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Public corruption <br> Senate Dems' brazenness makes it plain Legislature can't clean up its own act

It's hard not to be impressed by the sheer audacity of Senate Democrats in publicly announcing that they are up for sale. Most New Yorkers have long understood that their state government is fundamentally corrupt, but they don't expect elected officials to come out and announce it. But that's what Senate Democrats did.

Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, runs the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and frankly told a Buffalo News reporter that a smorgasbord of interests with business before state government are being asked to join "advisory councils" at up to $50,000 a pop. Labor groups are already on the bus, which will come as a surprise to no one.

The purpose of the councils is to help advise Democrats on how to retain control of the chamber in this November's elections, as though that would be a good thing. Democrats now hold a 32-30 edge over Republicans, who lost their majority status two years ago after seven decades of dominance.

In addition to labor, Democrats are also inviting business executives, who will have to pay tribute of only $25,000 for the privilege of attending exclusive meetings with Senate Democratic leaders, a policy briefing and an "industry-specific subcouncil meeting." They will also get free admission to Democratic campaign events in Manhattan and Albany, including an end-of-session reception late this spring. No word yet on free tickets to the World Series.

Democrats defend their action by pointing out that Republicans did the same thing. OK, but former Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno sold his influence -- and may go to prison for it. Are they going to do that, too? Former Democratic Sen. Hiram Monserrate also beat up his girlfriend. Do they also want to cite precedent and do that? They may think they're fooling someone, but it's not New York voters.

Senate Democrats are not doing this blindly. They know they will be criticized for it; they just don't care. This kind of unethical behavior is so commonplace in Albany, so much a part of the fabric of corrupt government, that it's second nature. So what if it looks like votes are for sale? So what if they really are for sale? Next.

If anything ever screamed the need for tough, new ethics regulations in Albany, this does. With lawmakers now willing, in effect, to brag about their indifference to honorable behavior and public opinion, it is plain that they will never clean up their act on their own. They care about winning, not about governing.

It's true that Albany was no political Nirvana when Republicans ran the Senate. They abused process, too, and their fingerprints are all over the state's economic decline. But Democrats are in charge now. They're the ones misusing their offices now. They need to be held to account.

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