Monday, December 11, 2006

An ethics lesson Spitzer delivered a worthy one to unschooled legislators

Democrat & Chronicle

Another reason why Day One needs to happen...........andy

In Albany, the ties that bind tend to be the ones with dollar signs. Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer's ambitious, commendable move to ensure high ethical standards in the executive branch contrasted sharply last week with word that Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno used his member-item power to direct $800,000 to a firm linked to a lobbyist under investigation for showering gifts on Bruno.
Is there an invidious connection? That's for the investigation by the state Lobbying Commission to determine. But one thing is certain: The relationships among special interests and lawmakers in Albany is unhealthy. Too many incumbents rely too much on the support of lobbyists and their clients to remain free of their influence. Bruno is famous for targeting money to interests in his district around Troy. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a trial lawyer, has stood in the way of tort reform to limit lawyers' ability to excessively go after deep-pocket companies in accident cases.
Spitzer has set the right example. But Albany won't be cleaned up until these reforms touch all the branches of government. Spitzer rightly has said he won't accept honorariums while in office, won't hold fund-raisers during the legislative sessions, will cut the amount of individual gifts to his campaign to $10,000 and will restrict the ability of former staffers to lobby his administration after they leave.
But legislative leaders didn't meet ethical reform with ethical reform. Bruno said it was easy for the wealthy Spitzer to forgo fundraisers during the session. But Bruno and state legislators know that these aren't fundraisers in the sense that ordinary folk get a chance to support their lawmakers. These are designed to allow Albany-based lobbyists to buy some backing for pet legislation.
No one is suggesting that fundraisers ought not be held. But put them on back home, closer to the voters whose interests lawmakers presumably wish to represent.
Spitzer's ethical stand should be the model for all governors. But you'll know he's made a difference when his idea becomes the model for the Legislature.

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