Thursday, June 24, 2021


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To the editor:

Another legislative session has come to a close. New Yorkers can all be proud of the great strides made this year in the transparency of the political corruption, and the efficiency of the extortion.

You might think that our Senators and Assemblymembers go up to Albany and toil away, debating and passing legislation throughout the session. In reality, proposed bills get bottled up and then in the last few days of the session, the leadership decides what bills will be voted on. You may think that Sen. Harckham and Assemblymember Galef are your voice in Albany, but the truth is that they can only vote on the legislation that the leadership permits to go to the floor.

This means that at the end of the session, the power of the leadership is at its maximum. If you want a bill to even be discussed, you need to keep a handful of powerful leaders happy. In the Senate, this would be Ms. Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and her deputy Mr. Gianaris (D-Queens).

Keeping them happy is vital if you want your bill to pass. Fortunately, they let lobbyists know precisely how to keep them happy: Ms. Stewart-Cousins and Mr. Gianaris co-host a fundraiser and send out the invitations just as they are deciding what bills will get to the floor.

This year, you could be their “Friend” ($1,000). But a mere friend is not impressive—every politician has lots of “friends.” So if your bill is important to you, prepare to be a “Sponsor” ($5,000) or if you are truly serious about making your government work for you, be a “Chair” ($25,000).

In past years, Albany extortion was done over canapés and an open bar. An in-person appearance was necessary, since you needed to make sure the top politicians saw you and therefore knew you had paid them your cash tribute. Sometimes this meant that you couldn’t stay to enjoy the canapés, since there Republican and Democrat events going on at the same time.

This year, fundraising events are virtual. That poses a problem because there is a temptation to free-ride: nobody sees who attends a “virtual” fundraiser, so you might be tempted to not pay up. That was a concern for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC), so on June 2 they sent out an email reminding that lobbyists needed to quickly RSVP (a polite way of saying “pay up”) and bluntly warning that the DSCC was “looking to let leadership know who will be in attendance.”

Sort of like Santa Claus in a corrupt country, the NY Senate leaders make a list of who is naughty and who is nice.

On the upside, the demise of Republicans in New York means that nowadays you only have to pay off the Democrats. On the downside, a single-party state means that if you need to get anything through Albany, you need to be at very least a “Friend” of the DSCC. And as with any monopoly, they can raise prices at will.

Some lobbyists and good government groups objected this year, particularly at the shameless corruption of the June 2 email. But I say that our legislature is missing an opportunity.

Instead of slow-walking bills during the session and then charging top dollar for access to the limited floor time at end of session, incentivize steady graft throughout the session. By selling a set number of bill votes for each legislative day, you could have more laws passed, and in a more gradual manner. Lobbyists whose bills did not get a floor vote in the early days would get more desperate and raise their bids. Done properly, by June 2 of each year our Senators would have people paying 10 or 20 grand just to be their “Friend” and a lobbyist who wanted to “Sponsor” a bill might easily top six figures.

To people who might object to a price list for bribing our politicians, I say: that ship sailed many years ago. At least by setting fixed prices and giving lobbyists an opportunity throughout the legislative session, we can give greater transparency, maximize revenue for the party, and avoid the annual chaotic mess in Albany.

--Paul Steinberg

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