Many people’s eyes glaze over when they see headlines containing the words Albany, corruption and commission. The reports issued by such commissions are like bad commercials we didn’t like the first time we saw them and we like even less the 20th time we see them. Eventually, even when they’re on, we’re not conscious of them anymore.
But that’s a mistake. Corruption in the state capital — the unethical and in some cases criminal conduct of the people we’ve elected — isn’t just an Albany issue. Just like county policing isn’t just a Mineola issue and veterans’ benefits aren’t just a Washington issue, state office holders’ abuses of power are local issues, having as much impact on the residents of Valley Stream, Oceanside and Lawrence as they do in Buffalo, Schenectady and Oswego. And just because your state representative is honest doesn’t mean the “pay to play” atmosphere of how things get done — or not done — in the private chambers of government doesn’t affect you.
The Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, established in July by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and empowered through the state’s Moreland Act, was created in response to public outcry over what the commission termed “an epidemic of public corruption that has infected this state . . . [T]oo many local and state elected officials, staff members, and party leaders have been indicted and convicted for offenses running the gamut of shame: bribery, embezzlement, self-dealing, and fraud. Public corruption has become all too commonplace and has eroded the public trust and confidence.”
“One of every 11 state legislators to leave office since 1999 has done so under the cloud of ethical or criminal violations,” the commission stated, “and multiple sitting officials are facing indictments on public corruption charges.”
The commission issued its preliminary report last week. Its investigation so far “reveals a pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks, anemic enforcement of the weak laws we have on the books, and loopholes and workarounds that make those laws weaker still.”