NYS Announces Medical Marijuana Licenses

The New York State Department of Health today announced the five companies it will license to grow and produce medical marijuana. Here is the list:

medmar by Nick Reisman

None of the applicants from western New York were selected. This includes Lewiston Greenhouse, LLC, which had hired Steve Pigeon’s PAPI Consulting to lobby the state on its behalf. Lewiston Greenhouse fired Pigeon shortly after the May 28th state and federal raids of the homes of Pigeon, former Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and Chris Collins’ Chief of Staff, Chris Grant.

Dan Humiston, the founder of the “Tanning Bed” chain also submitted a rejected application to grow marijuana in the former Tyson chicken plant in South Buffalo. It’s believed that Humiston is Pigeon’s landlord.

Out of 43 companies that submitted applications, three were from western New York.

Ranzenhofer and the LLC Loophole

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Last week, in my story about Attorney General Schneiderman’s push for an ethics reform bill in Albany, alluded to local state Senator Mike Ranzenhofer’s involvement, but it bears its own post.

One of Schneiderman’s proposed reforms would close what’s called the “LLC loophole”. This legal quirk enables politicians to raise massive sums of campaign cash that is difficult, if not impossible, to trace. For donors, it’s an easy way to (a) donate cash without leaving easily identifiable fingerprints; and/or (b) completely bypass and ignore the mandatory maximum donation. It costs just $200 to file and create an LLC, and each LLC can donate as a separate individual. One New York City developer has used the LLC loophole to pour over $13 million into campaign coffers since 2000.

Fixing this loophole is simple—in fact, Brooklyn Democrat Dan Squadron proposed a bill to do just that, but it was upstate Republicans in the Senate who effectively killed the effort, including the chair of the Corporations Committee Mike Ranzenhofer (R-East Amherst).

On Monday, the Buffalo News’ Denise Jewell Gee wrote that there are only 17 days to call your legislators to get the LLC loophole closed, but she omitted the local connection.

Not only did Ranzenhofer shut down Squadron’s bill to close the LLC loophole, but Ranzenhofer got $94,000 from Glenwood, the company whose various and sundry LLCs, led by Leonard Litwin, have contributed $1,000,000 to Governor Cuomo using 19 individual LLCs. Litwin and Glenwood are linked to the Sheldon Silver criminal probe, as well. It was reported yesterday that the Cuomo Administration cited an ongoing federal probe into the state’s housing finance agency relating to loans made to Litwin’s company. It is as if all of Albany is under investigation, or cooperating with an ongoing one.

Rural and suburban Democrats, naturally, have a difficult time recruiting candidates to run against Ranzenhofer to begin with, but who would want to bother when Ranzenhofer can pull in that much money from just one allegedly corrupt company, and shuts down any effort to close the LLC loophole as part of his official duties? Why is Ranzenhofer getting a pass from local media on his connection to Litwin and Glenwood, and his blatant blocking of Squadron’s effort to eliminate the corrupt/ing LLC loophole? Here it is:

It becomes more and more obvious that public financing of elections is the only way to clean up this state.

Albany corruption is a bipartisan problem with easy solutions that are being blocked in an equally bipartisan manner. Ranzenhofer has been moistening legislative seats for 20+ years, accumulating state benefits and pensions without accomplishing much of anything. The fact that he’s actively blocking even the most basic and uncontroversial Albany reforms should lead to his removal from elected office. Reform or get out of the way.

The Illusion of Albany

3menI’m expounding a bit here on conversations I had Wednesday with people in the know. Recent events in Albany, namely the indictments of former all-powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the indictment of former also-powerful Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, have given hope to some that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is power-washing Albany’s filth and corruption, and that things might actually change.

Others lament just how little clout western New York has in Albany, and that with the exception of fawning attention from a governor who wants to add “turned Buffalo around” to his resume, we get scant attention from our state government, save the odd ribbon-cutting.

