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Reform Groups Aren't Giving Up On Push For Special Session

New York State Capitol
Karen DeWitt
/

  Two more lawmakers, a former Senate Leader and the Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate were convicted of corruption in the past week. But Governor Cuomo continues to say it would not be a good idea to call state lawmakers back to the Capitol to enact more ethics reform measures.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous was convicted of lying to the FBI over getting a job for his son in a politically connected law firm. Former Senate Leader John Sampson was found guilty of running a foreclosure embezzlement scheme. Both immediately lost their Senate seats. The convictions come in a year that’s seen the arrests, and resignations of both majority party leaders.

The government reform group Citizens Union, which has taken to running a corruption tracker on its website, will now have to add two more names to the dozens of lawmakers convicted of crimes over the past decade and a half. The group’s Dick Dadey says that number is now at 31.

“It’s just shocking,” said Dadey who says the “crime wave has accelerated”, with 11 convictions in the just the past three years.

Citizens Union is one of a coalition of groups asking governor Cuomo to call a special session of the legislature this summer, focusing on reform.

Cuomo says it would be a waste of the taxpayers’ money. He says he tried to get lawmakers to pass more ethics reform in the recently concluded legislative session, but was not successful.

“I haven’t heard anything from the Senate or Assembly saying ‘our minds have changed’,” Cuomo said. “For the taxpayers to spend a lot of money to bring the legislators back to Albany for the same outcome they had several weeks ago, makes no sense.”

The governor says he and the Senate and Assembly have already passed numerous ethics reforms, including greater disclosure of lawmakers’ outside income.

“We have the highest ethical standards this state has ever had,” Cuomo said. “That is not going to stop people from doing stupid or criminal things, as we have learned.”

Critics, including the State’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, say many of the ethics reforms have done little more than tinker around the edges.

Dadey, with Citizens Union, says if Cuomo does not use his powers to try to steer the legislature toward more comprehensive reform, then he risks being seen as part of the problem.

“It’s disappointing,” said Dadey. “The only way we’re going to get a different outcome, is if the governor starts to force the hand of the legislature, by holding a special session and  putting their feet to the fire and saying ‘you’ve got to do it’.”

In some ways the US Attorney PreetBharara has effectively cleaned up some of Albany’s potential for corruption through the arrests and convictions of several lawmakers, many accused of manipulating their employment outside the legislature for personal gain. The three current major leaders of the legislature,  Senate Leader John Flanagan, Independent Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, say they will no longer earn any outside income. Dadey says it’s a start, but falls short of what’s needed. 

“This is voluntary, this is not statute,” Dadey said. “Things can change, and that’s why we need an ethics law that addresses this issue.”

Citizens Union advocates giving all lawmakers a significant pay raise, then strictly limiting outside income as is currently done in Congress.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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