Money. That’s it. It’s not that complicated. And while the desire for success is a normal part of human nature, for some, the temptation to make an easy buck through illicit means is hard to resist. In politics, access to money and influence often come with the territory, which is why multiple reforms are needed to address the full scope of this problem.
Three are suggested here.
The first is to strip convicted elected officials of their pensions.
I first learned of this problem a decade ago when I found out the convicted Roslyn school superintendent, the former leader of my own school district, was still receiving his over $175,000 annual pension.
Our community was shocked to discover the only way to stop this was by changing the New York State Constitution.
Outrage continues to grow, as convictions in New York State seem to be coming at an accelerated pace.
There’s no better time like the present, to hold a Constitutional Convention in Albany and finally put an end to taxpayer dollars going to those who break the public’s trust.
The second fix is campaign finance reform. I ran for state Senate in 2014 and tried bringing this up as an issue. There was little appetite for it at the time.
The state Senate Republican conference repeated the mantra, “tax dollars should go to schools and infrastructure, not politicians.”
That’s a wonderful sounding Pollyannaish idea, but there are no real teeth to back it up.
The sad truth is campaign money buys votes.
The disparity between the wealthy and poor, or putting it another way, the disparity between the politically connected and those who aren’t, drives a larger stake into the ground of unfair government.
Well-liked and respected Congressman Steve Israel cites the visceral effect raising money had on him as one of the reasons he decided to call it quits.
Adopting a structure of campaign finance similar to what NYC currently deploys, matching funds at a rate of 6:1, would allow candidates to talk more about the issues and be less beholden to donors.
The billions saved in overpriced, unnecessary contracts to connected donors would more than pay for any cost of campaign finance reform.
My final point is transparency. Here in Nassau County the hundreds of no-bid contracts that have historically been easily granted because they fall under the $25,000 threshold for legislative review are severely lacking in transparency. The current bidding process for Nassau County contracts lacks transparency too (look no further than the $12 million Skelos-Abtech contract).
Because nobody was paying attention, public money seems to have evaporated.
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, where I am a director, recently proposed a fix to this issue.
The following proposal was taken right from the minutes of NIFA’s January 6 meeting:
… the county is required to submit the following disclosure documents as separate attachments to the Contract Approval Request Form with certifications that the documents have been reviewed by the appropriate county officials:
· List of political donations to county officials, county committees and local political clubs by a vendor;
· List of lobbyists and fees paid for service;
· Disclosure of any relationship between vendors and any elected officials or county employees;
· List of all bidders/respondents to the RFP from low to high;
· If another vendor was chosen that did not provide the lowest bid, an explanation of the reason.
· A Vendor “Business History Form” that must include the date of formation of the vendor.
Some contracts can be literally thousands of pages and it takes tremendous effort to locate the aforementioned information, which is necessary for a NIFA director to properly review a contract.
By having the county place these disclosures at the front of proposed contracts (rather than buried/hidden in the pile) the County would earn the public’s faith.
Corruption isn’t going away any time soon. It’s up to those elected to make it difficult and culturally unacceptable for officials to use their political offices for personal gain.
Changing the laws, diminishing the allure of easy money, and creating a public paper trail are good places to start.