The shock, such as it was, of new allegations of political corruption in state government hardly had time to register before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed tougher laws, raising the stakes for those who abuse the trust of voters. It was an appropriate response that deserves careful, prompt review.
First, State Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, was accused in a bribery scheme meant to rally political support for a run for mayor of New York City as a Republican.
Then Assemblyman Eric A. Stevenson, a Bronx Democrat, was accused by federal prosecutors of accepting bribes and conspiring to defraud the state through a scheme that involved helping developers open an adult day care center. Also implicated in the scheme was Assemblyman Nelson Castro, another Bronx Democrat, who resigned after years of cooperating with investigators in an effort to save his own skin.
In response, Cuomo quickly unveiled proposals that would create new crimes for violating public trust, impose new penalties for misusing taxpayer money and permanently ban those convicted of crimes from holding any elected or civil office, serving as a registered lobbyist or doing business with the state.
The Public Trust Act also would require public officials to report corrupt actions by their colleagues.
The two new crimes are bribing a public servant and corrupting the government. The former would update current state law, which requires a prosecutor to prove that there was a corrupt agreement or understanding between a public official and someone attempting to offer him a bribe. The proposed new law, which mirrors the federal approach, requires only that the prosecutor prove the person offering the bribe intended to influence the public official or that the person receiving the bribe intended to be influenced.
The second law would hold accountable anyone found to have defrauded the government, regardless of whether that person was a public official.
Regarding penalties, the proposed law would elevate the costs of conviction by one level when a crime involved state or local government property. For example, if the offense is normally a Class D felony, anyone convicted of it would be sentenced as though it were a Class C felony.
These are appropriate responses to the continued abuse of taxpayers by public officials. There have been more than two dozen cases of various forms of corruption, sexual scandal and other improprieties over the last seven years. Given that, the main question that needs to be asked is if these proposals are sufficient to the challenge.