Misbehavior may cost Democrats the Senate this year
This week we learned that the state Senate had established committees that literally sold accessibility to state politicians for menu item dollars. Labor leaders were told that for fifty grand they would have “increased access” to the Senate majority. Others were told that twenty five grand would buy them power. Of course, this has been going on for years. The problem with the Senate Democrats is that they have not learned the subtleties of the Republicans. There is honor among thieves. One simply does not say that access is for sale for a named price. It is just understood by the denizens of the legislative deep. After all, there must be trust among those supplicating for power and those who have it. Anyone who abuses that understanding doesn’t get another chance.
It’s all spelled out in the law. If you are recorded by the FBI saying to a legislator, “If you vote for this bill I will give you this much money,” you are guilty of bribery under the law. On the other hand, if you get money from a well-heeled lobbyist and then vote the way he wants you to but there is no announced quid pro quo, is there anything illegal about that? Of course not. Why, that’s as American as apple pie.
The cabal running the now Democratic Senate seems to have missed the subtlety of the whole game. For years, they were out in the wilderness while the Republicans were grabbing anything and everything that wasn’t nailed down, but doing so with taste and refinement. When they finally got power, the Democrats were like the dying man who gets to the water hole and drinks too much, too fast. They bloat and die. It is all so, well, déclassé. They have pigged out. Day after day, we hear another story about someone’s corruption.
The Democrats just don’t get it. Not all Democrats, you understand. There are many who are repulsed by the whole thing. Unfortunately, some of the worst characters among them have gotten their hands on power and become the “leadership.” This crew would rather hold power – even at the potential cost of their majority – than lose their access to the cookie jar. Jeff Klein, the senator who is fronting the new pay-to-play scheme, is actually one of the best among the Senate crew. This stuff is contagious.
The problem is that the Democratic senators, having blown it and repulsed the public, are now panicking. Rather than pass the tough ethics legislation that is needed to sanitize their house, they are running in the exact opposite direction. As a result of their panic, they are looking for the money that is the heart of contemporary politics. Surely, they had to know that this would become public. Surely they had to recognize that putting a public menu out for all to peruse would lead to shame and dishonor. But, no, they thought that the promise of filling their campaign offers was worth the risk. Well, it wasn’t and isn’t.
Clearly, there is nothing illegal about the whole thing. After all, one of the great myths of the Albany game is that the word “access” is a sanitized version of “bribery.” Everyone now plays the game. Key lobbyists who direct money to key legislators for campaigns have immense power. That’s why you see so many people who have played key roles in the legislature become lobbyists. Even Congressmen, seeking to have their districts preserved in the coming reapportionment, hire “connected” lobbyists to make sure that they get the best treatment (best districts) possible.
They believe that New York state is so Democratic and they are so invulnerable that they simply can’t lose the Senate. I am here to tell you that by their misbehavior they have almost assured that is exactly what will happen. That sense of invulnerability on the one hand and panic on the other has placed the Democratic Senate majority in grave danger. Mark my words.
Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/29/10