New York State government dysfunctional?

What’s happening in New York State politics? People of every background in and out of the Empire State who follow U.S. politics have been asking themselves this question for the last two years. It looks as if this is the most corrupt state in the country. Politicians are generally not revered anywhere in the world but how does it happen that most of the name recognized U.S. politicians caught in a big scandal for the last two years have been namely from New York? The list of New York politicians caught in a scandal has become quite long: former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R), former Governor Elliott Spitzer (D), Governor David Paterson (D), U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D – 15th District), U.S. Representative Eric Massa (D  – 29th District), and last but not least, every single state Senator (remember the gridlock last summer). Part of the answer is that state regulations were too loose.

In this article, I will discuss a law that was enacted in the very beginning of the year aimed at addressing the political corruption in Albany.

Joe Bruno: In December 2009, he was convicted on eight charges of corruption in the U.S. District Court of Northern New York: two felony counts of mail fraud (the 12-member jury found him guilty on the two), five counts of mail or wire fraud (not guilty) and one other count (no verdict). Maximum penalty for the former state Senate Majority Leader is $250,000 on each felony count and 20 years in prison, which, considering his age (80), technically means for life. New York Times made a fantastic analysis on the trial. Sentencing is pushed for May 6, instead of March 26 to give the defense more time to file their documents, as Capital News 9 reported. His private business is also involved involved in the case – $3.2 million in fees are to be interpreted in the trial on May 6.

After Joe Bruno was indicted, the New York Legislature passed a bill that now (starting January 1, 2010) requires public officers to disclose more about their finances. A commission auditing the public officials’ finances or the finances of the ones who run for public office received certain rights and responsibilities as do the state public officers (Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, state Attorney General, state Senator, state Representative, and so on, but not U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, President and so on). The interpretations are listed below:

  • randomly selecting a financial disclosure form from a randomly selected and unknown public official (no one is to know whose forms the selected ones are).
  • establishing protocols such that every audit is done in a uniform manner (so that there is no bias in the audit).
  • signing a contract with an accounting firm which will monitor the entire process (experts making sure that it’s a fair game; one loophole though is that the particular accounting firm could also be affiliated with businesses that are not interested in certain financial disclosures regarding the audit and may instruct it to monitor differently). Here’s a list of all the New York-based accounting firms.
  • fortunately, the commission is authorized to address inaccuracies in both the audit and the monitoring protocols and processes. The requirement is that there is reasonable cause to do that, just like in criminal law there has to be a reasonable doubt by a policeman to arrest someone. How effective this is going to be depends on who the commission members are, that is, how impartial they are to public officials, whether or not running for state public office.
  • any commission member is subject to a civil penalty of $5,000, if he or she doesn’t do their job right.
  • the commission will make public a file (concerning the individual’s finances) that belongs to a state public official who failed to file a disclosure of their financial statement or failed to clarify something in their financial statement that the commission asked them to, and will determine what civil penalty that person shall receive. In any of these failures (to file or to clarify something), that person would first be given a 15-day period to provide whatever they are asked to provide to the commission (filing or clarification), and then it sends a notice of delinquency to the current state House Speaker, to the current state Senate President and to the current Governor; and a second notice of delinquency, provided that they resigned so that they can still be involved in the procedure. If no second notice of delinquency is signed in this case, the commission can no longer investigate them. If that individual hasn’t been in a state elected official position for a year or more, the commission can no longer investigate them either.
  • there are seven categories of value or amount to be reported: A ($5,000 or less); B ($5,000-$19,999); C ($20,000-$59,999); D ($60,000-$99,000); E ($100,000-$249,999); F ($250,000-$999,999); and G ($1,000,000 to infinity).
  • receiving information about the individual’s businesses with both the private and the public sector which resulted in him or her getting a compensation of $500 or more (name, address and description of both the individual and the private or public sector entity, including sole proprietorships). This provides for more transparency of the public officers’ actions on the issues.
  • there is a special section for doing business with lobbyist(s) that requires filing that information (personal, lobbyist, and the nature of the business) within 30 days after the beginning of the business that costs $50. A fee of $1 to $10 or from $1 to $25 for every additional day of late filing is imposed depending on the circumstances.  If the commission on public integrity previously instructed the individual about the monetary consequences of late filing, the daily late fee will be in the $1 to $25 range. You can file a complaint for violation with the commission on public integrity.
  • in case of false information provided, the legislative ethics commission or the state ethics commission on public integrity (the two are acting as state agencies in such a circumstance) may charge the individual with a civil penalty of $500 to $10,000. The state ethics commission on public integrity may in particular circumstances charge the individual with a violation to the appropriate prosecutor. This violation may result in class A misdemeanor.
  • if you are a witness who is a New York resident, the committee may require your attendance and may be examined by the commission but the examination will not be published. At least two members of the committee should be present so that there be an examination.
  • if you are a witness who is not a New York resident, the committee may issue a commission or excuse your attendance. Both motions will be made in accordance with the state law. The examination will not be published. At least two members of the committee should be present so that there be an examination.

Whether this law will be functional in the near future is debatable. It looks very good on paper but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will diminish the corruption in Albany. Hopefully it will.

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