State pol slush fund

The Brooklyn Paper
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Now we know why state legislators fought so intensely to keep their “member items” list so secret.

Last week, state legislators finally followed through on a state judge’s order to release details of the $170 million in taxpayer money that they funnel to local organizations in their districts.

These so-called “member items” are doled out with very little scrutiny or oversight — a case of the foxes guarding the public chicken coop if we ever heard of one.

As The Brooklyn Papers reports on its front page, “member items” are transformed into what might be interpreted as a pay-for-play system in which legislators allocate grant money to organizations whose leaders are loyal contributors to the pols’ campaigns.

Carroll Gardens Assemblywoman Joan Millman is a repeat — and unabashed — practitioner, steering thousands of dollars to local organizations whose leaders contribute to her campaign.

State Sen. Marty Golden of Bay Ridge and retiring Assemblywoman Adele Cohen of Coney Island also play this game, as Paul Koepp’s story reveals.

There’s nothing wrong with private citizens giving to politicians’ campaigns. That’s how elections are financed in this country.

And the community groups that have been on the receiving end almost always deserve the small grants they’ve gotten.

In most cases, they deserve more public money.

But grants should be awarded based on merit, not on which worthy organization has the ear of the local lawmaker because its executive director is a campaign contributor.

Would equally worthy non-contributors get the public money or the lawmaker’s ear?

Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer ran under the campaign slogan, “On day one, everything changes.”

Here’s a perfect place to start, governor.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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