Share “A sampling of editorials from around New York”

A sampling of editorials from around New York

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 17, 2014 at 8:07 am •  Published: December 17, 2014
Advertisement

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Post on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's income as a lawyer.

Dec. 14

Sheldon Silver has been keeping a secret from the citizens of New York.

The Assembly speaker admitted for the first time that besides the hefty fees he commands as counsel to Weitz & Luxenberg, he also has his own personal law practice.

His admission came last Thursday, after a New York Times report that federal prosecutors determined he'd failed to disclose some of his outside law-firm income, which topped $650,000 in 2013.

As for what he specifically does to earn that money and for whom, Silver's lips remain sealed. "I can't tell you," said the speaker, adding that "I follow the law." Then again, this is a law he pretty much wrote himself and that does not require such disclosure.

Silver and other legislators with outside law-firm income stand on the profession's ethical code of confidentiality.

But the New York City Bar Association, in a 2010 statement, called on Silver and his colleagues to fully disclose their outside income, "including the identity of their clients, their fees and a clear description of the services rendered."

Moreover, "there should be no blanket exception for attorney-legislators."

But even the kind of full disclosure called for by the Bar Association doesn't cover all the possible conflicts of interests.

Consider: Silver for years has led the fight against tort reform in New York.

If tort reform passed and the lawsuit industry was reined in, of course, firms like Weitz & Luxenberg — whose name partners are, respectively, director of the state Trial Lawyers Association and treasurer of its PAC — would stand to be the big losers.

As things stand, our legislators need only state their outside work does not conflict with their state jobs. New Yorkers simply have to take their word for it.

But Silver & Co. have done nothing to demonstrate they've earned such trust. We say it's long past time to force pols to make all their earnings and their sources public — and let New Yorkers judge for themselves.

___

Online:

http://bit.ly/1A53GTs

The Post-Star of Glens Falls on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and ethics reform.

Dec. 13

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is again negotiating with the Legislature for significant ethics reforms. This time, he is horse-trading a pay raise.

Since calling off the Moreland dogs, we have become far more suspicious of the governor's motives.

Is this an opportunity to right a wrong, or is it a chance to position himself on the right side of the corruption issue if federal indictments rain down from federal prosecutors?

In exchange for a raise, Gov. Cuomo wants extensive concessions that would handcuff lawmakers from tapping into what has become an overflowing trough of campaign donations.

That deal seems unlikely.

Cuomo would like to get the following from the Legislature:

— Restrictions on the personal use of campaign funds.

— The filing of supporting documents to show how legislators spend their $172 per day stipend while working for the state.

— Agreement to strip any legislator of his/her pension if they are convicted of corruption.

— Subjecting of the Legislature to the same type of Freedom of Information Law requirements as the executive branch (although this last one is laughable, since the executive branch regularly flouts FOIL).

While these negotiations were being reported, The New York Times concluded an examination of the Moreland Commission's unfinished work that included hundreds of pages of internal documents, emails, subpoenas, campaign-finance records and interviews.

It is clear from the Times reporting that much of the Albany corruption stems from perfectly legal ways of fund-raising that allow legislators to use money raised for campaigns for just about anything. It also raises the question: When does a campaign contribution become a bribe?

To even begin to battle corruption in Albany, elected officials must address the flood of money they benefit from. That does not seem likely.

Let's start with the LLC loophole.

Corporations are allowed to make no more than $5,000 a year in political donations. That seems harmless enough, except there is a loophole for a limited liability company.

LLCs are treated as people and allowed to donate up to $60,800 a year to a statewide candidate per election cycle. Often, big companies have many LLC subsidiaries and each of them is allowed to donate up to $60,800 per election cycle, which can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and some significant political influence.

According to The New York Times' examination of documents it reviewed, the Moreland Commission found corporations were strategically dividing up huge contributions to maximize their giving — and their influence — not only to the rank and file members of the Legislature but to the governor and others running for state office.

By using cloaked limited liability companies, the magnitude of the corporate gifts was concealed. There is no way to connect the dots to see if colossal campaign contributions led to special treatment for those doing business with the state.

Gov. Cuomo criticized the LLC loophole, but also continued to take advantage of it to raise money during his recent campaign.

When the donated cash was not used during the campaign, some legislators used it as their own private slush fund, according to the records the Times reviewed.

The difference between a legitimate campaign contribution and an outright bribe continues to be murky in Albany.

Some progress has been made. Elected officials now have to report the source of outside income and a specific range of compensation. Members of the leadership like Sheldon Silver, Jeffrey Klein and Dean Skelos receive big paychecks from law firms for which they work. The question that has not been answered is what they have done to earn those paychecks. The Moreland Commission was reportedly trying to find out. According to the Times, it issued subpoenas for card-swipe records and sign-in sheets to see how often the lawmakers showed up for work.

Considering the questions that linger and the gaping holes in how money is raised and accounted for during elections, it seems unconscionable for anyone in the Legislature to get a pay raise. They have a lot of nerve to even ask.

But we would be willing to double their current salary of $79,500 if the LLC loophole could be closed and legislators agreed to release detailed information on how much they make from outside employment.

"When pigs fly," you say.

Probably.

This whole affair appears to be nothing more than posturing on the part of the governor as he tries to restore his image as a crusader against evil, while still reaping the financial benefits of the current corrupt system.

___

Online:

http://bit.ly/1yVO9kL

The New York Times on airfares going up despite the dip in oil prices.

Dec. 15

Oil prices have fallen by about half since June, making it much cheaper just in time for drivers to fill up their cars for Christmas travel. But the decline in oil prices has had made no perceptible difference on the cost of flying. Fares are up from earlier this year, and many airlines are still levying significant fuel surcharges on the tickets they sell.

There are many reasons airlines have not lowered fares to reflect the decline in oil prices. Some of these companies are still paying high prices for fuel themselves because they have to abide by long-term contracts. But the biggest reason airlines are not passing on lower prices to consumers is that they don't have to.

Demand for air travel is strong, and a series of megamergers has significantly reduced competition in the industry. The four biggest airlines in the United States — Delta, Southwest, United and American — control about 80 percent of airline capacity, down from 11 companies as recently as 2005. For most travelers, that has meant higher prices and jam-packed planes.

Continue reading this story on the...