As for the former, consider that new speaker Carl Heastie and new senate leader John Flanagan are widely rumored simply to be puppets of their respective predecessors. Consider why it was that, at a secret meeting, Senate Republicans chose a fellow Long Islander to replace Skelos, over a Central New Yorker. Even Cathy Young of Olean backed Flanagan in exchange for a vague guarantee about changing the totemic NY SAFE Act. The Bronx’s Heastie, too, shares a general geographical similarity to his predecessor, Manhattan’s Lower East Side’s Silver. Nothing has changed but the faces and names – it’s all just transparent artifice and fakery.

Indeed, Flanagan has already told people not to expect any more of what Albany desperately needs – ethics reforms. Whatever mild reforms Albany made in recent months are too little, too late as it is, and an effort to close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows individuals to bypass campaign giving maximums, has died in committee.

More to the point, the quashing of Senator Dan Squadron’s bill to close the LLC loophole is courtesy of WNY’s own Senator Mike Ranzenhofer, who killed it in his corporations committee.

As for WNY’s lost clout, consider that any outsider coming here to campaign or raise money must tiptoe through a field of dog crap in order to do so. There is quite literally no way to come into WNY outside the area and not offend one of our many “mean girls” factions. Like middle school, you have to have pre-selected a clique, and be especially aware of whom you meet with first, because presumably all of this minutae matters to someone. When the hopeful pol boards his JetBlue flight the hell out of here, his shoes are encrusted with dog excrement.

There is nothing new under the sun, and there is no reform or significant change coming. Albany will stay corrupt and corruptable until there is some underlying incentive to undertake serious and widespread reforms – structural reforms like abolishing electoral fusion and eliminating the LLC loophole. Western New York will continue to argue amongst itself and fight over scraps, because anything else would seem too effective for our collective taste.

New York School Districts Left Guessing

School districts throughout New York State are now busily plotting out their budgets for the 2015 – 2016 school year. These budgets must be in final form by mid-April so that school boards can adopt their budgets in time for the public to vote on them by late May.

Every district relies on some amount of state aid for every year’s budget, and the state legislature’s unconscionable and cynical “Gap Elimination Adjustment” has short-changed New York’s public schools in the tens of millions of dollars.  Albany balances its own budget by robbing the state’s students of teachers and programs. Governor Cuomo then turns around and relies on standardized testing to determine which schools and teachers are “failing” or “non-performing” while refusing adequately to fund any of it.

In past years, districts had, by now, been given a close estimate of how much state aid they would receive, so that they could work on the local share of their revenue budgeting in an informed way. This year, however, is different. School districts are completely in the dark about how much state aid they might receive, and it’s making budget planning one big guessing game.

Governor Cuomo has introduced an education reform plan that would add just over $1 billion in public school funding; however, this increase in state aid comes with some big strings attached, and no one knows if it’ll pass – and in what form – by April 1st. We hear a lot about “on-time” budgets, as if it’s a laudable cause for celebration that the state legislature manages to accomplish its one real job in any given year. But what about the right on-time budget? Cuomo has said that no school district will see an increase in state aid over last year if his conditions are not met.

Cuomo wants five things:

1. A five-year probationary period before teachers receive tenure;

2. The ability to appoint receivers to manage the lowest 5% of non-performing schools;

3. A simplified teacher dismissal hearing procedure;

4. 100 more charter school slots statewide; and

5. Changes to the teacher evaluation system that Cuomo already implemented, relying more on testing and outside evaluators.

Republicans in the State Senate, meanwhile, have proposed a $1.1 billion increase in state school aid in an effort to roll back the Gap Elimination Adjustment. It’s estimated that it would take a $1.9 billion increase in state aid this year to restore state funding of schools to 2008 levels.

Cuomo is also proposing to do away with the STAR property tax exemption and replace it with a property tax relief credit that would phase in depending on the value of your home and your income – it disproportionately benefits downstate homeowners whose assessed property values are very high.

So, we have to rely on a dysfunctional Albany system and the three men in a room to negotiate an education reform and funding equation by April 1st, so that school boards across the state might be able adequately to plan their budgets for the next school year. The assault on public education – against students, teachers, and parents – has many fronts. The biggest threat, however, is treachery from within. It defies logic to simultaneously de-fund schools in order to balance the budget and demand that teachers, students, and schools are declared “failing” or “performing” based on a few standardized tests.

