Opinion Editorial on Dedicated Legislature
The Cover-Up CrewEditorial Board
By best guess, as many as 128 members of the state Legislature have joined in the coverup of their private financial dealings — a coverup that extends even to disclosing their names.
New Yorkers must know the identities of these guardians of secrecy so that they can be held accountable for concealing connections between the public’s business and personal gain, for abusing their offices by claiming the Legislature as an institution has sanctioned their stonewalling and for undermining what little confidence remains in the integrity of Albany.
How, exactly, does Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver pull down more than $350,000 a year from a personal injury law firm?
What services does he render for the firm above and beyond standing athwart any legislative effort to rein in tort law abuses crucial to money-making by trial lawyers?
Why is a politically influential Long Island law firm willing to pay Senate Republican chief Dean Skelos more than $150,000 per annum? What clients seek the counsel of a lawyer with no known legal specialty beyond legislative draftsmanship?
Gov. Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission asked Silver and Skelos to answer those and similar questions on a voluntary basis, while posing the same queries to all other Assembly and Senate members who’d earned at least $20,000 from outside jobs. Again, response was purely voluntary.
Rather than stand as individuals — responding or not as they chose — Silver, Skelos and Senate co-leader Jeff Klein of the Independent Democratic Conference herded the affected lawmakers into a bunch, threw up a bogus accusation that the commission was assaulting the Legislature’s prerogatives, hired a lawyer for each house and ordered the attorneys to pretend to speak for the Legislature as an institution.
But neither house voted to support such a stance, and the Senate Democrats and Assembly Republicans say they did not sanction the move.
At best, the two lawyers represent the wishes of legislators who top off their bank accounts with at least $20,000 in income. Limited disclosure documents indicate the cadre could number 128 out of the Legislature’s 213 members.
While some may have responded to the commission as individuals, the numbers suggest that many of the state’s lawmakers are engaged in an extra-legal maneuver designed to shield them from personal accountability to voters.
The Legislature did not — and could not — approve this coverup. Silver and Skelos have organized an abuse of power, and the identities of their co-conspirators must be known.