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State Government Editor of The Gotham Gazette
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics has lifted the veil on how legislators make their outside income and, perhaps, where their loyalties lie. Legislators all make a salary of $79,500 a year for their work and are reimbursed for travel. Many also earn stipends for their positions on committees.
The filings drawing the most interest from journalists and advocates are from legislative leaders who are also known to work for law firms — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos and Independent Democratic Conference head Jeff Klein.
According to his filings, Silver makes at least $350,000 and up to $450,000 a year as council at Weiz & Luxenberg. Silver has long been criticized for acting in the interest of trial lawyers.
Silver was recently attacked for killing changes to the citys' scaffolding law that would have allowed juries to consider whether the action of workers had any impact on accidents. Current law puts the onus on the shoulders of the building owners and contractors. The changes were seen as detrimental to trial lawyers. Skelos pulls down $150,000 to $250,000 a year as council for Ruskin Moscou Faltischek. The law firm recently set up a lobbying branch.
Klein earns between $50,000 and $75,000 a year in guaranteed payments from his law firm Klein Calderoni & Santucci LLP.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's nominees to head his Moreland Commission that will investigate corruption in Albany have already raised the hackles of some advocates and legislators.
Cuomo announced the formation of the commission this morning. The Daily News reported yesterday that the committee — which will have subpoena power — will be chaired by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Syracuse District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and lawyer Milton Williams. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has also leant his staffers and the power of his office to broaden the scope of the investigation.
Rice, who ran for attorney general in 2010, has long been a Cuomo ally, which does nothing to allay the fears of some legislators that Cuomo will have undue control of what the commission will and won't look into.
Furthermore, good government advocates worry that Rice is too close to the largest political donors in the state to cast a critical eye on their behavior. Rice is in the middle of running for reelection and is one of the state's most prolific fundraisers.
"This isn't kind of message we were looking for," said one advocate who asked to remain anonymous. "We are talking about someone who is just as beholden to this system as anyone else in the state."
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos took to the airwaves this morning to warn Gov. Andrew Cuomo that the Legislature has the ability to investigate the the executive branch.
“A legislative body can also do things we feel are appropriate,” Skelos told Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom.” “If this is just aimed at the Legislature, I think that would be inappropriate. Certainly, the governor runs for office. He’s raised close to $30 million in his campaign committee. … Everybody should be cautious here when they move forward.”
Good government groups and even Democratic Party loyalists like Bill Samuels have said they think whatever investigative body Cuomo creates should be allowed to look at all fundraising — including Cuomo's. Advocates point out that Cuomo is the master of the current fundraising system and any investigation should look into the major donors that have benefited him.
As we reported last week, Cuomo's father Mario clashed with the Legislature when he tried to empanel a similar investigative body. The Legislature initially refused to fund the commission, and eventually got some say into what the commission actually investigated.
Skelos previously warned Cuomo that the Legislature could look into his dealings and he reiterated it on The Capitol Pressroom.
The New York Public Interest Group reports that the total number of bills passed by both houses increased this year from 571 to 650.
However, Bill Mahoney of NYPIRG reports, "The total of 650 bills is remarkably low by historical standards."
The report shows that the three lowest years for two house bills since 1915 are 2009, 2012 and 2013. "It seems that a smaller quantity of two-house bills is a new reality in New York," writes Mahoney. Mahoney speculates the trend could be due to the growing importance of the state budget, which is jam-packed with legisaltive items and the small majority in the Senate.
Also noteworthy is the fact that 2013 featured the fewest messages of necessity issued by a governor since at least 1995. Only three bills were passed with a message of necessity this year, while five were passed in 2012 and 29 in 2011.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has drastically reduced his use of the messages as good government groups criticize the process for subverting debate. Cuomo's use of the measures is tiny compared to his recent predecessors.
Bloomberg Administration Looks to Block Police Bills
The office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg is moving to stoptwo bills passed by the council yesterday that would make it easier to sue the New York Police Department over profiling and one that would create more oversight for the agency. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have characterized the bills as undermining of the NYPD. The Mayor’s office hopes to veto the profiling legislation that passed with only the minimum votes required to override a veto. The bill creating an NYPD inspector general passed by what seems an insurmountable number for the Bloomberg administration. The Bloomberg administration will put its influence to the test over the next few weeks as Bloomberg serves out the end of his term.
Some See Conspiracy in Number of Minority Lawmakers Caught up in Scandal (NY Times)
De Blasio Faces Major Setback With Hotel Trade Endorsement (Daily News)
Weiner Challenging Quinn For Gay Vote (Daily News)