This simply isn’t how learning should look.

Cuomo vs. the Teachers

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Courtesy the Albany Project

The quoted text below is an open letter to Governor Cuomo penned by seven recent New York State “teachers of the year.” It comes in response to the Governor’s astonishing criticism of teachers—not the teachers’ union, but teachers themselves—during his state of the state address in January.

It also comes with the context of something confusingly referred to as the “Gap Elimination Adjustment.” The GEA is Albanyspeak for “starving public schools to help balance the state’s budget.” Some might say that the GEA starves schools of funding to cover Albany’s own profligate overspending, and that underfunding schools will lead to poor results and will help promote the school privatization agenda.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment pulls money out of local districts, placing financial hardship on them and forcing them to raise school taxes in order to adequately fund basic district needs. It should come as no surprise that, when given the opportunity, Albany picks the most harmful and cynical way to “govern.”

Dear Governor Cuomo: We are teachers. We have given our hearts and souls to this noble profession. We have pursued intellectual rigor. We have fed students who were hungry. We have celebrated at student weddings and wept at student funerals. Education is our life. For this, you have made us the enemy. This is personal. Under your leadership, schools have endured the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the tax cap, which have caused layoffs and draconian budget cuts across the state. Classes are larger and support services are fewer, particularly for our neediest students.

We have also endured a difficult rollout of the Common Core Standards. A reasonable implementation would have started the new standards in kindergarten and advanced those standards one grade at a time. Instead, the new standards were rushed into all grades at once, without any time to see if they were developmentally appropriate or useful.

Then our students were given new tests — of questionable validity — before they had a chance to develop the skills necessary to be successful. These flawed tests reinforced the false narrative that all public schools — and therefore all teachers — are in drastic need of reform. In our many years of teaching, we’ve never found that denigrating others is a useful strategy for improvement.

Now you are doubling down on test scores as a proxy for teacher effectiveness. The state has focused on test scores for years and this approach has proven to be fraught with peril. Testing scandals erupted. Teachers who questioned the validity of tests were given gag orders. Parents in wealthier districts hired test-prep tutors, which exacerbated the achievement gap between rich and poor.

Beyond those concerns, if the state places this much emphasis on test scores who will want to teach our neediest students? Will you assume that the teachers in wealthier districts are highly effective and the teachers in poorer districts are ineffective, simply based on test scores?

Most of us have failed an exam or two along life’s path. From those results, can we conclude that our teachers were ineffective? We understand the value of collecting data, but it must be interpreted wisely. Using test scores as 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation does not meet this criterion.

Your other proposals are also unlikely to succeed. Merit pay, charter schools and increased scrutiny of teachers won’t work because they fundamentally misdiagnose the problem. It’s not that teachers or schools are horrible. Rather, the problem is that students with an achievement gap also have an income gap, a health-care gap, a housing gap, a family gap and a safety gap, just to name a few. If we truly want to improve educational outcomes, these are the real issues that must be addressed.

Much is right in public education today. We invite you to visit our classrooms and see for yourself. Most teachers, administrators and school board members are doing quality work. Our students and alumni have accomplished great things. Let’s stop the narrative of systemic failure.

Instead, let’s talk about ways to help the kids who are struggling. Let’s talk about addressing the concentration of poverty in our cities. Let’s talk about creating a culture of family so that our weakest students feel emotionally connected to their schools. Let’s talk about fostering collaboration between teachers, administrators and elected officials. It is by working together, not competing for test scores, that we will advance our cause.

None of these suggestions are easily measured with a No. 2 pencil, but they would work. On behalf of teachers across the state, we say these are our kids, we love them, and this is personal.

Some backstory on the Cuomo war with teachers is found here.

To add insult to injury, the Cuomo administration refuses to release to school districts estimates of how much state aid they’ll receive this year. Instead of helping local taxpayers and districts by maintaining some level of predictability in the process—if not adequately funding by finding other ways to “adjust” the state budget in order to accomplish “gap elimination”—Cuomo’s Albany is keeping them in the dark and making it painful for districts to formulate their own budgets.

