In a 10-day period last month, two of the most powerful men in New York politics over the last two decades—former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican—were sentenced on public corruption charges. They join a long list of New York state officeholders who have been sentenced to prison terms.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office prosecuted the Silver and Skelos cases, has called Albany’s political culture a “cauldron of corruption.” That view is widely held—in a survey conducted by Monmouth University researchers last year, New York was named the U.S. state with the most political corruption.
All RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll respondents say they think corruption in state government is a serious problem for New York, with 89 percent saying it’s “very serious,” and 11 percent saying it’s “somewhat serious.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have vowed to push for new anti-corruption laws. Proposed measures include stripping pensions from public officials found guilty of corruption, closing the so-called LLC loophole and term limits.
Poll respondents were divided on what would be most effective in counteracting public corruption in state government. A slight majority, 51 percent, favor enactment of new anti-corruption laws, compared with 49 percent who favor vigorous enforcement of existing laws.
The current legislative session is scheduled to end June 16, and no reforms bills have been passed. In addition, corruption investigations connected to the Cuomo administration are now underway.
About a year ago, more than 70 percent of Snap Poll respondents said the ethics reforms enacted in Albany would not be effective in fighting corruption in state government.
Nearly 670 respondents participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted June 6 and 7.
In your view, is corruption in state government a serious problem for New York?
Very serious: 89%
Somewhat serious: 11%
Not very serious: 0%
Not at all serious: 0%
What would do the most now to counteract public corruption in state government?
Enactment of new anti-corruption laws: 51%
Vigorous enforcement of existing laws: 49%
For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.
Corruption in New York extends far beyond Albany! Eight-year term limits should be established for every legislative elected position. That would solve the problem of “career politicians” who think they own the place. And every labor contract for government workers (all levels including teachers) should be voted on by the public every November. Self-renewing extensions of “old” contracts should be abolished. That would necessitate good-faith bargaining representative of current economic circumstances. And politicians who operate on pay-to-play should be walked out in handcuffs.
—George Thomas, Ogden
Members of government must disclose all business activities. When ethics lawyers say no disclosure is needed when services are provided “at cost,” they ignore the imputed benefit derived from that service. If one is not prepared to disclose everything, then do not perform public service. Things can’t be much worse if incumbents step down. Regardless of persuasion.
—Jerry McCabe, Irondequoit
We need at least half women in the state legislature. Although we don’t really know because it has never been a fact, I believe having half women would clean up many problems there.
It is quite simply a disgrace. Enough said.
I have felt term limits at all levels of government would be a logical solution to this. Public service in regards to congressional or senate seats should not be a career. Limit terms (just as we have done at the POTUS level) and hopefully this will eliminate the entitlement that these government officials feel they must have.
—Gary M. Baker, Cochran, Cochran & Yale
Two words: Term limits. So long as we allow legislators to gerrymander districts and make a career out of political maneuvering, we will continue to have corruption. Enact term limits: three and out.
—Wayne Donner, Rush
Corruption in New York dates back before Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. Until we establish term limits, pervasive corruption will remain as part of the political fabric in New York State.
Continue to move away from career politicians and not allow someone in the same position for 10-plus years. In addition, any conflicts of interest have to be vetted out. Hopefully more people will begin voting in local elections as they are every bit as important as national elections.
Term limits—say, two four-year terms—would help to solve the problem. With the current two-year terms, campaigning and fundraising are never-ending. Politicians see their positions as a lifetime career rather than a temporary opportunity for public service. And contributors and lobbyists see the opportunity to have politicians granting them favors over a long period.
Term limits need to be enacted. Why is the president the only person in the country subject to term limits? Stripping away the pensions of convicted lawmakers should also be enacted.
Corruption in New York is as old as dirt, but Cuomo and his brethren have breathed new life into it with bid rigging and manipulating the specs on the Buffalo Billion, the Rochester schools construction program, the Photonics headquarters mess, and virtually every other large construction project across the state. There is likely no way to stop it, but you could slow it down with more aggressive, independent investigations and prosecutors. If it weren’t for Preet Bharara (U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York) we wouldn’t know about any of the recent shenanigans, and when he leaves—poof—signs of corruption may disappear from the radar even though it will still be going on. Maybe the answer is to get government out of the business of business. Why are New York’s taxpayers building a $750 million solar panel factory anyway? It’s a trough with a lot of pigs feeding at it without any clear benefit for taxpayers.
Let’s start with term limits for all offices. Two and out, then try jailing the criminals in general population. That ought to have some impact.
Why are we still surprised when corrupt people do not enact new corruption laws or enforce existing ones that could indict and punish themselves or their friends? Thank you to Preet Bharara for pursuing the crooks, but there is so much more work to be done.
The consequences of a conviction for inappropriate or corrupt actions as a state employee must be harsh—sufficiently harsh to cause perpetrators to think twice before engaging in self-serving behavior. (Consequences) must include immediate cessation of compensation (including unused sick/vacation pay), forfeiture of lucrative state pension, heavy fines and prison time.
