Just four months after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was implicated in a corruption scandal, New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has been arrested and charged with trading favors for money. With that, two of New York’s three most powerful politicians have now been arrested, accused of abusing the public trust for private gain.
Back-to-back arrests of the top two lawmakers in a state would be shocking almost anywhere. But in corruption-plagued New York, this is a sadly familiar state of affairs.
Amazingly, Skelos is the fourth of the last five Senate majority leaders to be arrested on corruption charges. The only leader not arrested is Jeff Klein, who participated in a majority coalition with Skelos.
Put another way, over the past seven years, both chambers of the legislature have been led by officials who have been charged with or convicted of corruption.* And that’s just at the top of the legislative food chain. Over those same seven years, 20 legislators were charged with or convicted for corruption — anything from looting public funds for personal expenses to writing legislation in direct exchange for bribes to attempting to rig the New York City mayoral election by buying party officials’ support.
Unfortunately, the problem seems to be getting worse. In the past two years alone, eight legislators have been taken in or convicted on corruption charges, and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has hinted that more charges could be on the way.
It’s no wonder, then, that the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption diagnosed “an epidemic of public corruption that has infected this State” and called for immediate reform to end the state’s pay-to-play culture. As the Commission’s 2013 report made clear, closure of the LLC loophole and creation of a comprehensive statewide public financing system are necessary parts of that reform package.
Two men in a cell isn’t much better than three men in a room. But maybe this scandal will finally help us pass the reform Albany needs.
*This does not include Joseph Bruno, who led the Senate from 1994 to 2008, but whose conviction was overturned.
(Photo: Facebook/Senator Dean Skelos)