Are districts to assume they’re receiving the same state aid as last year, or are they to assume no aid whatsoever and shunt all of the lost funding on local taxpayers? If it’s the latter, districts throughout the state will face outright tax revolt, and the goal of the wealthy privatizers will be closer to reality—as a reminder, here’s the thumbnail equation:

1. De-fund the schools;

2. Cut electives and programs; fire teachers;

3. Break the teachers’ union;

4. Label schools as “low performing”;

5. Create “charter” schools;

6. Segregate better students into charters; exclude troubled, poor, and special education students;

7. Ensure that charters rent space from private landlords;

8. Profit.

The Banality of Albany Corruption

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Sheldon Silver lost his speakership because he’s been indicted on corruption and bribery charges. So far, it’s been a banner year for antidemocratic and corrupt practices to be shown the light of day. The common denominator is bad government, and why we elect horrible people to

1. ICYMI, the Buffalo School Board has abandoned all pretense of being responsible public servants.

2. Brooklyn Democrat, serial sexual harasser, and former Assemblyman Vito Lopez is settling lawsuits alleging that he was a creepy sex fiend misogynist groper. Well, that is to say that the state is settling these allegations to the tune of $545,000.  It’s taxpayer money – Lopez is only personally on the hook for about $35,000 of it. This isn’t just Lopez’s disgrace, but sheds light on how corrupt and shameful Sheldon Silver’s Assembly had become.

3. Former State Senator George Maziarz is accused of directing his staff to destroy campaign finance information soon after federal investigators began sniffing around. It might be ok to follow standard record-destruction timelines, but not so much if you’re simultaneously destroying evidence.

4. Former State Senate President, Democrat Malcolm Smith, was convicted of bribery charges last week.

Federal prosecutors had charged that Smith, with the help of $200,000, tried to bribe his way onto the GOP ballot by spreading money around to GOP power brokers. Smith was arrested in 2013, but continued to serve as a rank-and-file state senator, though his fellow Democrats did not allow him to conference with them. He was ousted by voters in Queens last fall in a Democratic primary election.

Also charged in the case was former Queens Republican boss Vincent Tabone. Smith, as a Democrat, needed to secure backing from GOP leaders in order to qualify for a place on the 2013 mayoral ballot on the GOP line. Tabone was convicted along with Smith Thursday. A former New York City councilman, Daniel J. Halloran III, had already pleaded guilty in the case.

Did you catch that? Smith was convicted of trying to bribe Republicans in Queens to give him a Wilson Pakula to run for Mayor on the Republican line. Electoral fusion is legalized corruption, and I have to imagine that this sort of quid pro quo is not at all unique to Mr. Smith.

5. Here’s another depressing story from the Albany Project. This one is about Cuomo mega-donor Leonard Litwin, a New York real estate tycoon. Litwin donated $1 million to Cuomo’s re-election campaign and $500,000 to the state Democratic committee, underscoring the toothless pointlessness of our campaign finance rules. Litwin also happened to be client of the small law firm Goldberg & Iryami, which is linked with the Sheldon Silver corruption prosecution and specializes in Article 7 real estate tax challenge suits. Litwin used the LLC loophole to get all that money (including $200,000 to Silver), to recipients.

Litwin recently booked a $260 million sweetheart loan through the NYS Housing Finance Agency to finance a luxury apartment project in Manhattan. The NYSHFA was run by a Cuomo appointee who was recently promoted, and is now Cuomo’s chief of staff.

Back when John McCain was a serious person, he’d talk of campaign finance reform to abolish what he called the “iron triangle” of special interests, money, and legislation. In New York, no one with any real authority has seriously taken up that cause, except for a federal prosecutor in Manhattan. In New York State politics, that triangle isn’t made of iron, it’s made from graphene, which is stronger and more expensive.

Furthermore, if anyone is to take up the cause of cleaning up state politics, they’ll have to lead by example and not cop out and be just as corrupt as everyone else.