—Dorver Kendig, Webster
Take the money out of politics. Create publicly funded elections. Require true transparency in all financial reporting.
Cuomo is just as corrupt as all of our other politicians who are serving time; he just hasn’t been caught yet!
Term limits are needed to prevent the consolidation of power by persons who are in place for too long, and full-time status of the elected office positions would enable the prohibition of outside income while in office.
It’s simple. They need to know they will get caught and then have stiff penalties. In the past, getting caught was also part of the corruption.
Two words: term limits. This one thing would go a long way to end corruption in Albany. I’m sure a majority are not corrupt when they go to Albany, but after making it a career a number of them seem to go in that direction. After years in office, they also seem to forget who put them there in the first place.
—Barry Alt, A2Z Enhanced Digital Solutions
Constitutional amendment to change the rules by which leadership of the senate and assembly are chosen and legislation is brought forward. Outlaw revolving door of legislators retiring and working for lobbying firms. Pay competitive salaries to legislators. Institute term limits of not more than 10 years for all legislative positions.
The legislature should only be in session for three months every two years. That is plenty of time to get the people’s business done. There is no way that we need full-time legislators. The more they are in session, the worse it is for New York taxpayers. There are plenty of laws and regulations in New York. Keep the legislators out of Albany. And cut their pay to $20,000 per session.
—Dave Iadanza, Farmington
To stop corruption in Albany: 1. Term limits. 2. No more state funding/tax breaks for private companies. 3. Drastic reduction in the size and scope of the state government. 4. Simplify the tax code. No more legislated tax breaks for anyone unless they are for everyone.
Until voters decide to get involved and press for reform and demand term limits, politics will continue to be a lucrative career for too many. Unfortunately, many of the people who are elected to represent “We, the People” instead represent their own interests at our expense.
Until we have term limits, nothing will change. Politicians are so insulated from everyday society and think they are above the rest of us. We will continue to have dysfunction and corruption until they are cycled in/out. Of course we could just vote out “da bums,” but New York reelection rates are like the former Soviet Politburo since most voting seems to “like” our local ones from both parties, presumably due to pork and rebate checks. And for the record, I’m 100 percent opposed to public financing. They already suck enough money from us; we don’t need to fund their gerrymandered re-elections for life.
—D. Giambattista, Fairport
Term limits would greatly reduce corruption.
Albany politicians have proven time and again that they are incapable of policing themselves when it comes to misuse of power leading to corruption. An independent commission, free of political insiders, needs to be formed and given the authority to investigate and act on violations without limitation. Simultaneously, New York State voters need to stop re-electing incumbents to send the message that we have had enough.
Politicians should have the same rules as everyone else. No special health care, no special retirement, no guaranteed income for life. If you violate the public trust for the office you hold, you go to jail!
Every time there is a tough issue in Washington between the so-called “conservatives” and the so-called “progressives,” the cry is: “It is a matter for the states to decide!” Anyone think that what we see in New York isn’t typical in the other 49 states, too? Anyone want to see a crook from Illinois (as an example only) deciding some of the most important issues of our society? New York may be a center for media; New York may have a tradition of tough prosecutors, but New York hardly has a monopoly on graft, corruption and pay-for-play government. The problem isn’t new enactment of tough anti-corruption laws. The existing corruption laws are not enforced so why would anyone think that new laws would be any different? The problem simply is us—we, the voters—we keep sending the same guys back election after election. We keep accepting the same crap election after election.
It is tough to end corruption in New York due to two reasons; it is the very same corrupt people making the laws and some prosecutions are partisan related and may not warrant the stripping of someone’s pension, particularly if they have been in the pension plan for a long time, and are being “set up” by the other party.
—Joe Fabetes, Rochester
New York State government and our leadership in Albany is an embarrassment; it’s time to finally take this issue seriously.
—Bill Wynne, Fairport
The best way is to have term limits. By the time they figure out how to steal from us, they hopefully are out of office. Also stop from letting them get their pensions they supposedly earned while ripping us off.
More laws are not the answer. Laws only serve as guideposts that tell bureaucrats what they can get away with. What is needed are elected and appointed officials who possess integrity, character and a high sense of ethics. We’ll never have that as long as our region is a colony of New York City. That’s how they view us, and it is not possible to find moral politicians from that place.
Cuomo and his legislative leaders have to get serious about anti-corruption laws. Up until now, it has all been lip service. These new laws and existing laws need to be enforced.
—Mike Hogan, Information Packaging Corp.
The budget process should be moved from the three people who currently control it (governor, assembly leader, senate leader) back to all elected state officials in these branches.
Occam’s Razor dictates that the first thought of solution is usually the best—elect honest legislators! We thought we were doing that in the past, however, the results have not borne that out. Hard to trust any of them. That being said, how about enacting term limits, curbs on lobbyist money and no pension when convicted of a felony. Methinks we might just achieve some honesty in Albany.
—Art Elting, Palmyra
And don’t forget to repeal Citizens United.
