Coming Clean: Gov. Paterson and State Senate Raise Hopes of Ethics Reform in Albany

Malcolm A. Smith

June 01, 2009

The Daily News

Could it be that corrupt, dysfunctional Albany is on the verge of cleaning up its act? There are signs that reform is making headway in a state government steeped in muck.

Gov. Paterson - channeling public disgust at Albany's scandals - is pushing ethics enforcement as a priority for the year. And Senate Democrats have advanced proposals that have the potential to overthrow Albany's entrenched pay-to-play culture.

Paterson's idea is to scrap the Public Integrity Commission - which is controlled by appointees of the governor it's supposed to regulate - and establish an independent watchdog.

He also wants this new outfit to police the Legislature. This is an absolute necessity, because both the Assembly and Senate ethics committees have failed dismally to police their own members.

The Senate Democrats' plan includes both these crucial features - and much more. It would limit political donations from lobbyists and bar pols from using their campaign accounts as personal slush funds.

Most critically, the Senate plan would require legislators to disclose outside business interests - exposing any conflicts of interest to the light of day.

Also encouraging is how Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and his members have studied the bills.

Instead of haggling in backrooms, they have held bona fide hearings and invited comment.

They've also set up a Web site,, where New Yorkers can add their two cents.

They're going through much the same process on the issue of campaign contributions. Proposals on offer range from simply lowering New York's ridiculously high donation limits to making the more radical jump to full public financing of campaigns.

The discussions are so dignified and open and small-d democratic, you'd never guess they were happening in Albany.

Since Paterson and the Senate appear to be on the same page, the question marks are the Assembly and Speaker Sheldon Silver, a tort lawyer who adamantly refuses to disclose who his clients are or how much money he makes from them.

Facing a snowballing issue, Silver has promised to hold hearings on Paterson's ethics bill with the intention of taking action before the end of the session this month.

He must. And Paterson and the Senate, where Daniel Squadron of Brooklyn and Liz Krueger of Manhattan are leading the charge, must force the issue to the fullest.