I think we deserve better than this. Don’t you?

The Tragic Pointlessness of Sheldon Silver’s Fall

Read this. Then ask, when do they go after the rest of them?

SHELDON SILVER, the defendant, has engaged in and continues to engage in a secret and corrupt scheme to deprive the citizens of the State of New York (the “State”) of his honest services, and to extort individuals and entities under color of official right, as an elected legislator and as Speaker of the New York State Assembly (the “Assembly”). […] These representations were and are materially false and misleading. In truth and in fact, SILVER has obtained millions of dollars in outside income as a direct result of his corrupt use of his official position to obtain attorney referral fees for himself, including from clients with substantial business before the State, and not as a result of legitimate outside income SILVER earned as a private lawyer.

There’s no doubt that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is widely reviled by people who pay even light attention to Albany politics, and likewise no doubt that Albany politicians fear or begrudgingly respect him. He rules the majority Assembly caucus with an iron fist, ruthlessly punishing dissidents and has survived a couple of pretty serious coup attempts. He has a long memory and doesn’t forget past insults or slights. He is, in short, a political survivor who wields extraordinary power within a dysfunctional, third-world style of governing that New York’s electorate has tolerated for years.

Netroots website “The Albany Project” was recently brought back from the dead, and it’s no zombie. The writers there have been relentless – just crushing the details and repercussions of the Sheldon Silver downfall. Here is the federal complaint:

US v Sheldon Silver Complaint

We can start with the obvious – the powerful Speaker of the Assembly was indicted on federal corruption charges last week, and the FBI took him into custody. There wasn’t a perp walk, but there’s a now-iconic picture of Silver – hands cuffed behind his back – seated in the back of an FBI agent’s car. He looks frail and elderly in the picture – nothing like the criminal monster, as his critics describe him. The outcry demanding his resignation – as speaker and from the Assembly – came quickly, but New York being New York, some people came to Silver’s defense. All of it is tone deaf. New York Mayor Bill deBlasio said Silver is a good man. The “Working Families” fusion Party praised Silver and reminded everyone of the presumption of innocence our system guarantees. Even Republican former Senate President Joe Bruno, who spent a decade fighting off corruption charges, came to Shelly’s defense.

After all, Silver was perceived as being a progressive check on what many on the left consider to be Governor Cuomo’s center-corporatist tendencies. Without Silver there as one of the all-powerful three men in the budget negotiations room, deBlasio and the WFP are somewhat adrift.

The charges against Silver share the same common denominator – that he misused his power, and used his official position to corrupt ends. Turn back to Joe Bruno – the problem isn’t necessarily that Bruno broke any laws, but that the things with which he got away were completely legal. But the federal prosecutors hone in on “honest services” fraud. 

SILVER agreed with others known and unknown, including a co-conspirator not named herein (“CC-1″), to use the power and influence of his official position to induce certain real estate developers with significant business before the State of New York to retain the law firm of CC-1 in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret bribes and kickbacks paid to SILVER by the law firm, which were masked as legitimate income earned by SILVER as a private lawyer.

In addition, Silver failed to report other outside income including fees from unnamed law firms and referral fees from physicians. At least one physician who had side deals with Silver received state grants arising out of the 9/11 attacks. Silver’s law firm’s dominance as a plaintiff’s asbestos/mesothelioma firm is astonishing. The feds seized about $3.8 million from Silver around the time of his arrest.

Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on public corruption was looking at outside income when it was disbanded, and Albany politicians spent $1 million quashing subpoenas seeking to uncover that income.

The arrest of Sheldon Silver, alas, is not the win New Yorkers need. Sheldon Silver isn’t the disease – he’s a symptom. The disease is a corrupt and corruptable system that puts too much power in too few hands. The disease is a state government that does not operate so much as a deliberative democratic representative body as much as a three-man junta. Everything bad about Albany flows from that fundamental structural, systemic dysfunction.

