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Time for corruption prevention legislation

Time for corruption prevention legislation

Another scandal, another chance to stop corruption in Albany. But will they do it?

Seriously, aren't we all getting sick of seeing the words "investigation," "subpoena" and "U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara" used in same the sentence as "New York state government?"

On the eve of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's sentencing on federal corruption charges comes the latest link between the state capitol and the criminal justice system.

It involves Joseph Percoco, a close friend and aide of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Percoco is apparently being investigated by Mr. Bharara's office for receiving up to $125,000 in consulting fees from companies doing business with the state while he was on leave from the state to run Cuomo's re-election campaign.

The U.S. Attorney is also apparently looking into others with connections to Cuomo over questionable lobbying efforts and "undisclosed conflicts of interest" related to the Buffalo Billion economic development project, nanotechnology development and other dealings.

The governor's office so far is pleading ignorance and launching its own separate investigation. As one reporter-poet recently said, a sparrow doesn't fall in Albany without Cuomo knowing about it. So one has to wonder how high this conspiracy goes. We'll find out soon enough.

Yet as the perp walk marches on through state government, the governor and the Legislature continue to twiddle their thumbs on enacting legitimate ethics reforms that might root out and prevent this kind of malfeasance.

Where are our honest state legislators (yes, there are plenty) and the legitimate lobbying firms and consultants in all this? Why aren't they out in front calling for reforms? Aren’t they sick of being lumped together with the miscreants?

The first step should be to dispense with the euphemistic term, "ethics reform." You're not going to reform an unethical person's ethics. Instead, let’s start saying what’s really needed: "corruption prevention."

Rules like no longer allowing government officials and aides to temporarily take themselves off the state payroll to consult for lobby firms doing direct business with the government. Turning your jersey inside-out doesn't free you from past or future conflicts.

How about requiring that individuals be out of government service for an extended period of time before they're allowed to consult or lobby on government projects? Or more stringent and transparent disclosure regulations for anyone doing business with the state. And more harsh penalties — including a permanent ban on lobbying licenses for companies and individuals who ignore them.

And of course there are the proposals for corruption prevention for lawmakers, such as limiting the amount of money they can make from outside sources, closing gaps in the laws that allow big donors to bypass standard political contribution laws, term limits for legislative leadership posts and automatic forfeiture of state pensions upon conviction of any crime, not just a felony.

If there are honest lawmakers in Albany as angry about their association with criminals as the people are, they'll do the unexpected — and pass real corruption-prevention legislation before the legislative session ends next month.

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