Preet Bharara just rooted out two more officials in our state government. This time it was the prominent Deputy Leader of the Senate Republican Majority, Tom Libous, and former Senate Democratic Majority Leader, John Sampson. Their recent felony convictions expelled them both from the State Senate immediately. Both, however, were allowed to keep their seats while the charges were pending, and Libous’s Republican colleagues even chose to keep him on as their Deputy Leader. There are currently other officials, Democratic and Republican alike, waiting for their date in court, and all could be expelled from office if found guilty.
Meanwhile, the New York State legislature continues to do very little to address this issue. From my frustrating experience trying to pass important ethics reforms, I learned that many officials would rather put out a statement saying that they “wish them the best during this difficult time,” instead of working together to pass comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reforms.
I believe that Governor Cuomo should convene a special session of the legislature and not dismiss the Senate or the Assembly until an impactful anti-corruption ethics package is passed. The people of New York State deserve it.
These ethics reforms should include many measures such as: stripping the taxpayer-funded pensions of convicted politicians, ending reimbursements to politicians’ campaign accounts for legal fees with taxpayer dollars, and closing the “LLC loophole” that allows corporations and special interests to control the election process and politicians through practically unlimited campaign donations.
A special session would allow legislators to focus specifically on ethics and campaign finance reforms without being impacted by budget negotiations or end-of-session policy debates. You’ll hear about reform packages being passed, but the reality is that they get watered down as part of the final budget deals or end-of-session negotiations, and they have very little impact on cleaning up Albany.
This is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s a systemic one that has been allowed to fester for decades. Without term limits, there is very little turnover, and those who are in office have little reason to make major changes. The Governor has the power to force them into a room and to not let them out until they solve this problem. Unfortunately, I believe that this is what it will take.
This type of historic action would show the people of New York, whose trust must be earned, that their elected officials are willing to take the extra step that is needed to do what is right. Otherwise, it will be only a short matter of time until the Capitol maintenance workers are scraping off the name of another elected official in Albany. And, we’ll be left with a government that keeps becoming more dysfunctional and less trustworthy.
by Terry Gipson, 7/27/15