Sheldon Silver’s conviction – if it ever happens – won’t fix anything. On the contrary, it now serves as a handy distraction. Zephyr Teachout literally wrote the book on public corruption, and she calls on New Yorkers to seize the Silver arrest to fundamentally reform the way campaigns are funded in New York State. After all, corruption is the natural outgrowth of greed and power, and she calls our current system “legalized bribery”. Within that system, Silver is masterful. Literally millions of dollars flow to his campaign committee.

Silver’s arrest has, at long last, disgraced Assembly Democrats who called last night for his resignation as Speaker, as opposed to the temporary step-down he offered. It’s now safe for Assembly Democrats to fight back. That’s swell.

But Silver’s downfall only treats one of the symptoms, rather than curing the underlying disease.

Albany is broken, and the boffins at NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice have spent over a decade laying out the ways in which New York’s government is undemocratic and dysfunctional, and has set forth specific reform proposals to help return the government to the people. Everything from Sheldon Silver to three men in a room to the NY SAFE Act – whatever your specific complaint might be – is a symptom of that underlying disease.

The people we elect to state government – regardless of party affiliation – have done little, if anything, to address the root causes of the symptomatic problems on which they run their campaigns. They have a vested interest in keeping things opaque because we’d probably be aghast at what really goes on. Full disclosure of campaign financing, limits and full disclosure on independent expenditures, public financing, and redistricting reform should be on the table. Furthermore, the Brennan Center went into great detail about the fundamental lack of any semblance of deliberative democracy taking place in Albany.

Arresting Shelly Silver is a start. As malefactors go, he’s a big fish. But until Albany politicians re-discover the fact that they are there to serve the people, rather than their own personal greed, power, and ambition, we will have more dysfunction, more graft, more theft of honest services, and more Sheldon Silvers time and time again.

As New Yorkers, it behooves us to recognize and differentiate between the symptoms of the disease, and the root cause, and direct our energy at the latter.

King Shelly

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Wife Apologizes for Husband’s Letter to the Editor

Back in November, I helped advocate for the passage of two bonding referenda to finance the repair of Clarence school buildings and grounds, and the construction of turf fields at the high school.  70% of the cost of these repairs will be covered and reimbursed by the state government.

In the Clarence Bee, after passage of the proposals, a gentleman sent in this letter to the editor:

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This week, Mr. Patterson’s wife weighed in.

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That’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks, Mrs. Patterson!

Demand Better from Albany

Albany is a brick shithouse of institutionalized corruption. The people we sent to nominally represent us in Albany are incapable of reform, unwilling to be bold and aggressive, and nothing more than a preening flock of charity cases in Brooks Brothers suits and fat per diems.

It doesn’t matter what I write or what you say – Albany isn’t going to change because it has no reason to try.

213 nobodies get paid big bucks (by WNY standards, anyway) to do nothing. Everything is directed and produced by the governor, the Senate President, and the Assembly Speaker. Unless you’re represented by Sheldon Silver or Dean Skelos, your Assemblyperson and Senator go to Albany generally to moisten seats and rubber stamp stuff.

If they’re good girls and boys, they might be given some money to send home for road projects or other public works, and they get to stand there at the ribbon-cutting and look important.

It’s all a charade.

The upstate gun huggers will quickly tell you that Andrew KKKuomo is a Nazi Mussolini Duce.  That’s foolish. Albany’s a dictatorship, it’s true, but it’s a dictatorship of the bureaucracy. The Albany nomenklatura is typically resistant to change and anything that might shake up the status quo; after all, change means someone’s likely to lose a job, and we can’t have that.

It’s been like this for decades – it was 10 years ago the Brennan Center outlined a set of reforms that would be necessary for New York State government to resemble a contemplative legislative body, yet we’re still talking about it today. Everything from unfunded mandates to three-men-in-a-room to weak campaign finance to vague financial disclosure to a lack of transparency and deliberation have been talked about, and proposed solutions largely ignored. State authorities operate like it’s the 1950s, and do so with poor oversight and budgets that are off the regular state books.

Even when people think that there might be some scant hope of even modest reform – like that undertaken first by Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, now being handled and investigated by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, we get commissions that are abruptly shut down in favor of an on-time budget deal.

