The secret life of porkIt will be no secret to regular readers of this blog (or of any serious New York state newspaper) that New York has the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation. Whether it's secret slush funds or legalized gerrymandering, the one single word that best describes Albany is opaque. Legislative leaders are used to operating with neither scrutiny nor accountability. So they've been troubled that in the last several years, good government groups (the real opposition movement in Albany) have successfully rallied public opinion to pressure these leaders to make minimal reformist concessions.
To its credit, the press has played its role too. A few years ago, the local Post-Star ran regular editorials calling on readers to write letters to legislators protesting this pathetic state of affairs. I wrote the editorial page editor pooh-poohing this crusade. He asked me if I had any better ideas. I didn't really. Turns out, he was right and I was wrong. Pressure has forced legislative leaders to throw the public a bone. Granted, these changes are far from what is necessary, but it's a start. The mere idea that the public still has a shred of influence in sclerotic Albany is a sign of hope.
The Albany Times-Union has also played a constructive role in favor of government transparency. It recently filed a successful lawsuit against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. The lawsuit wanted to force Silver and Bruno to release details of all the personal pet projects that are spent by legislators. The two leaders wanted these budget items, containing our money, to remain secret.
It takes no genius to figure out the reasons for that.
The daily reported that:
Silver sent grants from his personal basket of funds to at least two groups represented by his friend, lobbyist Patricia Lynch. Lynch served as Silver's top aide for years before opening a lobbying firm, which has become one of the biggest outside of Washington, D.C.
Clients getting Silver grants paid Lynch tens of thousands of dollars to lobby in Albany, including:
* Alliance for Downtown New York, which got $200,000 for an ad campaign for lower Manhattan firms, $100,000 for printing and distributing restaurant and retail guides, and $100,000 for free concerts in city hall park.
Ultimately, Silver was personally and unilaterally responsible for spending some $15.2 million in the last two years on his pet causes, including the above example of taxpayer money being used to subsidize special interest lobbying of... Silver.
Bruno, for his part, "generously" spent over $12 million of our money on his causes.
Bruno did his best to be as obnoxious as possible in complying with the court ordered release of information that should obviously be part of the public record without an expensive lawsuit. Of course, the state (ie: us taxpayers) had to pay the legal fees of The Times-Union because the legislative leaders refused to release this public information)
Unlike similar documents released by the Assembly, the Senate's can't be readily analyzed with computer software and had special encryption. Bruno blamed a "glitch" in the Senate computer system and said future data on Senate member items will be released unencrypted, the paper reported.
I wonder why.