If the sleeping giant wakes, lawmakers could be in trouble

If the Joe Bruno trial proved anything, it is that the people who run the Legislature often consider their own well-being before they think about the people they represent. The previous statement is absolutely axiomatic. In the old Soviet Union, they used to have collective state farms. Everyone had to work on these giant farms but very few people actually did. Oh, they showed up, but “productivity,” as we now call it, was almost non-existent.

On the other hand, each of the new Soviet peasants was allowed a tiny piece of land around their homes that they were allowed to work. I guess I don’t have to tell you what magic they could work with those little plots. Get it? Sure, there are some legislators who do represent the people. I call these the “legislative social workers.” Their mothers raised them right. Some got the message in church or synagogue and others came from a left-wing family that preached the gospel of responsible sharing. It has been my experience that these folks are few and far between.

Thus, when it comes to passing so-called “ethics” laws designed to keep the legislators from ripping off the system, they make the laws convenient to their human penchant for helping themselves. These laws are drafted with so many loop holes that you could drive an army tank through them. That is why the federal government has tried to tighten things up with a somewhat loose law called the “Theft of Honest Services” statute. This came about because they know that places like the New York Legislature are being “cute” by passing laws that allow them to misbehave in their own favor. For example, one ethics law specifically allows legislators to be listed on their firms’ stationary even though they are forbidden to take part in certain deals before state agencies. Yeah, right, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. You mean that clients don’t go to the firms of legislators knowing full well who works there and that the firms are “connected?”

In its infinite wisdom, the Legislature closed down the one watchdog agency that was actually doing its job, the New York State Lobby Commission run by the fearless David Grandeau, a guy who took no prisoners. You guessed it, that group was closed down by all of the legislative leaders including the then Governor, Eliot Spitzer. It was replaced by a toothless New York State Commission on Public Integrity that proved itself so inadequate that its head is now on the chopping block. It will certainly be replaced by an equally toothless entity. If you were a legislator, scoring left and right off the system, why would you create an enforcement group that could hurt you? You would not and neither will they.

One of the funniest parts of this mess is that when Mario Cuomo insisted on ethics reform, the rules for his own executive branch were so tough that Madame DeFarge of A Tale of Two Cities would have felt right at home. The bloody guillotine was used over and over again for even the smallest infractions. But, arguing the doctrine of “separation of powers,” the legislative branch insisted on having its own ethics commission which was so inept that it became the laughing stock of Albany. Often, legislators who wanted to do some marginal thing would go to this so-called commission and be basically told, “Sure, go right ahead.” It was a beautiful thing.

Now under pressure because of numerous scandals, the New York State Legislature wants to do the same thing — develop their own sweetheart commission with a few cosmetic changes. Did you know that right now they are not required to disclose exactly what they are earning? They use categories. No, they should tell you precisely how much they are making and they should tell you who is paying them. The lawyers argue, “No, we can’t do that because it would violate attorney client confidentiality.” Hey, do you want to be a legislator or a lawyer?

“We’re part time,” they scream. There are an awful lot of people who would prefer the legislators’ “part time salary” to their full time salary. And so, as Winnie the Pooh once said, “The more it snows (tiddely pom) the more it goes (tiddely pom).” One day, the sleeping giant (us) will wake up and then there will be hell to pay.

Originally Published in The Legislative Gazette, 11/30/09

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One Comment on “If the sleeping giant wakes, lawmakers could be in trouble”

  1. D Lolik Says:

    Why are we so darn afraid of all these crooks and just bend over for them to rob & rape us blind??! Who is in control here?

    No matter what anyone says…it is all about the money!! Just 14 idiots between equality for ALL NYS citizens and some trumped up assinine excuses for the sanctity of marriage. Where the blazes is the sanctity of integrity and honesty in government? If I had a hammer…..I would be doing more than singing and strumming on a guitar.

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