Central Brooklyn Lawmakers Speak on Ethics Reform in Albany
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By Stephen Witt
With roughly 30 state lawmakers since 1999 having to leave office because of transgressions ranging from inflating expenses to sexual harassment to taking bribes, Governor Cuomo (last year) established the Moreland Commission with subpoena powers to investigate the legislature and practices regarding campaign contribution limits, lobbyists, outside revenue loopholes for legislators and public financing of elections.
This year as part of the budget agreement, Cuomo disbanded the commission, floated a test public financing of elections for the state comptroller and tightened some laws around what is considered a bribe along with stiffer penalties against lawmakers convicted of corruption still getting a pension.
Our Time Press asked four state lawmakers from central Brooklyn three questions regarding how issues of ethics reform and restoring public trust on the state level of government.
The four polled were Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and Assembly members Annette Robinson, Walter Mosley and Karim Camara. Montgomery was out of town, and Robinson’s office did not respond to e-mailed questions at press time.
The following are the three questions and the responses from Camara and Mosley.
Do you believe the Moreland Commission should have been disbanded and why or why not?
Camara: The stated goal of the Moreland Commission was to give New Yorkers more trust in their government. It’s difficult at this stage to say if that happened but it is concerning that, while the vast majority of lawmakers are working with their district’s best interest in mind, a few bad apples cast such a negative light on the entire legislature. More importantly, these few bad apples often create such a distraction that needed legislation fails as a consequence.
Mosley: I think the Moreland Commission set the tone and did what it was supposed to do. It addressed the culture that needed to be addressed. Its spirit was well-intentioned and it blazed a path in that now we have a budget passed as we seek to restore the public trust.
What ethics reforms passed as part of the current budget do you support and why or why not?
Camara: I am deeply disappointed with the public financing of campaigns’ pilot program. Not only does it only affect just one office, it unfairly goes into effect just months before the election. I applaud Comptroller DiNapoli for not participating and I agree with his characterization of this program as a sham.
Mosley: Once reform was to recalibrate pension that lawmakers are eligible for is they are convicted of corruption as well as new penalties for corruption for legislators and government workers. There is also a lifetime ban on those criminally convicted from bidding for any state work.
What type of legislation would you like to see enacted regarding ethics reform and to better restore the public’s faith in state lawmakers?
Camara: We need to get big money out of politics. Voters see how campaigns are funded and
believe that their voices are not being heard equally. Unfortunately, in most instances, they are correct. We need to level the playing field, pass statewide public financing of campaigns and close many of the loopholes that allow wealthy individuals and corporations to fund campaigns to the point where our democracy is in question. With the recent Supreme Court decision, it’s more important than ever that we act here in New York.
Mosley: The campaign finance pilot program is a step in the right direction. Obviously, we would have liked a statewide campaign finance program but there are still logistical issues. There are so many more seats on the state level. We have to make sure we have the proper oversight and compliance in place. It has to be done the right way rather than the wrong way.