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Opinion
Arrogance of power

Behaving so typically, the state Assembly and Senate join to fight an anti-corruption
commission's legitimate subpoenas

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Sunday, November 24, 2013, 4:10 AM



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Despite seeing many of its members hauled away in handcuffs, the state Legislature acts
as if it should be immune from outside investigation.

The arrogance is astounding.

On display Friday was stonewalling of a bipartisan nature rarely seen on policy matters:
The co-leaders of the Senate — Republican Dean Skelos and Independent Democrat Jeff
Klein — joined Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in fighting to quash
subpoenas from Gov. Cuomo’s Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

The commission, true to its charge, was trying extract facts about the hefty incomes that
Skelos, Klein, Silver and other lawmakers pocket from outside sources. Some few have
cooperated — and good for them. The rest, eager to conceal who knows what conflicts of
interest, are bent on keeping keep details of those arrangements secret.

In an email to his members, Silver portrayed his stonewalling as a matter of principle —
as standing up to a governor who’s trying to bully the Legislature into submission.

But since Cuomo’s goal is ethics reform that would benefit the state, Silver is turning the
concept of extortion on its head.

Court papers further contend that neither Cuomo nor Attorney General Eric
Schneiderman — who jointly appointed the commission — should be allowed to probe
the Assembly and Senate, alleging that this would threaten the balance of power between
the executive and legislative branches.

If that’s the case, lawmakers would be subject to the oversight of no one but criminal
prosecutors — which is all too often the case.
In fact, at least 29 Albany denizens have been arrested, censured or otherwise accused of
serious wrongdoing since 2006. The accusations have ranged from glomming public
funds to accepting bribes to rigging elections to molesting young female employees.

That’s undeniable evidence of a thoroughly dysfunctional culture in need of systematic
examination — which is exactly what the anticorruption panel is trying to provide.

Legislators argue that the commission should have to provide clear evidence of illegality
before issuing a subpoena. Wrong: A core piece of its charge is documenting legal
behavior that ought to be illegal.

That said, Cuomo himself warned the commission to proceed with care — to be sure and
have its legal ducks in a row before doing battle in court.

Cochairman William Fitzpatrick did the panel no favors by prematurely suggesting that it
has uncovered criminal activity, among other loose accusations. And if, as lawmakers
argue, the subpoenas went too far in demanding reams of material from pols and their
employers, including confidential lawyer-client communications, the commission will
have shot itself in the foot.

But the commission’s task remains critical: to shine a harsh light on how the sausage gets
made in Albany, and what needs to be done to make the process minimally hygienic.

For Silver, Skelos and Klein to defend the awful status quo is oh-so predictable — and
just another sign that the status quo is rotten.


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