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And What Do YOU Do For the Money?

January 27, 2015

Maybe it’s time for Mr. Silver to go. Maybe it’s time for change. Maybe it’s overdue.

But as they prepare to make the change, Assembly members need to think about the circumstances under which this change is occurring.

If Mr. Silver is guilty of a quid pro quo, just about everyone is.

If a grant to a hospital for cancer research is a bribe, then every time a lawmaker plays a role in advocating for funding for an organization, he or she risks prosecution.

If voting on legislation that affects an entire industry can now be construed as providing an improper benefit to one player in the industry, then any lawmaker who voted in favor of the bill could be liable.

All lawmakers with an outside job ought to be given pause about what is happening here.  Any time there’s a situation in which mutual benefit can be identified, the lawmaker could be in trouble.

Time frames are relevant here. Mr. Silver arranged a grant for Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in 2005. Prosecutors reviewed the next ten years for signs of interaction between him and a doctor who worked at that hospital.

By this construct, a lawmaker, acting in his official capacity, could help an organization now, and could be accused of a crime if an individual from that organization helps him at any time over the next ten years.

And what kind of “help” are we talking about?  Well, the help could be a simple referral.

Referral. That’s when a doctor says to a patient: “If you’re looking for a good law firm to represent you, you might consider this one.”

Any referral is potentially problematic now. This isn’t just about rainmakers. If you’re a lawmaker who has a business, you could have a problem. If you’re insurance agent, if you’re a real estate broker, if you’re an undertaker – you could have a problem if anyone you once helped makes a recommendation of or referral to your business.

There’s more. If the Silver case moves forward and is successful, then it sets an extraordinary new precedent:

Federal prosecutors would be free to intervene in state politics and say to part-time lawmakers: “Who are your business clients? How much did you get paid? What do you do for the money?”

And by extension, federal prosecutors would be able to determine appropriate levels of compensation.

We are all in desperate need of some context here. Unfortunately, you can’t really get it in New York right now. You have to get beyond the influence of the media, which is on a crusade to get rid of Mr. Silver and change things in Albany.

When you talk to people in the legal community in Washington, they are scoffing at this case. They think it’s an incredible overreach by a prosecutor playing to the media. They say that unless there’s a wiretap of Mr. Silver saying incredibly incriminating things, it will never stand.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    January 27, 2015 10:59 AM

    You write: “Federal prosecutors would be free to intervene in state politics and say to part-time lawmakers: “Who are your business clients? How much did you get paid? What do you do for the money?”

    Sometimes I think Albany must be on a different planet. All New York City employees have had to supply this information in a sworn fashion as a condition of employment for many years. There is nothing remarkable about it at all.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    January 27, 2015 11:52 AM

    PS, You’ve put your finger on the crux of the matter, but for some reason you don’t state it explicitly and place the blame exactly where it is due. For the life of me I don’t understand why. Groupthink? The more I read this blog, the more I think you worked for the Assembly.

    The plain lesson is: In the absence of effective ethics regulations for legislators, prosecutors who are not bought and paid for will take advantage of the vacuum to drive a truck through and indict the hell out of all and sundry. They do this simply because the anti-corruption statutes are very broadly written and THEY CAN.

    If there are no effective, thorough regs, it’s the Legislature’s own damn fault for declining to enact them. You can correct me if I am wrong, but if they declined to enact them, it was because Shelly never wanted them. Ergo, he created the conditions for his own and their downfall.

    I don’t know why the Legislature didn’t realize that voluminous regs are for their own protection as much as anything else. Did Shelly tell them he would always protect them?

    As I said, I’m baffled by the behavior of this organization. They’re supposed to be a body of independently elected officials, not capos in a mafia.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    January 27, 2015 6:17 PM

    Your post shows a stunning lack of understanding of what corruption is. You are deconstructing a scenario that most honest people would say is an outrage and comparing it to more benign scenarios, to create horror stories to scare honest legislators. You are also engaging in slick misdirection: a grant to a hospital is not a bribe in this scenario, nor is a vote for legislation. The alleged bribe is the cold cash that Silver is charged with getting from the law firms that is the benefit in this situation. And yes, referrals by themselves are valuable; they may not always pay off but they usually do, and when they do in these kinds of cases they pay off big. Even forgetting the criminal aspect of this, if the fact are correct, should he have been giving a grant (sole discretion) to a guy who was responsible for large amounts of money into the Speaker’s own pocket? Or used his influence to steer business to a law firm that secretly gave him a piece of that business, which he did not declare for the public to see (as required by laws he voted for)? And speaking of the criminal aspect, look up extortion under color of official right – there’s no quid pro quo required. As far as your unnamed lawyers in Washington, try a bigger sample; people who practice in this area in New York believe that the Speaker is in big trouble (grandstanding by the US attorney or not).

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