An on-time budget is more important than widespread corruption?

Shelly Silver and Dean Skelos are so afraid or opposed to investigating corruption that they make “end the Moreland Commission” a budget dealbreaker? Cuomo claimed he got accountability reforms which gave him enough cover to end the Moreland, but it’s all window dressing.

That’s before we delve into Cuomo’s own alleged meddling in the commission’s work.

How do we know Albany’s and Cuomo’s “we’re policing ourselves!” is all nonsense?

Thanks to Ass’t US Attorney Preet Bharara and the New York Times, we’re finding out more about what’s really going on.

Actually, before we get to Greg Ball and George Maziarz, let’s flash back a few years to a former member of the WNY Albany delegation who was arguably the worst in recent history – Antoine Thompson. This guy, who tried to explain why we even need a State Senate to begin with:

RIGHT. Antoine Thompson, whose staffers destroyed documents en masse when Mark Grisanti beat him in 2010. Antoine Thompson, who used campaign cash to take a vacation very serious and totally above-board trade junket to Jamaica.

Antoine wasn’t the only one.

Republican Senator Greg Ball took trips to Cancun and Acapulco, paid for with campaign dollars. It appears that Speaker Sheldon Silver is under increasing scrutiny for not disclosing all of his outside income, as required by law. Specifically, the New York Times points out three outstanding issues:

■ Powerful politicians — including the governor himself — continue to exploit a loophole in state law that allows corporations to funnel huge donations to them in smaller gifts that disguise the true sources of the money.

■ Lax personal financial disclosure laws, critics say, give corrupt legislators a way to mask political payoffs under the guise of part-time jobs. A 2011 reform presented as requiring disclosure of some clients was so narrowly drawn as to be meaningless, and another enacted this year allowed enough wiggle room that lawmakers could well continue to avoid scrutiny.

■ The line between political donations and outright bribery remains murky. Some politicians used their campaign treasuries as piggy banks for personal expenses, the commission’s investigators found, and bank records showed that lawmakers had failed to report some donations and expenditures altogether. A new, beefed-up Board of Elections enforcement unit has yet to show its strength.

The LLC loophole is what lets Carl Paladino give what amounts to unlimited campaign donations in any given cycle. While corporations can only give $5,000 in any given cycle, LLCs are treated instead as people. So, for the cost of an LLC filing fee, a donor can now repeatedly max out at $60,800 per cycle to any candidate for statewide office under each separate LLC. It also helps keep the true source of the money somewhat opaque.

So when Mr. Cuomo’s campaign wanted to nail down what became a $1 million multiyear commitment — and suggested “breaking it down into biannual installments” — the company complied by dividing each payment into permissible amounts and contributing those through some of the many opaquely named limited-liability companies it controlled, like Tribeca North End LLC.

Brazen. But it gets even worse.

Documents the [Moreland] investigators obtained provided unusual insight into what watchdog groups had long asserted: Corporations were strategically dividing up huge contributions to maximize their giving — and their influence. The use of limited-liability companies concealed the magnitude of their gifts from public view.

In one instance in 2012, the Real Estate Board of New York solicited donations for Lewis A. Fidler, a Brooklyn Democrat who at the time was running for a State Senate seat (whose previous occupant had pleaded guilty to accepting bribes).

James Whelan, a senior vice president for the board, a major lobbying force, emailed a Durst executive, Jordan Barowitz: “If you could find one of your more obscure LLCs, that would be grand.”

The Moreland Commission saw closing the LLC loophole as an easy fix, but since its disbanding, the loophole – which isn’t so much a “loophole” as it is a specific part of the law as it stands today – remains in place.

When it came time to examine the ways in which legislators were spending campaign cash for dubious, non-campaign-related purposes, retiring Senator George Maziarz (R-Newfane) “stood out”.

Investigators scrutinizing his campaign spending from 2007 through 2013 found more than $28,000 at stores like Pier 1 and Michaels; $7,500 at Shutterfly, the photo-printing site; and $7,850 for reading material, including a stop at a Borders store at Kennedy Airport.

