As part of the budget deal hammered out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and the State Legislature last week, Cuomo dissolved the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption because, he said, the budget agreement strengthened ethics and corruption rules for state officeholders. So, the governor reasoned, the commission, which he formed last July to deal with a recalcitrant Legislature, was no longer needed.
Well, let’s look at the new laws. The State Board of Elections, the agency putatively charged with enforcing election laws, used to have no power. Now it has more. Elected officials who are convicted of corruption face a lifetime ban from politics. Albany lawmakers must reveal who their clients or customers are if they were referred to those legislators by lobbyists. The threshold for a bribe to be considered a felony has been lowered from $10,000 to $5,000, and there’s a higher felony class for anyone who takes a bribe of more than $10,000.
That’s all well and good. We are happy that our state government has done something — anything — to begin the long, arduous process of rooting out corruption within its ranks. But did Cuomo and the Legislature go far enough? Hardly.
For two decades, the Legislature has been riddled with “lawmakers” seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of the people –– and the corruption went all the way to the top. From 1994 to 2007, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican, ruled with an iron fist, hard-nosed and unflinching. His smile could light up a room, but he brazenly abused his power.
Bruno had no qualms about taking money from companies looking to do business with the state. Ultimately, he was found guilty of corruption in 2009 as a result of his dealings with Albany businessman Jared Abbruzzese. In 2009, a jury found that Bruno had improperly hidden $200,000 in “consulting fees” that Abbruzzese had paid him, and that Abbruzzese had forgiven Bruno of $40,000 in debt and bought a worthless horse from him for $40,000.