Zero tolerance

When former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty of corruption charges last December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed “there will be zero tolerance for the violation of the public trust in New York.”

That was hardly the first time Mr. Cuomo had said enough is enough on corruption. Less than a year earlier, he had touted changes to New York’s ethics laws and rules that were “groundbreaking.”

Today, reform remains talk only. And the window is closing on this legislative session, which is due to end in less than a month.

Will lawmakers finally act?

Albany watchers say the most likely change would be a law that strips pensions from public officials found guilty of corruption.

As noted here before, lawmakers also could approve another long-debated measure—a bill to close the so-called LLC loophole. Current election law allows the treatment of limited liability companies as individuals; they can donate up to $150,000 a year to candidates and political committees combined—and a single contributor can create multiple LLCs, which means there really isn’t any limit.

One might ask, of course, whether any new laws would put an end to corrupt practices among elected officials in New York. Laws already on the books have been used to win convictions or extract guilty pleas from more than two dozen Albany officeholders over the last decade.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara calls Albany’s political culture a “cauldron of corruption.” And his willingness to prosecute wrongdoers—no matter how powerful—might be the most effective reform weapon.

But Mr. Bharara does not let voters off the hook either. The day after bringing charges against Mr. Silver, he said: “When it is more likely for a New York State senator to be arrested by the authorities than to be defeated at the polls, maybe they should think about being angry.”

In other words, maybe it’s time for voters to embrace zero tolerance.

5/20/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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