Corruption and Ethics — The Watchdogs Under Fire

Gilbert and Sullivan couldn't have invented a farce as nutty as the one unfolding in Albany.

Gov. Paterson has called on members of the Public Integrity Commission to resign because one of its key employees lacks integrity. But this commission, established to monitor ethics in government, is accused of having an ethics problem itself.

The never-ending corruption scandal in Albany seems more like fiction than reality. But you could hardly make this stuff up.
The state inspector-general, Joseph Fisch, found that the director of the Public Integrity Commission leaked sensitive information to Gov. Spitzer's staff on the Troopergate investigation. The commission was looking into how Spitzer's office handled the travel records of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Now, members of the Integrity Commission have rejected Paterson's call for resignations, deeming the inspector general's report "an outrage."
So the guys who are supposed to defend public integrity and ethics are now accused by our new governor of lacking both. And Paterson is accused by these commissioners of outrageous conduct himself.
Who can untangle this mess? The mission of the Integrity Commission, as described on its Web page, is "to ensure public trust and confidence in government." Clearly, that's not happening.
Corruption is as old as America itself. Since the first European settlers came to this continent, corruption has taken various forms -- graft, bribery, extortion, robbery, patronage, nepotism, cronyism, conflict of interest and kickbacks. You could say all of these have been flourishing in the state capital today. Official after official, politician after politician have been indicted or charged. There seems to be a new case every day, as political leaders fall like autumn leaves in a stiff breeze. Albany seems littered with the failed careers of men and women who once aspired to greatness. 

The Daily News recently published a series headlined "State of Shame," and it was no exaggeration. The story called Albany leaders and legislators "a disgrace" and described the state government as "the most dysfunctional in the nation." State Comptroller Alan Hevesi resigned after being accused of abusing the perks of his office. Spitzer quit after being involved in a prostitution scandal. Former Senate Republican leader Bruno was indicted on federal corruption charges.
The parade of  people accused of wrongdoing includes two close associates of Hevesi -- political consultant Hank Morris and David Loglisci, charged with "selling access to billions of dollars" -- former labor leader and New York Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, former New York Health Commissioner and U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello, Brooklyn Assemblyman and Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez, Brooklyn State Senator Kevin Parker, Bronx Assemblyman Peter Rivera and Bronx Senator Pedro Espada.
Many of those accused have denied wrongdoing, but the proliferation of alleged corruption cases has left an aroma that has to offend the people of this state.
It should be noted that this has all happened before. Scandals abound in Albany. There was a dilly in 1987, followed by promises of a new major ethics law, and, back in 1869, the Times reported on  "extraordinary corruption" in Albany involving the Erie Railroad. But the writer indicated that legislators would find it "impossible to fasten bribery on particular individuals."

Lord Acton, an authority on the subject, wrote: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Albany proves he was right.

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