“Preventing public corruption is essential to ensuring that government works and can effectively keep the public’s trust,” a top state official said Tuesday.
Once you’re done laughing, consider this: That official was Gov. Cuomo, and that line was just the first in his statement introducing a new bill, the Public Trust Act, that’s designed to cut down on the kind of corruption Queens lawmakers Malcolm Smith and Dan Halloran, and four other people, were accused of on April 2.
The proposed law shows promise that unlike the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which Cuomo created as part of his 2011 ethics reforms, it will actually deter wrongdoing — though we suggest that the governor go even further.
JCOPE has proven so toothless it’s now aptly referred to as JJOKE. The panel is appointed by Cuomo and legislative leaders, so any one of them can direct a member to nix an investigation. And when a probe does go forward, what do you get? The finding of no legal or ethical wrongdoing when, for example, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver OKs the secret payment of more than $100,000 in taxpayer money to the young women his crony Vito Lopez of Brooklyn allegedly harassed. Yeah, that’s an effective watchdog.
The Public Trust Act, on the other hand, would make it easier to convict defendants in bribery cases, increase the penalties for convictions, do the same in other pay-to-play cases that involve taxpayer money and bar those found guilty of felony corruption from ever again serving in a public office, lobbying the state and winning state contracts, among other measures.
Not bad. But we also strongly recommend that sitting elected officials convicted of corruption lose their pensions. That already holds true for newly elected lawmakers, but not those who had their seats before the 2011 reforms. The law should apply to them as well. The fact that taxpayers are paying out the pensions of say, ex-state Sen. Shirley Huntley or ex-Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, both crooked former officials from Queens, is disgusting.
Another improvement would be the elimination of Wilson Pakula petitions, which allow members of one party to run as nominees of another party. This is what Smith, a Democrat, allegedly was trying to bribe the Republican Party into letting him do. Mayor Bloomberg has done virtually the same thing, but legally, making massive contributions to the GOP and the Independence Party when he wanted their support. Most states don’t allow Wilson Pakula-type cross endorsements because of the potential for wrongdoing they create. It’s time New York joined them, and also stopped forcing its taxpayers to fund the retirement of criminals. Do those two things and pass the Public Trust Act and we just might be getting somewhere.