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Editorial: Bill a step to reducing pay to play

Editorial: Bill a step to reducing pay to play

Lawmakers seek to reduce influence of big money on state contract awards
Editorial: Bill a step to reducing pay to play
Joseph Percoco walks out of Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan, Sept. 20, 2018.
Photographer: Holly Pickett/The New York Times

Pay to play.

It sounds like fun, right? Like going to summer camp.

But in government, pay to play is one of the most insidious practices against the honest function of government, in that it rewards those who are willing and able to buy their way into the government decision-making process.

One of the most obvious ways government officials can be corrupted is through the awarding of government contracts.

New York state awards more than 50,000 government contracts worth billions of dollars. Naturally, companies that get the contracts can make big money. 

Many of those contracts come about through lobbying by government vendors of state officials with authority or influence over the process.

It’s often worth it for companies to make large campaign contributions to influence the bid process in their favor.

Pay to play was at the center of last year’s state government scandals.

They included the conviction of Joseph Percoco — a close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who prosecutors say accepted more than $300,000 in bribes from two companies doing business with the state — and Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who was convicted in July in a similar scheme that steered hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts to favored companies as part of the Buffalo Billion economic revitalization project.

On Tuesday, the state Senate took a big step forward in reducing the ability of contractors to influence bid awards by unanimously passing a bill (S3167/A113) that would ban campaign contributions to officeholders with authority over procuring entities from companies seeking state contracts.

Under the legislation, prospective vendors would be barred from making contributions when responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) for six months after winning a contract or when lobbying to create a procurement opportunity.

The prohibition will largely impact contributions to the governor, since most bids are awarded by state agencies, which fall under the governor’s authority.

The Assembly has yet to vote on the bill.

This bill won’t cure corruption in New York. There is much more that needs to be done to reduce the influence of big money on government legislation. 

Lawmakers have already taken some important steps, like closing the LLC loophole that allowed contributors to circumvent campaign contribution limits.

And lawmakers’ big new pay raise is tied to limits on how much outside income they can make. It was the easy ability to exchange legislation and political favors for lucrative outside business opportunities that felled former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

This legislation isn’t the end of the road. But it is another step forward.

It’s a step the Assembly should take next, then the governor after that.

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