They’re getting nervous in Albany. Soon, the knives may come out.
Leaders of the State Legislature and at least two law firms that employ lawmakers are suing to quash subpoenas seeking information on their outside income. They dress up their opposition in legal armor, but the truth is – at least in part – they just don’t want their constituents to know how they are making money. They’re scared.
Here’s the best evidence of those legislators’ real motives: According to a recent report in the New York Daily News, many lawmakers are complying with the request for information. Quoting an unnamed source, the Albany Insider column reported that 32 lawmakers who make more than $20,000 a year in outside income were asked for information, and more than half have complied or are in the process of complying.
The lawmakers who want to keep secrets from their constituents don’t accept that so many of their colleagues are willing to be open about their other sources of income. One said the Moreland Commission that is conducting the investigation into government corruption is accepting as little as a legislator’s business card and other non-confidential information. And while the commission isn’t saying what information those lawmakers are providing, it is clear that some are providing information and that others are deathly afraid of doing so.
Leading that pack is Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is associated with the personal injury law firm Weitz & Luxenberg. Dean Skelos, co-leader of the State Senate, also works for a law firm. They want to keep their secrets.
The protests from lawmakers are that the state is overreaching, with the executive branch, which created the Moreland Commission, investigating the legislative branch. The lawyers also say the demand for information violates attorney-client privilege.
Both are off base. This is not a standard Moreland Commission, which is typically empowered only by the governor. Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman also deputized the commission members, giving them greater authority. As to attorney-client privilege, a glance at any court papers would show who is suing whom and which lawyers are involved.
But there is a larger point here. Lawmakers, who should by now understand that the rank corruption emanating from the state capital is undermining confidence in government, could simply have volunteered the information. There didn’t need to be any subpoenas. And why wouldn’t they come clean, but for the impetus to conceal potential conflicts of interest from the voters they depend on?
No one is requiring these people to serve in state government and none of them is irreplaceable.
If the lawyers in the Legislature – or anyone else – don’t like the idea of disclosing pertinent information about their potential conflicts, there is an easy answer: Resign. Go represent your clients without having to worry about what your constituents might think if they knew what you were doing.
But for those who want to serve the public – and who want the public to pay for the privilege of having them – then they need to get serious. Fork over the information.