Just when you thought that the rogues gallery made up of members of the New York State Legislature who have been indicted or convicted of corruption was finally full, federal prosecutors announced new criminal corruption charges against state Sen. Carl Kruger and Assemblyman William Boyland, Jr.
Kruger is accused of using his powerful position on the Senate Finance Committee to enrich himself. Federal prosecutors described the alleged criminal activity as a “broad-based bribery racket.”
Reading the details of the complaint is like reading a crime novel: meetings in cars to pass bribery checks, dummy corporations set up to receive pay-offs from developers, legislators selling their support for projects and negotiating with favored developers how many millions in public money they would provide for that developer’s pet projects. The complaint alleges that Kruger took positions on legislative issues as a result of the bribe money he received.
These allegations confirm the public’s worst opinion of their elected officials: that legislators are out for their own enrichment and self-interest and not looking out for the interests of their constituents.
New York’s lax ethics laws and oversight contribute directly to the rogues’ gallery of corrupt politicians. We appropriately expect our elected officials to put the public interest ahead of their self-interest, but the state of New York’s ethics laws undercuts that expectation, allowing legislators to push past the limits of propriety and legality with impunity. There is no independent ethics oversight; legislators reserve that function to themselves. As a result, practices that should be addressed before they become corruption go unremarked or, even more upsetting, are approved. Just business as usual in an anything-goes Albany. Until, of course, federal prosecutors come to call.
Without clear guidelines provided by a strong ethics law administered and interpreted by an independent ethics agency, we can expect to see more corruption charges against more legislators. Good public servants find it hard to maintain their standards and recognize where the line is when everyone around them is crossing it. The complaint in the Kruger case should be a prescription for ethics reform, not a roadmap for the next politician who forgets where his allegiance should lie.
Susan Lerner is executive director of Common Cause New York, a nonprofit promoting open and honest government.