ALBANY – New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman comes to Buffalo on Monday trying to drum up support for an anti-corruption legislative plan – just days after investigators from his office, the State Police and FBI raided the homes of three political playmakers from Western New York.
Whether a coincidence or not, the timing of Schneiderman’s trip is certain to raise eyebrows in the Buffalo area’s political community, which is already on edge following the ratcheting up of the probe by the state and federal investigators of G. Steven Pigeon, Steven M. Casey and Christopher M. Grant.
In a statement in advance of the Buffalo event Monday afternoon in front of Old County Hall, Schneiderman’s office made no mention of the headline-grabbing search of the homes of the three political insiders that began last Thursday morning.
“The people of New York expect and deserve bold, comprehensive reform that will end the prosecutions of public officials,” said Damien LaVera, a Schneiderman spokesman.
Last Wednesday, with jabs clearly meant to send signals to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers, Schneiderman said officials in Albany had failed during this session to seriously consider changes to the state’s ethics law – despite a 2015 session punctuated by the separate arrests of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, who had to step down as leaders of the Assembly and Senate, respectively.
The Schneiderman proposal, containing more than a dozen changes to state statutes, would increase the salaries of state lawmakers but ban them from earning outside income.
It would also prohibit per diem expenses for lawmakers and instead force them to produce receipts and collect reimbursements for approved state expenses.
The attorney general also wants his office to be given greater legal jurisdiction to prosecute corruption cases, and he wants to lengthen the terms of state lawmakers from two years to four as a way to help reduce the now-constant fundraising by officials.
Schneiderman’s legislation also seeks to close a campaign finance loophole to prohibit someone from using multiple limited liability corporations as way to get around existing limits on corporate and individual donations.
Schneiderman is typically closemouthed about existing cases being handled by his office, so it remains uncertain what he might say about the searches he authorized last week of the homes of Pigeon, Casey and Grant.
Based on allegations originally probed by the Erie County Board of Elections, Schneiderman since last year has been investigating matters involving campaign finance activities of Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic Party chairman and a political confidante of Cuomo, as well as a number of other politicians.
With the raids Thursday morning on the homes of Casey and Grant, the probe has clearly expanded. Casey, a longtime friend of Pigeon, until last year was the first deputy mayor under Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, a Democrat. Grant is the chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Collins.
The Attorney General’s Office has declined to comment on the investigation, other than to confirm that it has a probe underway.
Schneiderman’s legislation has been embraced by the major government watchdog groups.
Schneiderman said the steady parade of political corruption cases in New York over the past decade or so “taints the honorable work being done by the lion’s share of public officials.”
Schneiderman said New York needs more than “so-called ethics reform” legislation that was passed in recent years that “tinkers around the edges.”
“It’s time to end the prosecutions and restore people’s faith in their government,” he added.
While lawmakers might like Schneiderman’s idea to make the Legislature an official full-time body with a pay boost from the current $79,500 to a level somewhere between $112,500 and $174,000, his ethics package faces a near-certain death as the Legislature looks to end its session on June 17.
Schneiderman began his ethics legislation road trip last week with stops in Manhattan and Long Island.
He also will travel to Rochester on Monday.