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Editorial: A welcome push on state ethics reform from Molinaro

Marc Molinaro, the Republican candidate for governor, faces an uphill climb trying to unseat the incumbent, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Molinaro stopped in Buffalo last week to promote an ethics reform plan he calls the Albany Accountability Act. Whether or not Molinaro makes it to the governor’s mansion, his ethics reform plan gets our vote.

As Molinaro points out, New York traditionally finishes in the top tier in national rankings of states perceived as most corrupt. We’re king of the hill, top of the heap.

Just this month, the former development czar of the Buffalo Billion initiative, Alain Kaloyeros, was convicted in a bid-rigging scheme. Louis Ciminelli of Buffalo and two Syracuse developers were also convicted, all found guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy. All are expected to appeal.

Joseph Percoco, one of the governor’s former top aides, was found guilty in March of accepting bribes from executives doing business with the state.

The governor has not been implicated in either trial, but the dirty dealing that happened on his watch is not a good look, particularly in an election year.

Then there are the cases of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was found guilty in May of federal corruption charges after an earlier conviction was thrown out.

Don’t forget former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who is being tried a second time on corruption charges after his 2015 conviction was overturned.

Some highlights of Molinaro’s 23-page reform plan include:

  • Term limits. The governor, attorney general and comptroller could serve a maximum of eight years, and state legislators a maximum of 12 years.
  • A ban on individuals and entities pursuing government contracts from making political contributions.
  • The re-establishing of a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption. Cuomo, of course, convened a Moreland Commission in 2013 but then disbanded it in 2014 after reaching agreement with the Legislature on some ethics reforms.
  • Creating a “database of deals” to be operated by the Urban Development Corp. The database would make public information about state development dollars given to companies and organizations.
  • Eliminating the LLC loophole that allows big developers and other companies to get around the $5,000 campaign contribution limits.
  • Making sexual harassment an ethics violation.

The sexual harassment crackdown would be a smart and needed response in the Capitol, where some officials’ idea of personal conduct seems stuck in the “Mad Men” era. It’s about time they discovered #TimesUp.

Other proposals are worthy of debate. There are reasons to be wary of term limits, for example, which can divert power from experienced officeholders to lobbyists. They can also bring welcome new blood into government.

Molinaro admits that not all of his ideas are original. Some have been tried in the Legislature before and fell short of becoming law. And chief executives in most branches of government are skilled at drawing up wish lists, but all too often see their ideas get stranded on the shoals of political reality.

No matter who wins the next election for governor, we invite legislative leaders from either side of the aisle to do all in their power to make Albany’s business more transparent and its officials more accountable to the citizens whose tax dollars provide their daily bread.

Indeed, Cuomo could do himself a favor in this election season by calling a special session to deal with corruption and insisting that legislators, who are among the most resistant to ethics reform, either support serious new laws or – in the aftermath of these verdicts – explain why they won’t.

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