The New York story is important because, historically, New York is corruption’s proving ground. In December, 2013, three months before Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission, it issued a preliminary, ninety-eight-page report describing “an epidemic of public corruption.” For instance: “One out of every eleven legislators to leave office since 1999 has done so under the cloud of ethical or criminal violations.” But those are only the people who got caught violating the scant, weak, and poorly enforced anticorruption laws that govern their conduct. “The real scandal,” according to the report, “is what remains legal.”–Jill Lepore
Historian Jill Lepore has written a far-ranging article on political corruption and campaign finance which appeared in the August 25, 2014 issue of The New Yorker. Titled “The Crooked and the Dead, it is subtitled “Does the Constitution protect corruption?”
Lepore examines many aspects of her subject. Here are a few of Lepore’s focus points:
- Corruption in NYS politics
- Moreland Commission
- Andrew Cuomo
- Malcolm Smith
- Zephyr Teachout
- Supreme Court
- Citizens United
What remains legal includes the following: between 2009 and 2012, donors gave two hundred and thirty-two million dollars to legislators in Albany, and lobbyists gave six hundred and ninety-three million—a total of nearly one billion dollars in direct political spending. Eighty per cent of individual contributions came from big donors. (New York has hardly any small donors. Of New Yorkers who voted in the last gubernatorial election, fewer than one per cent made campaign donations.) Big donors give big money to both Democrats and Republicans; they give it to whoever holds power. In 2012, when Republicans held a majority in the Senate, they took in thirteen million dollars, while Senate Democrats took in only seven million dollars. In 2010, when Democrats held the Senate majority, the pattern was reversed. Big donors aren’t advancing an ideology or a party, the commission concluded: they’re paying for access. They give money to politicians who wield power over decisions affecting their specific economic interests, regardless of those politicians’ party affiliations or ideological positions.
I can’t do justice here to Jill Lepore’s article which is available on-line. I recommend it highly.
Lepore ends with this:
Zephyr Teachout would like to debate Andrew Cuomo. She thinks that there ought to be three debates: one on education, one on immigration, and one on fracking. “But,” she admits, “all three would end up in a debate about corruption.” No debates are scheduled.
© William Hungerford – August 2014