Any laws—new or old—that aren’t enforced are useless. Enforcement is the key. The punishment for public officials should be severe. Any official guilty of corruption is, in effect, committing a crime against hundreds/thousands/millions of people. A common neighborhood thief is charged with multiple charges of burglary. So should public officials face multiple counts for all the constituents they have hurt. They should forfeit pensions and any other benefits that were the result of their public service. Only when the punishment for the crime exceeds the benefits received for being corrupt will those in office shun the deals that seem victimless, even though the true victims are every taxpayer out there who end up lining the pockets of the corrupt and their allies.
Term limits for all elected positions would be a great help, as well.
Just looking at the past decade, there needs to be change. The current laws are not working or are just ignored—hard to tell which. As a small business owner in Rochester, it is not difficult to see why there are not hundreds of companies moving to New York State.
—Kim Pandina, lapidary and designer, Panda Wear
The only way to stop corruption is to make the punishment worse than the benefit. Complete payback of money and forfeiture of benefits (including pension ) for life.
New York needs to be diligent in policing and holding its elected officials accountable. Should someone be convicted of corruption, they need to do the same jail time anyone else would. Plus, they should be barred from working for any other governmental agency in the future and should have their pension stripped immediately. If you or I were found guilty of corruption, we’d be out of a job.
—Rich Calabrese Jr., Rochester
Any corruption or ethics-related “committees” should NOT consist of any politicians past or present at any level of New York government; or any donors to politicians or parties in the past 10 years. It should consist of the “People of New York State,” whom should be appointed on a basis of geography size; not by concentration of population. In addition, lawyers should be assigned as advisers to “The People of New York State” and not appointed on any such committees. This way, commonsense and non-bias interests can prevail. That said, it will never happen as any laws created, those in Albany will have the usual loopholes and making it geographical relevant for appointments; downstate and Albany could not handle that idea or even the thought of having parity prevail.
—David Rusin, Pittsford
What’s needed to counteract corruption in Albany? How about a nuclear bomb?
Term limits and stripping pensions from public officials found guilty are no brainers. I also think there should be limits on outside income and (hate to say this) we should pay them more to reduce temptation. Public funding of campaigns would be an added cost to the taxpayer but it is likely dwarfed by what the corruption is costing us. Lastly, transparency of all donations is key.
The old way of getting things done in Albany was “Three Men in a Room.” Now, since two of the three are in prison, all we need to do is to put the third man there. Then the “Three Men in the Room” would be in a room on Riker’s Island. We don’t need any new anti-corruption laws, just enforce the hell out of the ones we have, like against that “Buffalo Billion” and the future “Orchard Park Billion.”
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services PC
The only way to eliminate corruption is to eliminate the corrupters. Term limits would be a good start. Ethical leaders at the top would help. The current and last five governors have been poor examples. Stiff penalties including loss of all benefits along with public disgrace should be mandatory. Lobbying should be strictly limited. An informed electorate should correct the problem; something that does not exist especially in the biggest cities where most of the criminal legislators come from. Unfortunately, given the current climate in Albany, this will never happen.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
Term limits! No career senators or assembly members!
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency Inc.
Great poll options. Do you prefer to give a drunk grain alcohol and a funnel or vodka martinis? Is it possible that the corruption is due to the fact that they already have too much power? Why don’t we consider taking away some of their authority? People aren’t as interested in corrupting you if you don’t have the ability to affect change.
—Kenya Burne-Moore, Rochester
The biggest problems are that the foxes (legislators) are guarding the hen house and control the rules by which the games are played. There are some critical sets of rules that need to be changed. These rules will never be changed by the foxes. However, voters have a chance to get these changes made by approving a Constitutional Convention, which could then propose amendments to the state constitution to create new rules. The question of holding a Convention in 2018 will be on the statewide ballot in November 2017. The sets of rules that need to be changed are: 1. The campaign financing laws need changing to dramatically limit how much donors can contribute, eliminate “housekeeping donations to parties,” and eliminate the “LLC loophole” whereby shadow organizations can give tons of money. Likewise, legislation is required, and passing this change by the Legislature risks incumbents not getting reelected, which is the biggest possible loss a legislator can incur. The number of incumbents who lose elections is practically zero. More legislators die or are indicted than lose elections. The Constitutional Convention can change the campaign financing rules. 2. Change the redistricting process from legislators being in charge to a neutral third party/body defining the district boundaries and populations. A Constitutional Convention can change the way redistricting is done. Our really big opportunity for change is through the effectiveness of a Convention. A Convention needs exclude legislators from participation so that true citizen-oriented objectivity can be set as the new standard of performance in Albany. Business leaders need to collaborate with as many other groups as possible to assure that the Constitutional Convention Referendum is passed and that an objective Convention Body is elected to do the important work of changing New York.
—Bob Volpe, Rochester
What is it in our society that allows elected public servants to become inured to common sense and decency?
—Garry Geer, Geer Photography
Illustrates the fallacy of returning legislators to office. I have long endorsed the choosing of legislators randomly from the voter registration roll, as we do jurors, whose job is much more important and responsible than legislators. Could not be worse.
—Art North, Penfield
6/10/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.