The Moreland Commission fired off subpoenas to see what books and photos Mr. Maziarz’s campaign had bought.

Investigators also learned that Mr. Maziarz’s campaign had failed to disclose $147,000 in contributions and $325,000 in spending.

His campaign had written more than 300 checks to cash, totaling $137,000; about one-fifth of the checks were never reported to the Board of Elections.

A lawyer for Mr. Maziarz, Joseph M. LaTona, declined to comment. Mr. Maziarz, whose spending is now the subject of a federal investigation, did not seek re-election this year.

And guys like Maziarz have the stones to claim that Democrats are spendthrift? In addition to his Mexican vacations, Greg Ball,

… also traveled repeatedly to Austin, Tex., where he paid $4,000 in bar and restaurant bills — along with a $160 charge at Brooks Brothers. Those trips were, in a way, less surprising: Mr. Ball, who did not seek re-election this year, is fond of Texas, and recently announced that he would move there after leaving office.

Among the unusual outlets for spending from his campaign accounts was Tough Mudder, the organizer of extreme obstacle-course races. (Mr. Ball posted Facebook photos showing him crawling through the mud in a Tough Mudder race in 2012, and said at the time that he was trying to raise money for charity.)

Tough Mudder?!

Anyhow, you’d figure that the State Board of Elections would be on top of – and investigating – complaints of campaign finance irregularities brought to its attention, right? You’d be wrong.

The Moreland Commission saved even harsher criticism for the sleepy Board of Elections. In a preliminary report released in December 2013, the commission wrote that the board had “largely abdicated its duty to enforce our election and campaign finance laws.”

In fact, the board sometimes seemed to be avoiding investigations altogether.

Its policy dictated that anonymous complaints never be investigated, regardless of the information they contained.

Forget DAs doing it, either.

Lastly, the issue of legislators’ outside pay is coming under intense scrutiny, and if you want to know why the Moreland was shut down, look no further than Sheldon Silver and an abrupt change in the way he discloses his non-state income. Not just Silver’s firm, but the Moreland subpoenaed several law firms in hopes of verifying that these legislators were actually showing up to work, or whether their continued employment might be, e.g., an effort to skirt campaign disclosure laws.

Suspicious that some lawyer-legislators were holding no-show jobs, Moreland Commission investigators subpoenaed their law firms for building access-card data and sign-in sheets, invoices, expense reports and records detailing their clients.

Lawmakers became infuriated over the scrutiny, calling it a witch hunt into the legislative branch. Law firms went to court to block the subpoenas, as did the Senate and Assembly.

Mr. Silver’s law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, argued that it was irrelevant “what time Sheldon Silver enters and exits” its office building each day.

The litigation was unresolved when the Moreland Commission shut down.

Yet Mr. Cuomo marveled at how much the subpoenas sent to outside law firms — including Mr. Skelos’s employer, Ruskin Moscou Faltischek — had discomfited lawmakers. “I’m surprised these guys weren’t fired,” Mr. Cuomo told members of good-government groups last spring. The United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, whose office took control of the Moreland Commission’s files around that time, revived some of its investigations, including several involving lawmakers’ outside income.

Mr. Silver quickly became a focus of prosecutors’ interest.

Two people with knowledge of the matter said prosecutors have issued federal grand jury subpoenas to some of the same law firms that resisted the commission’s subpoenas, including Weitz & Luxenberg and Ruskin Moscou Faltischek. (A spokesman for the former firm declined to comment; the latter did not respond to messages.)

If you’re, say, a plaintiff’s law firm paying a legislator hundreds of thousands of dollars for what might be a no-show job, and that legislator also happens to be a huge and powerful obstacle to any attempts at tort reform, how is that not just outright bribery?

It’s time New Yorkers started demanding meaningful legislative and governmental reform, resulting in a true deliberative democracy. We do this by rejecting the notion that Albany pols are re-elected without any opposition. We do this by demanding results that go beyond a few dollars here and there for public works projects.  We do this by limiting the perverse influence that money has on state politics, and by demanding true and full transparency of where the money comes from, and where the money goes.

I won’t hold my breath.

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